Photo Credit: Erik Drost, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
For anyone who watched the entirety of the NBA’s All-Star Game on Sunday night, let me extend my deepest condolences. I don’t know who or what compelled you to sit through those three plus hours of torture, but hopefully they’re rotting away in a jail cell as we speak. If there’s a more appropriate example of the phrase “cruel and unusual punishment,” I haven’t found it yet.
The NBA All-Star Game has been a joke for over a decade. There hasn’t been one notable storyline coming out of All-Star Weekend since Kobe Bryant played in his last in 2016 - but even that game was only interesting because Kobe's impending retirement made the 2016 All-Star Game an impromptu sendoff for the five-time NBA champion. The play on court was, as is tradition, forgettable.
So now the NBA is in the middle of dealing with the fallout from the worst All-Star Game in its
history. Not only was the play on the court this past Sunday an embarrassment for the league - with shoddy effort, non-existent defense, and showboating half-court heaves - but those sentiments were actually backed up by record low TV ratings. Not even five million people bothered to tune into the NBA’s annual basketball celebration.
It’s a shame that the All-Star Game has devolved to this. Fans aren’t asking for the same effort players might show in, say, Game 7 of the NBA Finals, but could you be bothered to contest a shot once in a while, hmmm? If something doesn’t change (and soon), this could turn into a real problem for the NBA. Remember, this event is supposed to be fun, not torturous.
Fortunately, I’ve spent approximately the last 72 hours wracking my brain for some inventive ways to add a little spice to the All-Star Game. So far, it seems the NBA is reluctant to try anything new, but I’m not deterred. In fact, I’d be happy for them to take any of these ideas for themselves.
1. Three-on-Three Round-Robin Knockout Tournament
This one requires some explanation. Fortunately, Ice Cube was kind enough to fund his own Big 3 league, giving us some context on how this could all work out.
What I’m proposing is, instead of breaking the All-Stars into two teams (East vs. West, LeBron’s Team vs. Giannis’s Team), break them down into several groups of three for a three-on-three tournament. We could have eight teams if the All-Star roster remains at 24, with the top vote getters selecting their teammates for this round-robin-style knockout tournament. We could also seed each of these teams by the total number of votes received by the three players on each squad.
The teams of three would play the other teams from their conference until one team separated themselves from the rest. The two representative teams of the Eastern and Western conferences would then meet in an NBA All-Star Game “Finals.”
This idea has some merit. The new format might be intriguing enough to NBA players that the effort level of the event could go up significantly. Even a slight increase in competitiveness would go a long way toward revitalizing this event.
Would NBA players go for this? Who knows. These days, it feels like NBA players can barely be bothered to play in regular season games. Getting them to show up for an All-Star Game is like teaching a dog to tap dance - it might be possible in theory, but the energy and commitment it’s going to take to make it work will never, ever be worth it.
2. Just Don’t Allow Defense
After the merciful end to the All-Star Game, Boston Celtics star forward Jaylen Brown had some interesting comments, according to Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times. Brown said that the event he just participated in was “not basketball” and a “glorified layup line.” It’s hard to argue with him. That said, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
An NBA All-Star said the All-Star Game is a glorified layup line. Let’s lean into that. Players don’t want to play defense. Fine, we’ll just make defense illegal then.
I’m serious. Outlaw defense for the All-Star Game. Make it a foul for getting in the way of a pass. Caught trying to steal a pass? Two free throws for the ball handler. Oh cool, you blocked a shot off the backboard? That’s two free throws for the shooter.
Let’s stop with the pretending. If no one wants to play defense, don’t let them. Now, the fans can find out, for real, how many points could be scored in an NBA game. Competitiveness might actually return to the game too, because let’s be honest, who wants to be the one who loses a basketball game when the other team is literally not allowed to stop you?
3. Combine the Celebrity All-Star Game with the “Real” All-Star Game
Seriously, what’s the difference between a celebrity and an NBA All-Star? I mean, LeBron James is more famous than anybody who played in the Celebrity All-Star Game. Enough with the redundancy - just put the two games together and let’s see what happens.
Tell me you wouldn’t pay to see LeBron rip down a rebound, fire a cross-court outlet pass to a wide-open Selena Gomez, only for a streaking Giannis to block her shit into the third row. Or what about seeing Danny DeVito crossing up Nikola Jokic? Now that’s good TV.
On the other end of the athleticism spectrum, we would also get the opportunity to finally see how non-basketball athletes compare to NBA stars on the basketball court. Seattle Seahawks wide receiver D.K. Metcalf sure looked impressive dominating the Celebrity All-Star Game against actors and musicians - let’s see how he fares when he’s one-on-one with Kevin Durant or Jayson Tatum. It’s the crossover event of our dreams: come on, NBA, let’s make this happen!
4. Televise a second “Secondary All-Star Game” (SASG) at the same time as the “Real” All-Star Game (RASG)
When you think about it, the NBA All-Star Game is a pretty exclusive affair. Only 24 players out in a league of about 450 have the opportunity to suit up in the NBA’s mid-season ritual. That leaves approximately 426 other players without much to do over the long weekend.
Sure, most will probably have plans to skip town and hit the beaches of Cabo or something, but if we can scrape together a group of 24 players or so, we could have a separate, secondary All-Star Game to the “real” All-Star Game. This one wouldn’t have the same level of fanfare, anticipation, or cache, but it has one thing the RASG could only dream of having: players who actually want to be there.
Seriously. Those 24 guys don’t have to be superstars. Just 24 guys who want to play basketball on TV for some extra cash. Heck, this might even be the opportunity of a lifetime for some of them. How many people know the name Jose Alvarado? Or Gary Trent Jr? Or Luke Kennard (shout out to the Cincy boy)?
Here’s the kicker: televise this game at the exact same time as the RASG. Now we’ll see what matters to NBA fans: the stars, or actual basketball. If the SASG out draws the RASG, that might be enough of a kick in the ass to get some real change to the event, too.
5. Cancel It
Easy enough. No one cares, and no one would miss it. At this point, it’s such an embarrassment for the league it might not even be worth it anymore.