It is actually “All-Star Season” since we have had the Pro Bowl, NHL All-Star game, and now the NBA All-Star weekend in the last month. I thought it’d be fun to rank each of the four and talk a bit about this weekend’s gathering of the best players in the NBA.I don’t have a lot to add that hasn’t already been said, but like the All-Star festivities this post is all about having fun.
I have never watched more than a few minutes of the Pro Bowl. It is boring football, and the sport doesn’t lend itself to compelling flashy displays. The MLB All-Star game is somewhat better, but I don’t like the shoehorned World Series home field advantage business. I do, however, greatly enjoy both the NHL and NBA events. There have been some fun moments at the NHL All-Star game, and as a kid I loved the skills competition. One of my most vivid hockey memories is Owen Nolan calling his shot before scoring the game winning goal in San Jose. This year in Montreal we were treated to lots of scoring, a hilarious overtime penalty and even a shootout.
I’m especially looking forward to H.O.R.S.E. this weekend, butthe other events all have their merits. I think out of all the sports basketball lends itself to this type of display. I think they should have Don Nelson and Mike D’Antoni coach the teams every year and insist that they run a high tempo no defence strategy all game long (this already basically happens). Most fans of the game enjoy high flying plays. It also helps that if the game is close near the end the players instinctive competitiveness takes over year after year, leading to some decent 4th quarters.
I wonder about the purpose of having All-Star games. The leagues would tell you that they are a great opportunity to showcase the sort to fans and sponsor, and to create a major event around the league (this isn’t as true for the NFL’s Pro Bowl but they are trying to make that happen). Although many older players now skip the All-Star game for various reasons, it is still a thrill or insult for those who are selected or snubbed. Fans do watch these events but many seem to complain about the lack of quality play and some seem to remember a fictional time when these games were good.
But what is the real point of taking a group of the best players (a highly subjective and flawed exercise) and having them play a meaningless game in the middle of the season, or in the case of the new NFL plan in the playoffs? The Olympics showed us that teams filled with high caliber NBA players can create some entertaining matchups like the Gold Medal game between Spain and USA. That game, however, was for a tangible and highly desireable prize. We can never expect players to play their hardest for absolutely nothing, especially when their financial future depends on them staying healthy. Wouldn’t actual games be of more value? Each league wants to showcase its stars for marketing purposes, and the teams certainly benefit from that.
One idea I have is to replace the mid season All-Star competition with some kind of cup like tournament involving each teams best players. This won’t work for football or baseball really, but hockey and especially basketball. Can you imagine a 3-on-3 tournament involving the top 4 players from each NBA team. Condense it down to single elimination over a few days, and you’ve got a mini March Madness for the pros. The games would have to be shorter than a regular NBA game, but they could fit into 45-60 minute blocks. Award an actual trophy like the Cups they have in soccer so there is an actual point to all of it. The risk of failure and the possibility for recognizable success should help encourage the players to play harder. By including 4 players from each team no one will feel cheated out of a spot. Let one city host the whole thing to maintain the event atmosphere of the All-Star weekend. You could also give all the players a couple of days after the event for rest and mini vacations, which will hopefully limit the number of no shows.
Will this fix all of the issues with the All-Star game? Probably not, but it would make a compelling event.