A rare Sunday game in Utah awaits with All-Star contest

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The Vivint Arena is shown during the transformation taking place inside the arena before the start of the NBA basketball All-Star weekend Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, in Salt Lake City. More than 60 players are making their way to Salt Lake City for All-Star weekend, some of them for the first time, one of them for the 19th time. And while some events will tout the league's future, many will be celebrating the past.(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY – There will be an NBA game in Salt Lake City on Sunday night, something that hasn't been said for more than two decades during the regular season.

The Utah Jazz traditionally don’t play home games on Sundays out of respect to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known widely as the Mormon church. About 60% of Utah residents are Mormons.

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But the Jazz are hosting the All-Star Game. The team said it didn't have discussions with church officials about the plans to bring the All-Star Game to Utah. The NBA awarded Salt Lake City the game in 2019.

“The Church’s teaching and practice of Sabbath observance is well established and part of the weekly devotion of Church members and other persons of faith in our community,” church spokesman Doug Andersen said. “We seek to keep the Sabbath day holy, not only at church, but at home, at work and in our communities. We encourage everyone to enrich their day with uplifting activities that help build family relations, provide service to others and strength faith in Jesus Christ.”

With the exception of a handful of playoff games, it's the first time fans at the home arena will get to watch a game on a Sunday since Jan. 21, 2001.

The NBA works with teams when constructing the regular-season schedule, basing decisions on things such as arena availability and other factors. Teams also can request to play — or not play — on certain dates. The Jazz have had five playoff games in Salt Lake City over the last 20 years, most recently in 2021. The league's television partners largely dictate the playoff schedule.

The Jazz have played four games on Sundays so far this season and have three more remaining, including the season finale against the Los Angeles Lakers. All those games, obviously, are road contests.

“The Utah Jazz continue to be a great community partner, and the Church appreciates the longstanding effort of their leadership team, when possible, to avoid playing NBA games at home on Sundays,” Andersen said. “We are grateful for their sensitivities to Sabbath observance.”

LEBRON TAKES A SATURDAY

LeBron James is planning to play in his 19th All-Star Game ON Sunday. But he was excused from All-Star Saturday matters.

The NBA announced Saturday morning that the Lakers star and newly crowned all-time scoring leader — he passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar earlier this month — was excused from practice and media events. The league said James cited personal reasons.

James and fellow captain Giannis Antetokounmpo will draft their teams Sunday night for the All-Star Game.

James is tied with Abdul-Jabbar for most All-Star selections, and if James plays on Sunday — there’s no reason to think that he won’t — he would become the first player in NBA history to actually appear in 19 All-Star games. Abdul-Jabbar was selected to the 1973 game but did not play.

That’ll be just another entry on a long list of All-Star records for James. He’s also the first player to be selected to 19 consecutive All-Star games. Until this year, he shared that record with 18-time-selection Kobe Bryant, the Lakers legend who died Jan. 26, 2020.

If he makes the start as planned, it’ll be James’ 19th time on the floor to open an All-Star Game, which would be four more anyone else in league history; Bryant made 15 starts. The 19 starts in a row would extent another All-Star record — Bob Cousy has the second-longest such streak, having started 13 straight.

James also is the career All-Star leader in minutes, points, field goals made and field goals attempted.

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