James Harden didn’t hold back. No words were minced, no opinions subdued with regards to Sunday’s All-Star Game in Atlanta.
“I think, just in general, this All-Star game is kind of forced and thrown upon us,” said Harden, plainly.
Harden continued, stating that he was looking forward to the week off –– that is until the NBA announced that the All-Star Game was, indeed, happening.
“I feel like we basically had a game every other day during the regular season, so, you know, you finally get an opportunity to have close to a week off, be able to take a deep breath, and be with your family and things like that,” said Harden. “We just have this one-day event, it’s pretty tough. This entire season is tough. It’s difficult. Lot of craziness has happened throughout the course of the year.”
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard some skepticism from Harden on All-Star weekend. Back on February 6, right after Brooklyn’s loss against Toronto in which Kevin Durant was pulled from the contest due to the NBA’s Safety & Health protocols, Harden sounded off on the event without any reservations.
“I mean, I haven’t said anything publicly but I feel the same way as some of the players who are like, there’s so much going on as far as we’re trying to calm a virus and we’re putting on an event,” said Harden on February 6. “I know what the reasoning it is, but I feel like, especially with a condensed schedule that was forced upon players, it’s already draining to play a lot of games in a week, I feel like that was a week for us kind of to relax, be with our families to kind of take a step away from basketball. So like I said, we’re just in it.“
The lead-up to the big game did all but disprove Harden’s point. At 11:50 AM EST, it was announced by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that Philadelphia 76ers superstars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid were being withheld from the All-Star Game due to contact tracing issues after an encounter with a Philadelphia barber. The news begged the key question of the weekend: Is holding an exhibition game in the middle of a pandemic hot-spot, Atlanta, really worth it?
Harden went on to describe the weekend itself in Atlanta. All in all, it sounded... pretty tame. And perhaps a tad boring.
“Get to Atlanta, get tested. Stay in the room,” said Harden about the proceedings. “That’s all it is. Stay in the room until it’s time to go out there and play.”
Clippers superstar Kawhi Leonard expressed similar sentiments to Harden with regards to the unique All-Star weekend, describing the situation as “no energy” (per Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN).
“There’s no energy, no excitement,” explained Leonard. “Off the floor, it is pretty dead. The city of Atlanta is pretty turnt up, but it’s pretty dead.”
With a number of stars feeling “forced” and perhaps a little bored while stuck inside hotel rooms, the NBA has its work cut out on making the All-Star Game a momentous occasion. A strange season just continues to get stranger...