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LeBron James calls NBA All-Star game plan ‘a slap in the face’

 LeBron James and Nikola Jokic on the basketball court.
Lakers star LeBron James and Nuggets center Nikola Jokic are two likely All-Star selections if a game is held as expected March 7 in Atlanta.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

On the same day teams learned of an expected agreement between the NBA and its players’ association to hold the 2021 NBA All-Star game in Atlanta on March 7, Lakers star LeBron James trashed the idea, calling it a “slap in the face.”

“I have zero energy and zero excitement about an All-Star game this year,” James said late Thursday on a videoconference. “I don’t even understand why we’re having an All-Star game.”

James is leading the Western Conference with more than 2.28 million votes in the first release of results. If selected, he said, he’d reluctantly participate.

“I’ll be there physically but not mentally,” he said.

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James cited the compressed offseason between his Lakers winning the title on Oct. 11 and opening their defense of it on Dec. 22 along with the pandemic as the reasons why he was unhappy with the decision.

LeBron James led the Lakers to a 114-93 win over the Denver Nuggets on Thursday at Staples Center.

“And then coming into this season, you know, we were told that we were not having an All-Star game, so we’d have a nice little break,” James said. “Five days from the fifth through the 10th, an opportunity for me to kind of recalibrate for the second half of the season. My teammates as well. Some of the guys in the league. And then they throw an All-Star game on us like this and just breaks that all the way up. So, pretty much kind of a slap in the face. And we’re also still dealing with a pandemic. We’re still dealing with everything that’s been going on, and we’re going to bring the whole league into one city that’s open? Obviously, the pandemic has absolutely nothing to do with it at this point when it comes to that weekend.”

Georgia’s COVID-19 numbers show a steady two-week decline in cases by more than 30%, but the rates of hospitalizations and deaths — 141 on Thursday — remain steady.

There’s been no announcement from the NBA or the union. The game, traditionally played in February, originally was scheduled to be played in Indianapolis but was canceled before the season, though the league still maintained All-Star voting. TNT, the NBA’s broadcast partner, is headquartered in Atlanta.

“We all saw what ‘Bron said. I agree,” Boston’s Kemba Walker told reporters Friday. “He’s a smart man. He’s been around. He’s a leader. A lot of things he says are correct.”

Other prominent players, according to people familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly, have been a driving force in discussions about using the game as a platform to raise money and awareness for a number of causes, including support for historically Black colleges and universities — an issue heavily supported by NBPA President Chris Paul.

Before his Thursday’s win against Denver, Lakers coach Frank Vogel said he’d have a hard time getting excited about an All-Star game. Since Vogel and his staff coached in last year’s game, he’s not eligible to coach this year.

“It would have been difficult to have to go in this climate. But we’re all of the mind-set to do whatever is good for the health of the league,” Vogel said. “We took a big hit to our business with this pandemic, and everybody’s just trying to play their part and do the best they can. So it’s something that the league feels is in the best interest of our league.

“We would all be willing to do it, but it certainly would be harder to commit to something like that given the current climate.”

Denver coach Michael Malone was asked the same question, saying he’s never excited about that kind of opportunity because he prefers his off time to be spent with family. Still, he said, the NBA has earned his trust when it comes to health and safety.

“The NBA last year did something that no one thought was possible — they created a bubble in Orlando, Fla., and somehow got through the NBA season where we were able to crown a champion. And they did it in a safe manner,” Malone said. “If they do have that All-Star game, whether you agree with it or not, the league is going to make sure it’s done in a very responsible and safe manner, and that’s been proven time and time again.”

UP NEXT

VS. DETROIT

When: 7 p.m., Saturday.

On the air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet; Radio: 710, 1330.

Update: The Pistons began their five-game West Coast swing with a 27-point beatdown at Golden State, a game postponed at Denver because of COVID-19 contact tracing within the Pistons and a loss at Utah. The Pistons end the trip at Staples Center after playing in Phoenix on Friday. Detroit did hand the Lakers their worst loss of the season, a 107-92 defeat. Before Friday night’s game against the Suns, the Pistons were tied for the worst record in the NBA at 5-16.

—BRODERICK TURNER


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