The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association will have a finalized agreement for an All-Star Game on March 7 in Atlanta by next week, according to a league memo shared with teams and obtained by ESPN.
The single-night event will encompass the Eastern Conference-Western Conference game as well as the skills competitions, according to the memo.
The NBA and NBPA are finalizing details on health and safety protocols that will govern the All-Star participants and those players dispersing for the league’s March 5-10 break, the memo said. The All-Star Game and skills competitions will be held at State Farm Arena, home of the Atlanta Hawks, sources tell ESPN.
The NBPA and NBA have been working through the details of a scaled-down event that centers on transporting players in and out of Atlanta in a significantly shorter window of time than what would be required on a typical All-Star Weekend, sources said.
Safety protocols — expected to include players arriving on Saturday and leaving on Sunday night under tight quarantines — are among the details still being ironed out, sources said. The memo included details about All-Star break rules that will include no international travel, daily testing for players and a requirement to return to home markets no later than the second day before the team’s first game after the break, the memo said.
During the All-Star break, players will be allowed to travel in the United States, including Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, sources tell ESPN. The concern around international travel centers on the possibility that players might not be allowed to reenter the country as quickly as they wish, or that federal and state regulations on testing and quarantines could leave too much to chance, sources said.
The NBA and union are increasingly confident that enough of the league’s top players are willing to participate in the All-Star Game during a tight midseason break in this condensed pandemic schedule, sources said.
Outside of the conference finals and NBA Finals, the All-Star Game is traditionally at the top of fan engagement for the league — another factor motivating the attempt to salvage the event this season. The raw financial impact of playing the game is not immediately clear. Because the league reduced the regular season by 10 games and doesn’t have a separate All-Star Game television deal, the league could also have generated more revenue on the season by filling the weekend with more regular-season games.
The NBA and NBPA share roughly a 50-50 split in basketball-related income.
The NBA has made the All-Star Game mandatory for players in the past, but games during much of the pandemic, including the Orlando restart and the 2020-21 regular season, have included opt-out clauses. That’s believed to be part of the discussions around the All-Star Game too, sources said.
The NBA has a midseason break set for March 5-10. Some teams will resume the season on March 11. The NBA is expected to release a schedule for the second half of the season in the next two to three weeks, sources tell ESPN.
NBPA president Chris Paul has been an advocate of the Atlanta All-Star Game idea, including a plan to use the game to benefit historically Black colleges and universities and COVID-19 relief, sources said.
Nevertheless, this is an idea that has been met with resistance and skepticism from players and from team executives. Even with protocol safeguards around the game, many see it as an unnecessary risk for the league, players and support personnel.
The travel and safety protocols are expected to be similar to those for a regular-season NBA game — flying in the night before on a private plane and flying out after the game. Atlanta is the home of Turner Sports, which can televise the game without its crew having to travel outside of the city.
Even a game without fans — or with sparse, socially distanced attendance — would still require significant travel for players, support staff and league officials in the teeth of the pandemic. The typical hosting of corporate sponsors, a significant financial component of a normal All-Star Weekend, wouldn’t be possible amid the pandemic.
The NBA had originally postponed a February All-Star Weekend set for Indianapolis. Indiana has since been rewarded with the 2024 All-Star Game.