NBA: Growing chorus of stars boos league's coronavirus strategy

(From left) Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant added their voices to the growing chorus of players criticising the league's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. PHOTOS: AFP

(NYTIMES) - Multiple National Basketball Association (NBA) stars, including Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant, added their voices to the growing chorus of players criticising the league's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly plans to hold the All-Star Game in Atlanta on March 7.

"We've got to all follow the big dog," Antetokounmpo told reporters on Friday (Jan 5) night, referring to LeBron James, who this past week said that holding the game would be "a slap in the face" for players.

Echoing James, Antetokounmpo, the reigning Most Valuable Player Award winner, said he had "zero excitement, zero energy" for the game.

Following Antetokounmpo's comments, Leonard, the Los Angeles Clippers forward, said he was not surprised by the league's plans, but that it was "just putting money over health right now, pretty much".

"We all know why we're playing it," said Leonard, a four-time All-Star. "It's money on the line. There's the opportunity to make more money."

The All-Star events are a chance to showcase the NBA's top talent.

There is also a financial benefit, although how much is unclear.

This year, the league, in conjunction with the players union, is planning to hold the three-point contest and the skills competition on the same day as the game to condense an affair that typically lasts days.

The NBA's collective bargaining agreement requires those selected for the All-Star Game to play if they are healthy.

Nonetheless, a condensed schedule does not eliminate the added health risks of an event bringing together the game's best players from across the country for an exhibition - and presents a sharp contrast to rules that bar players from sharing hugs and handshakes after games to help reduce the chances of infection spread.

The league's protocols appear to be wearing on some players, including Durant of the Brooklyn Nets, who was pulled from a game on Friday night in a strange spectacle that played out on TV and social media.

The NBA then released a statement saying that Durant had tested negative for the coronavirus three times in the past 24 hours but had "interacted" with someone who first had an inconclusive test result before the game on Friday, then a positive result during the game.

An inconclusive test, according to the NBA's protocols, does not necessarily require quarantine, so Durant was allowed to play.

But when the positive result came in, the league pulled Durant "out of an abundance of caution."

In response to the statement, Durant tweeted: "Yo @nba, your fans aren't dumb!!!! You can't fool em with your Wack ass PR tactics."

Durant also missed Saturday's 124-108 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

The league has struggled to contain virus outbreaks this season.

The NBA has postponed 23 games in connection with infections and contact tracing, and has stationed security guards on the court before and after games to discourage players from socialising.

Only five of the league's 30 teams have not had a virus-related postponement.

On Jan 12, the league and the players union announced new health protocols to deal with a rash of game postponements.

Among the new rules, players and staff have been directed to remain at their homes or hotels when on the road except for team activities and essential tasks.

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