The 2020-21 NBA season is Adam Silver’s heel turn.
He’s throwing Marty Jannetty through a window. He’s dropping the big leg on the Macho Man. The babyface successor to the late David Stern has now joined his former boss in deserving boos when he steps out to introduce the next crop of draft picks.
In late September, just as the last Boston Celtics season was coming to its frustrating end against the Miami Heat, Silver sat on CNN and declared the 2020-21 season "would be better off getting into January." NBPA executive director Michele Roberts believed Silver, publicly stating that she and the union expected this season to start somewhere in the January-March 2021 range.
Teams built their offseasons on those expectations. Training staffs built programs of rest and ramp-ups based on that timeline. Kemba Walker notably started a strengthening program that led to his season debut on January 17, right around what was supposed to be the start of the season.
Instead, he missed 11 games, and it’s because the NBA had a trademark C. Montgomery Burns change of heart. Instead of going along with the expectations it had set for months, the league suddenly bullied its players into a shift in plans, starting the season in December in order to pack in more games and pad its bottom line.
A league that had spent so much time under Silver restructuring its schedule to reduce back-to-backs and take player health into account quickly tossed that approach aside when money was on the line. Once Silver unfolded the offer sheet slid across to him, the extra zeroes he saw trumped any concerns for player health and safety.
Sure, the league cares about guys getting hurt. They don’t want injuries to happen. But when this much money is on the line, the Celtics losing Marcus Smart for a month is just the cost of doing business.
“The stars aligned the right way and my calf gave out,” Smart recently said, explaining his injury. “I probably wouldn’t be surprised if it had something to do with how quick a turnaround; playing in the bubble and then coming back, with that aspect. But, who knows? Nobody knows.”
We don’t know, but we know. And we know the NBA is putting money over health again after another lie. After initially saying there would be no All-Star game, the league quickly pivoted in order to toss TNT a $30-million bone at the expense of player and community health.
Today, the NBA officially announced a March 7 All-Star game, meaning players like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who are desperate for a break, will likely have to travel to Atlanta after their March 4 game and sleepwalk through a game they don’t have to play.
“I'd rather not have anybody play in it,” Danny Ainge said in his weekly appearance on Toucher and Rich. “Quite honestly, with the health that we've gone through this year... I'd rather not have anybody do it.”
But Ainge is powerless to stop it. He can’t order his players to not go. If they are healthy, they’re contractually bound to participate in this folly or else get fined. Unless the union wants to mass-boycott, this game is going to happen.
Meanwhile, the mayor of Atlanta is asking people to not flock to her city for the game.
"I have shared my concerns related to public health and safety with the NBA and Atlanta Hawks,” Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said. “We are in agreement that this is a made-for-TV event only, and people should not travel to Atlanta to party."
She’s essentially asking moths to please avoid congregating around a bright light. The league attracts hangers-on, and an event like this with the league’s biggest, most recognizable faces all in one spot, is basically a Bat-Signal to anyone hoping to penetrate a player’s inner circle.
COVID-19 has run through the NBA, and now the NBA is dragging it into Atlanta on the bottom of its shoes as they trample all good judgment into the ground. The infected will follow an unnecessary event into a state that already has one of the worst death rates in the nation. If a spike can be traced to this game, any resulting deaths will be on the NBA’s hands, no matter how much they ask fans to stay home. Any reasonable person understands that events like this draw crowds regardless of how much you plead.
The league can’t hide behind its pledged $2.5 million donation to Historically Black Colleges & Universities and communities impacted by COVID-19. That donation could be made at any time without having to stage this silly event.
The league had a chance to do one right thing this season and give its players a deserved break as a reward for complying with its about-face. Instead, Silver followed the scent of money like a cartoon cat sniffing out a pie on a windowsill.
Atlanta is the epicenter of the outbreak in “The Walking Dead,” and now it’s the epicenter of the NBA’s zombie-like pursuit of cash above all else. The next time Silver walks onto a stage, he should come out to Wu Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.” From now on, the league’s commitment to players will always ring hollow, because everyone knows the NBA will change its mind the second it can profit.