An NBA All-Star Shame

On Valentine’s weekend, the National Basketball Association showcased their annual all-star weekend lineup, which features the slam dunk contest, three-point shootout, skills competition, rookie challenge and the all-star game.  Like every other major sport, the NBA’s version of the all-star game is a joke.  The final score was 141-139.  Great game, right?  Not exactly. For some, it gets their blood pumping to see Deron Williams throw up an alley-oop pass to a teammate; however, what fans should be turned off by is witnessing five defenders lethargically jogging down court, pretending to play defense on Williams, while simultaneously fantasizing that their cherry-picking might pay off in the form of a highlight reel dunk on the next possession.

Sure it’s nice to see a high-scoring game, but the NBA all-star game has become less extraordinary each year.  The NBA needs to find a way to spice up their all-star weekend. The Association could feature a 3-on-3 tournament in which the top 12 vote-getters from each conference form eight teams of three.  In a bracket-like fashion, each game would feature six All-Stars facing off for one quarter (12 minutes) of 3-on-3 basketball. Ultimately, the top team from each conference would face off in a finale with a charity donation going to the winning trio’s foundation.  In a 3-on-3 game fans would be able to see Kobe Bryant cross-over Lebron James instead of watching Mr. Bryant weave through a few defenders running a lackadaisical zone defense in which no defender is held accountable for blowing their assignment.  The most intriguing aspect of this format is imagining stars like Chris Paul, Kobe and Tim Duncan teaming up to take on Derrick Rose, Lebron and Dwight Howard. Who would win? Tune in to find out!  Maybe the idea is unconventional and farfetched, but it’s something that has the potential to engage a fan base that has recently become dazed by defenseless basketball exhibitions.

The day prior to this year’s all-star game, the NBA crowned 5 feet 9 inches guard Nate Robinson as the slam dunk contest’s first three-time champion. Once glamorous, the slam dunk contest has become a circus. Although it’s impressive to see a man of his stature leap at the iron, those who have followed the competition for years know that they’ve seen much better. Vince Carter used to electrify stadiums when he would throw the rock between his legs and slam it down.  The image of Air Jordan soaring through an arena after launching off from behind the free throw line seems like a mirage at this point. And Dominique Wilkins’s slam dunk performance to some fans is as distant of an event as the Lincoln assassination.  Not too long ago, back in the ’90s, stars like Michael Jordan took part in the dunk contest; MJ wasn’t concerned with taking a day off or resting up for his next road trip, he did it for the fans. Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Kobe Bryant are three of today’s NBA stars, yet each year their absence slaughters the NBA’s legendary competition.

What better way to engage a fan base that is stuck watching a group of C-list athletes in a dunk contest, than to pit Kobe Bryant versus Lebron James in the event. Fans shouldn’t have to observe Shannon Brown’s elementary alley-oop attempts. Let’s face it; Brown versus Nate Robinson cannot compare to the hype that a Kobe versus Lebron dunk contest would inspire.

The NBA’s regular season is 82 games long, baseball has 162 games and football lasts for five months.  Faced with schedules that stretch out over several months, casual sports fans often complain that every game is the same. All-star weekends should be distinct from regular season games and should give fans a fresh experience that cannot be seen in a regular season game.

The National Football League’s Pro Bowl outlaws blitzing and frowns upon hard tackles, which results in offense-dominated, high-scoring affairs.  Drew Brees’ toddler could probably throw a touchdown pass against Pro Bowl defenders who appear to be more concerned with avoiding being fined for unnecessary roughness than they are concerned about defending their receiver.  The players might as well throw on sandals and play a game of flag football, because the game is pointless. At least fans could actually relate to their favorite players and see their faces, without helmets on, in an offseason flag football game.

In 2003, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig installed an incentive to the all-star game which hands home-field advantage in the World Series to the winning league.  The decision was made in order to promote competitiveness, a year after the 2002 all-star game ended in an eleventh inning “tie” (a term that is typically unaffiliated with baseball).  Baseball’s all-star game method has successfully made games more competitive and watchable to the observer.

The NBA’s all-star game lacks luster, but so do many other sports’ all-star contests.  Major sports need to take a page out of MLB’s book.  Even a small change can better engage an audience. Something needs to be done in order to electrify crowds once again. If not, all-star games will continue to inspire fans to snore. Professional all-star games once meant something to the average fan.  It would be nice to get that flair back.