The NBA All-Star game is an exhibition game. There have been some compelling moments. Shaq posterizing David Robinson (1996). Wilt’s 42 points and 24 rebounds in a loss; the winning team scored 196 points (1962). Jerry West’s game winner over Walt Frazier (1972). Jordan dropping 40 in Chicago (1988). Magic Johnson’s return after he was diagnosed with HIV and certain players (Karl Malone) were vocal about not playing on the same court as him (1992). Like Pavlov’s dog, NBA fans have been conditioned into accepting that the All-Star game was about iconic individual performances.
But then the NBA game had a mini-revolution. Less iso, more team ball. The individual scoring without any defense All-Star game became insulting and a bore to watch.
A long time ago, the All-Star game used to be intriguing. Competitive players wanted to win the game and didn’t treat it like a Sunday in the park. But the days of the All-Star game illustrating toughness, grit and competitive rage is over. Players have too much to lose to let the last day of their winter break get complicated. Injuries at the wrong time can derail the playoffs and frankly, not to be crass, but too much money is at stake. This window dressing improvement that Chris Paul called a “priority” is nothing more than a bandaid on a knife wound. The blood still saturates even as it looks like something was done.
This is what has happened in real time. No one wants to watch the All-Star game anymore. More interesting is Saturday night and the three point shoot out and the skills challenge. Even the dunk contest has picked up a little bit of the lost luster. But the game itself? It is a lot of scoring. A lot of letting anyone and everyone have layups. Zero intensity. It’s not a game. No one cares who wins or who loses.
If you want modernity, then you make the game matter. Yes, baseball has taken it on the chin for letting their exhibition determine World Series home field advantage, but at least it means something. It’s not mindless. Frankly, on Sunday night I have better things to do. The All-Star game isn’t basketball. It isn’t Rucker Park. It isn’t the Drew League. It’s a layup drill.
The new wrinkle are the teams themselves. The two captains get to choose who is on their team. Captains are the highest vote getters in each conference. So LeBron and Kevin Durant. Or LeBron and Steph Curry. They then select from the pool of eligible players. Coaches, fans, players and the media have their say on who makes up the pool.
Once the team is selected, the two captains then pick their teams. The added benefit of the new change is the West will no longer be top heavy point guard. Someone will have Steph Curry. Someone will have Russell Westbrook. James Harden and John Wall may be on the same team. Same thing with Giannis and Anthony Davis. So the talent level will even out, particularly with the West grabbing up Jimmy Butler and Paul George to further make the west top heavy with generational stars. So the optics of it makes the teams look competitive.
But the game itself needs to be fixed so the players actually care. It makes your brain want to explode seeing $25 million dollar players going through the motions. Fans tuning in want to see competition otherwise it is time to turn the station and wait until the All-Star break is over.
The NBA is brilliant at narcissism. They market themselves and their labor pool. They make you believe you need to see Russell Westbrook and Steph Curry and LeBron James on Xmas day while the kids are giving you multiple headaches with their loud toys. The NBA has yet to figure out how to make this game breathtaking. The basic problem is that we see these players all year give 100%, sell out for their teams. We know what they are capable of. Yet, they give 65% in the All-Star game. We are cheated. As fans, we have been conditioned to go big or go home. Give effort. Compete. Care.
NBA All-Stars don’t care about the game so why should we?
photo via llananba