Embiid, a prime Most Valuable Player Award candidate this season, had been selected to his fourth All-Star team and was to start at center for Durant’s team. Simmons, making his third All-Star team after being voted into the game as a reserve, was selected by James. Rivers chose Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans to start in Embiid’s place, but the league did not pursue replacements for either player with only hours remaining before the opening tip, opting for 11-man All-Star rosters instead of the usual 12.
The 2020-21 regular season started on Dec. 22 after last season, delayed four months by the coronavirus pandemic, went all the way into October and required three months on a restricted-access campus at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla., to complete.
In November, the league postponed its traditional All-Star Weekend, giving Indianapolis hosting rights in 2024 instead of this year. But the N.B.A. never ruled out the prospect of resuscitating a game for 2021. The league then hatched the idea to hold several All-Star events on one day, closed to the public apart from 1,500 invitation-only guests, and staged in Atlanta so Turner Sports could broadcast it all in its backyard.
Silver said in a news conference on Saturday that “economic interests” were a factor in going ahead with a scaled-down version of All-Star festivities, but he also said that tremendous global fan interest had motivated the league just as much. League officials have said that a specific projection for revenue generated Sunday could not be immediately pinpointed, but various industry estimates have forecast Turner to make more than $20 million in advertising and sponsorship revenue through Sunday’s broadcast.
The league, having worked closely on the plans with Roberts and Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul, the president of the players’ union, also dedicated its All-Star festivities to promoting awareness of historically Black colleges and universities, pledging to donate at least $3 million to those institutions as well as communities of color affected by the pandemic.
“It’s my job to look out for the overall interest of the league,” Silver said on Saturday. “As I said earlier, I haven’t made it a secret out of the fact that economic interests are a factor. I’ll add, though, when I say ‘economic interests are a factor,’ it’s less to do with the economics of one Sunday night on TNT in the United States. It has more to do with the larger brand value of the N.B.A.