James captain in 'slap in the face' All-Star Game

LOS ANGELES • LeBron James, who said staging a National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star Game this year would be a "slap in the face" to players, will be a captain when the exhibition event is played in Atlanta.

The league announced on Thursday that the All-Star Game will be played on March 7, along with skills events. It comes during a mid-season break that was meant to give players a rest after more than a month was shaved off the usual off-season gap as Covid-19 delayed the finish of the 2019-20 NBA play-offs.

"If I am selected, I will be there physically but not mentally," James said two weeks ago.

"We came off a short off-season of 71 days... then they throw an All-Star Game on us like this. It is pretty much a slap in the face."

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said that he understands the complaints. But he told TNT that 130 million people worldwide will watch the game and highlights will attract a billion online views, justifying it as the NBA's top "fan engagement" event.

"It begins and ends with the fans," Silver said. "We have a huge global audience that follows All-Star. Doing this as a TV event still reaches 99.9 per cent of our fans."

There is a financial benefit to the league too, although the extent of it is unclear. By one estimate, according to a person familiar with the league's television deal, a traditional slate of All-Star events is worth about US$60 million (S$79.4 million) to the NBA.

Los Angeles Lakers star James was the top overall vote-getter from fans, with 5,922,554 to pace the Western Conference while Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant led the Eastern Conference with 5,567,106.

The top vote-getters from both conferences are named captains and will select their rosters on March 4.

Durant was sidelined with a hamstring strain when the Nets travelled to Staples Centre to face the Lakers in a clash of heavyweights on Thursday.

James had a game-high 32 points, becoming just the third NBA player (35,017) to reach 35,000 career points after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) and Karl Malone (36,928).​

  • US$60m How much the All-Star Game events are worth to the NBA.

But it was not enough as the Lakers (22-8), who were without Anthony Davis and Dennis Schroder, were blown away 109-98.

Nets coach Steve Nash praised his team's improvement in the past week, following a run of games where they conceded 120 points or more, including a thumping loss to Detroit on Feb 9.

"That was a low for us," he said of the Pistons loss. "And it did provoke some conversations, and a re-dedication to what we're trying to do. I'm proud of the way they've responded since then.

"We've taken care of business... It also tastes sweet when you come out West and win some games."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2021, with the headline 'James captain in 'slap in the face' All-Star Game'. Subscribe