This article was concurrently published at NoCoastBias.com on February 17, 2015.
All-Star Game selections are designed to recognize the best players of the league. You can malign the fan-voting system if you want, or the way the All-Star rosters are frequently changed due to injuries; but for the sake of this article, let us assume that the goal of the All-Star game is to highlight the skills and accomplishments of the best players in each conference. If we could identify the superstars of the league and put them all in the same game, then we would expect to see the best display of the sport. Unfortunately, that is hardly the end product. In fact, the annual matchup between these two teams of superstars is underwhelming at best. With the exception of the MLB All-Star Game, which still holds some semblance of respectable competition, most of these such events have turned into casual affairs, devoid of any real strategy or defense; in particular this is the case with the NBA All-Star Game and the NFL Pro Bowl. I’m still on board with the honor of an All-Star selection, but fans looking to see a competitive game are often disappointed.
Thus I had minimal interest in watching the NBA All-Star Game this year, but happened to catch the 3-point contest on Saturday night. This season has featured some of the best individual shooting performances in the NBA, and the league’s biggest names were all participating in this year’s contest. I watched stars Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kyle Korver, plus finalist Kyrie Irving and defending champ Marco Belinelli. Their shots seemed almost effortless, arching through the air as they had numerous times before in practice. Curry put on quite a show, making 13 consecutive shots at one point during his victorious final round, staking his claim as the top shooter in the NBA. And anyone who wasn’t impressed should try to just shoot 25 shots in a minute from the NBA distance, let alone try to sink 13 in a row. Already impressed, I just had to watch the Slam Dunk Contest, which I admittedly had not watched since Blake Griffin’s over-hyped, shouldn’t-have-won, jumping-over-the-hood-of-the-car-he-happens-to-endorse dunk. This year’s contest featured some of the game’s young stars who brought a combination of skill and athleticism that brought the New York crowd to its feet. Victor Oladipo and Zach Levine dazzled the audience with the off-the-backboard, between-the-legs, around-the-back dunks that looked like video game manifestations.
For every young kid that has picked up a basketball in the driveway, the All-Star festivities are a reminder of the playground games that put bragging rights on the line and creativity to the forefront. I remember trying to the hit the shot from the back of the driveway in the final round of H-O-R-S-E. My friends and I would lower the rim and pretend we were dunking on the big stage. Weekends were all about who could make the off-the-roof, left-handed, one-footed, bank shot that no one would be able to recreate. That was the fun of the sport, making our own rules and trying to do something that hadn’t been done before. With the eventual transition to organized teams and official competition, these antics fade away from times of youth. But for one night, the NBA puts away the rulebook and brings out the bright lights. Never mind that the dunk contest scoring makes no mathematical sense, we just want to see someone defy the law of gravity. And the players get into the excitement too, cheering for every next highlight-reel worthy moment, just like they were back on the playground. I was genuinely entertained and impressed with the skills and pageantry of each contest.
Maybe the NFL can take a lesson from this too. Who wouldn’t want to see Tom Brady and Peyton Manning line up at the 50-yard line and try to hit different targets in the end zone? Let’s see who can nail a 70 yard field goal, or make the best one-handed catch. The MLB already has the home run derby, but why stop there? Let’s see who can throw a strike to third on the run from the warning track. For one night, let’s put the entertainment value back into sports. It doesn’t always have to be about teams and championships, sometimes it can just be fun. So yes, I’ll overlook the mediocrity of the game itself, and instead watch to see who can dribble through obstacles the fastest or who can hit the shot from half court. I want to see 10 3-pointers in a row, or maybe the triple-backflip, off-the-trampoline, through-the-ring-of-fire, windmill dunk. Why? Because that’s entertaining, and sports should be fun. The rest of the season can be about competing for every point and trying to make the playoffs. For one day, it doesn’t have to be about the actual game; just make it entertaining. Most of the players probably began playing on a playground, just trying to do something exciting and new. Once a year, they have a night to go back. Watch them put on a show. AN