It appears as if the NBA isn’t willing to let a global pandemic get in the way of its annual All-Star Weekend in 2021, despite the opinions of some of the league’s top names.
As the NBA continues to deal with postponements related to its COVID-19 protocols, details continue to be released about the league’s plans for the 2021 All-Star Weekend, highlighted by the usual All-Star Game and corresponding Slam Dunk Contest, 3-Point Contest and Skills Challenge.
Per The Athletic’s Shams Charania, the biggest change will simply be consolidating All-Star Weekend into one night, with the Skills Challenge and 3-Point Contest taking place before the All-Star Game gets underway, and the Slam Dunk Contest being held at halftime.
But, some of the league’s perennial All-Stars have voiced their displeasure with those plans, leading some to wonder if the league should consider some other options for its annual tradition.
So, as the NBA continues to maneuver through the COVID-19 pandemic, we put together a few potential alternatives for the league to consider for its All-Star Weekend in 2021:
- Scrap the entire weekend for 2021
It likely seems like the worst option from a fan’s perspective, but cancelling the 2021 All-Star Weekend is the smartest move if the NBA wants to play it safe and ensure that their stars are healthy for the rest of the regular season.
Having the NBA’s biggest names descend on one city for an exhibition game and events like the Slam Dunk Contest or 3-Point Contest doesn’t seem like the best idea during a global pandemic, especially when the league has seen numerous games get postponed due to COVID-19 protocols.
With dozens of teams usually represented throughout All-Star Weekend, the game itself seems like a recipe for disaster, and could serve as a “superspreader” event of sorts as the league’s All-Stars head back to their home cities after the game.
Stars like LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and De’Aaron Fox have been open with their criticism of the league’s plans for an All-Star Game in 2021, with James calling the game “a slap in the face, and Antetokounmpo saying the game would be pointless.
Financially, it would be a big blow to the NBA if the weekend gets canned in 2021. But, for the sake of the second half of the season, it seems like the league would be better off cutting their losses and bringing the event back in 2022.
- Only hold the Dunk Contest and 3-Point Contest in person
In a change of pace, it sounds like the NBA will be holding its Slam Dunk Contest, 3-Point Contest and Skills Challenge on the same night as the All-Star Game, with some events happening before the game starts and others taking place at halftime.
Ratings were up for the new-look 2020 All-Star Game in comparison to the year prior, which is likely contributing to the decision to keep the game on the schedule for 2021.
But, fans truly pay attention to the superstars that compete in events like the Slam Dunk Contest and the 3-Point Contest, rather than remembering who won between Team LeBron and Team Giannis in the All-Star Game itself.
If the league wanted to, it could minimize the amount of people in one city for the All-Star Weekend festivities, and just fly in the participants for the Slam Dunk Contest and 3-Point Contest.
Broadcast those two events on their own, similar to what the league would do for All-Star Saturday Night in recent years, and ensure that players can be socially distanced and following the proper protocols.
The league could interview All-Stars to get them some airtime in between dunkers, shooters and/or events, and have a compromise of sorts from their usual itinerary.
It’s not a perfect solution, but it would still generate the usual excitement, and would likely please the players that want to avoid any issues from the All-Star Game itself in 2021.
- Remote Dunk Contest and 3-Point Contest with players at team facilities
This one would take some more effort than simply flying players to a centralized location in Atlanta, but it would be the league’s best bet to hold its key events in the safest way possible before the second half of the season begins.
Similar to the last idea, the league could focus all of its efforts on the Slam Dunk Contest and 3-Point Contest, but in this case, it could keep things virtual to ensure social distancing and isolate players properly.
Set up a camera at each player’s team facility, mic them up, and connect them via satellite to the TNT crew to prove that everything is happening live.
For the 3-Point Contest, players could simply have their racks of balls set up around a practice court, with a staff member rebounding and/or refilling racks for each round.
For the Slam Dunk Contest, players could take their turns virtually pulling off their dunks, and could still use teammates for assistance if they want to have some help for a specific dunk.
While it would take away the need for fans, it could allow for some unique television, with each participant being able to talk with the TNT crew live during their respective competitions, and potentially even trash-talk with opponents in the process.
It’s not ideal, but the COVID-19 pandemic has all but removed the word “ideal’ from the dictionary, so this is about as good as it could get from a safety standpoint.
- Virtual All-Star Game a la the 2021 Pro Bowl
This would likely be the least popular option for everyone involved, but if the NBA wanted to follow in the NFL’s footsteps, it could utilize NBA 2K21 to hold a virtual All-Star Game in 2021.
Similar to how the NFL’s version pitted players like Kyler Murray and Deshaun Watson against each other in Madden NFL 21, the NBA could have LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and more hit the virtual hardwood to play each other in NBA 2K21.
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It definitely wouldn’t be a ratings bonanza for the folks at TNT, but it could provide some high-quality content with players at their respective homes, especially considering James’ son Bronny’s history streaming video games on Twitch.
Combine this option with a virtual Slam Dunk Contest and 3-Point Contest, and the NBA would have itself a one-off, COVID-19-influenced version of its usual slate of All-Star Weekend events.