Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Above the Rim: Another Utterly Underwhelming NBA All Star Weekend

On paper, the NBA All star weekend should be one of the (best) sporting events of the calendar year. Unlike other professional all star games, the NBA hosts an entire weekend of events, with different (things) happening every day from Friday until Sunday. The two biggest events besides the All Star game itself are the Dunk Contest and Three Point Contest. Regrettably, these promising factors haven't lead to very much entertainment in the last few years. It seems as if I get sucked into all of the hype year after year. It's going be great!! The dunks are going to be awesome! And the three point contest! And the actual game! After it was all over this year, I felt really let down. It can't be this bad, right? With all of the best players in the league participating, why does this weekend continue to disappoint?

In reality, All Star Weekend doesn't really kick off until Saturday Night. Sure the celebrity game and Rising Stars challenge are on Friday, but most people first start tuning in when the Three Point contest tips off. I actually like the Rising Stars game that takes place on Friday night. It gives me a chance to check out the rookies or second year guys who I may not have had the chance to watch on TV. Unfortunately, the game play suffers from several of the same downfalls of the All Star game (more on this later).

After the shooting stars challenge, the first possibly interesting event, the Skills Challenge, takes place. This event pits point guards against each other to see who can complete an obstacle course the fastest. The course features dribbling, passing, and shooting. If every player when all out, this would truly be an entertaining event. Promising rookie Damion Lillard took home the prize, but with some clear lack of interest from some of the other participants. Like several of the weekend's events, there's an overall feeling of lethargy. Players walk instead of run. Lazily shoot instead of setting their feet and following through. Take their time instead of going all out. Kenny Smith even talked about this right before the Skills Challenge started. He called it the "too cool for school" mentality. Either the player will try hard and go full speed, or just casually walk through the course like he doesn't really care about the result. The sad thing is, a lot of these players may not care about the events. Why should they? What's at stake?

Kyrie Irving won the three point contest in another series of disappointing performances. Some of the best and most entertaining long range shooters were participating, including Steve Novak, Ryan Anderson, Matt Bonner, and Stephen Curry. None of them did very well, with Bonner making it to the final and losing to Irving. I wasn't as disappointed in this event because Irving clearly gave it his all and was on a mission to prove himself. A young superstar with not a ton of name recognition among casual fans, this weekend was his time to show the world what he is capable of. Winning the three point contest and playing well in both the Rising Stars game and All Star game certainly helped.

The dunk contest was just disastrous, as several big time dunkers failed to live up to the hype. This was most evidently clear with Knicks guard James "Flight" White, a Youtube sensation that has never stuck around in the NBA long enough to participate in the dunk contest. He failed to make an impressive free throw line dunk and had to hedge on his second dunk because of several missed attempts. 2007 dunk contest winner Gerald Green also failed to perform, getting knocked out early. Terrence Ross ended up representing the Eastern Conference and beat Jeremy Evans in the final. Neither finalist never really blew me away, and several dunks lacked the creativity I was hoping for. I hope more contestants take time to really practice and create original dunks for next year. However, I do understand the pressure of having to perform well on your first try with no one else helping you. It think that pressure definitely affected White, who probably had the most hype coming in.

The All Star game itself suffered from many of the key problems I've already outlined. Lack of effort, no defense, no stakes. The game will always be filled with incredible dunks and no contact. Centers will start shooting threes. Players will walk up the court and only take offensive possessions seriously. The combined score will always float around 300. It was refeshing to see the way Kobe Bryant defended LeBron James at the end of the game. Even though I'm a Celtics fan that hates all things Lakers, I've never lost respect for Kobe in the way he plays and competes every night. So what if it's a meaningless All Star game? Kobe is going to try to win at all costs. You can't not love that attribute of a basketball player.

This is the player's "vacation weekend." The longest stretch of time when they won't be playing games until the playoffs start/end. Why should they try to compete when they have 30 more games and playoff series down the road. There's no reason to get hurt or over exert yourself. If you look closely at the sidelines during most events, you'll see players having fun with each other and just hanging out. There's no reason to take this seriously. They're just there to have fun before they get back to the NBA grind.  Changes need to be made, but the league might not be very motivated to do so. They tried to have a whole "East vs. West" component to this years events, but it fell flat because it didn't matter which conference won. Until legitimate stakes are added to give players something to fight for (similar to baseball's home field advantage in the World Series), this weekend will be nothing but marginally entertaining. Maybe that's all the NBA wants. A lot of people watch it, hoping to see something spectacular. But if you're a big basketball fan like me, you want to see the greatness these incredible basketball players are capable of. I guess all we can do is wait.


  1. I wish we could go back a couple of years to when i actually enjoyed watching the all star break. Every year the dunks in my opinion get worse and worse. I get that after a while it is hard to think of new original dunks because everything has been done but at least have the best dunkers perform. To this day I do not understand why we can't see Lebron dunk in the dunk contest or see Blake Griffin one more time (even though I thought his car dunk was completely overrated). I think I had more fun watching the friday night games then the saturday night competitions.

  2. All-star games in general are relics from a different era, when only a few games were televised, salaries were much lower, and (in baseball) there was no interleague play. So if you lived in an American League city, who was this Roberto Clemente guy from Pittsburgh? You wouldn't see him any other way.

    Low salaries meant that the players cared about the difference between a winner's share and a loser's share. And no interleague play meant that fans debated all year about which league was better. Could Bob Feller strike out Stan Musial? Who was faster, Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle? Plus, in that first generation after Jackie Robinson, you had great players who still felt like they needed to prove something

    Now, in every sport, nobody cares who wins. The players don't need the money and don't want to get hurt. The managers make sure everybody gets to play. The interleague record is a much better measure of league strength. And besides, any player you want to see has highlights on SportsCenter and plays a game on national cable at least every two weeks. I don't even watch the all-star games any more.

  3. Right on point Doug Muder.

  4. I suppose I'm disillusioned by the whole spectacle of it all. I badly want it to meet my high expectations because of the incredible talent level, but it never has. I really need to be cognizant of this next year so I don't continue to make the same mistakes. I think All Star appearances have become just another thing to check off on a player's resume/legacy. Whenever the conversation comes up about how good a player is, the number of all star appearances seems to play a small part. Although inconsequential considering what else a great player can accomplish over the span of his career, the distinction is still a somewhat reputable benchmark for just how well they performed.