Regardless of COVID-19, thousands of fans descend on Atlanta for NBA All-Star game, parties

ATLANTA — Thousands of NBA fans have arrived in Atlanta and are partying ahead of Sunday’s All-Star game despite public pleas from the NBA and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms for fans to stay home and watch the game amid the pandemic.

State Farm Arena is the site of Sunday’s big game, but it’s closed to the public because of the pandemic. That hasn’t stopped thousands of people from coming to Atlanta to party.

We may be one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, but for thousands of partygoers in town for the All-Star game, the virus is the last thing on their minds.

“This pandemic has been going on for over a year now. People are tired of staying in the house,” self-proclaimed die-hard NBA fan Kevin Hines said.

He told Channel 2′s Michael Seiden that he is in town from New Jersey. Even though he can’t go to the game, he told Seiden that he’s excited about the parties.

“It’s all on the internet. It’s parties everywhere. Celebrities. All the celebrities are down here,” Hines said.

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Hines is one of tens of thousands of fans who ignored the pleas to stay home and watch the game on TV.

“It’s unfortunate they won’t let fans in the game. I would love to get a ticket and go into the game and see some of my favorite players,” Hines said.

For local businesses hit hard by the pandemic, this weekend’s game plan is simple.

“We are taking all the safety precautions with sanitizing, taking temperatures. We got social distancing and things like that, and the food is still good,” said Cedric Perryman, general manager of Hudson Grille in downtown Atlanta, right near State Farm Arena. “You take their temperature. If it’s above 99, can’t enter.”

He expects this weekend to be a big slam dunk for downtown businesses.

“There’s definitely a buzz in the air. I think every business on the block is excited about it,” Perryman said.

Visitors can also expect to see a large police presence throughout the weekend. It’s all hands on deck.

“Right now, there are 45 non-sanction events that we are gearing up for,” Atlanta deputy police Chief Charles Hampton said.

Officers’ off days have been canceled, and they’re required to work 12-hour shifts.

Atlanta police have also activated its joint operations center, where they can coordinate in real-time with other police departments, and state and federal partners like the FBI.

“If they decide to do something, we’re ready,” Hampton said.

But not everyone is in town to party. Some visitors told Seiden they plan on taking it easy because they’re concerned about their health and safety.

“You can have some things in increments. But not wearing a mask, it’s not the smartest thing to do,” said Tyrone Smith. “We are going to eat, have a drink and smoke a cigar. When we see crowds, we walk away.”

“You’re not going to these big parties?” Seiden asked Smith.

“Not yet. Next year,” Smith said.