• AFP-Jiji


NBA stars Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard and James Harden have joined LeBron James in saying they would rather have a week off than play in next month’s All-Star Game.

Multiple reports say the league plans to stage the contest on March 7 in Atlanta, with fan voting for starting spots already underway.

“We all know why we’re playing it,” Los Angeles Clippers star Leonard said in a Friday post-game interview session. “There’s money on the line. It’s an opportunity to make more money… just putting money over health right now, pretty much.

“We’re playing games now and it’s still a pandemic, we’re doing all these protocols and rules, so it doesn’t really surprise me.”

Players were expecting a week off for a mid-season break after agreeing to return before Christmas with only a two-month off-season since finishing the 2020 playoffs in a quarantine bubble at Orlando.

“Coming into the season, what we knew was there’s not going to be an All-Star Game, it was going to be a time to spend time with our family,” Milwaukee’s Antetokounmpo said.

“Obviously, when the protocol changes it’s kind of hard because your family cannot come on the road. Back home you cannot leave the house, you only can go to the practice facility or to the arena, and you don’t have time to take your family to a nice dinner or your family coming on the road or like just escaping the game.

“I think every player was looking forward to those five days, seven days, whatever the days are.”

James, a star playmaker for the reigning NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers, called the idea of an All-Star Game a “slap in the face” to players and said he had “zero energy and zero excitement” for such a contest given the COVID-19 pandemic has already cut short the season and forced tight safety protocols on players.

“I’m the same way,” Antetokounmpo said. “I really right now don’t care about the All-Star Game. We cannot see our families. I can’t worry about the All-Star Game. I want to see my family.”

Antetokounmpo will play if the game is staged, but don’t expect an enthusiastic performance.

“At the end of the day, if they tell us we’re going to show up, we’ve got to do our job,” the Greek star said. “I’m always going to do my job. I’m always showing up, showing the right example.

“But at the end of the day inside, deep down, I don’t want to do it. I want to get some break.”

Brooklyn guard Harden, the NBA’s top scorer in each of the past three seasons, is already feeling the rigors of a condensed season.

“It’s already draining to be playing a lot of games in a week. I feel like that was a week for us to kind of relax, be with our families and kind of take a step back away from basketball,” Harden said.

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul, president of the National Basketball Players Association, said the league wanted the game and the union is getting feedback from players now on having the All-Star Game.

“Guys are entitled to their feelings, decisions and everything,” Paul said. “I think the job for the union is to try to make sure our players are healthy and safe.

“This is something that was a decision by the league and we are definitely, day in and day out, trying to figure it out.

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