It feels like every year the NBA tries to “revamp” All-Star Saturday Night. It has been eons since the glory years of Larry Bird outright Three-Point Shootout win guarantees and dunking duels between the game’s elite1, and the NBA desperately wants to rediscover some of this shine and sparkle again. The All-Star Legends Game is resting in peace (there were far too many player injuries) and the Rookie/Sophomore game has been moved to Friday night. Left in their places are the Shooting Stars Challenge (a longstanding failed attempt to include WNBA players in NBA All-Star festivities2) and the Skills Challenge that does not ask players to stretch themselves beyond a basic middle school dribbling and passing drill. The Three-Point Shootout has been the night’s highlight for some time, but it too often lacks a degree of drama (certainly not of degree of the Bird and Craig Hodges years). With the exception of some Blake Griffin car acrobatics a few years ago, the Dunk Contest, once the main event, has been stale for some time, often muddled by a cast of either relative unknown participants3 or players that need far less of the spotlight4, an ever changing judging system that over the years makes less and less sense, and an open timed format where missed dunks are allowed and any competitive momentum is allowed to dissipate.
Per usual (but often misguided) attempt to improve, the NBA again made some tweaks to spice up this year’s affair. A handful did work, most blatantly did not, and a few left me questioning the professional acumen of the organizers from the NBA office. Here are my thoughts on what to keep from this year’s All-Star Saturday Night, what to immediately eliminate, and some suggestions to change this potentially dynamic experience for the better.
ELIMINATE…Nick Cannon as an MC. I get that he hosts on television for a living, but I just don’t get why he hosts on television for a living. His question and answer sessions with event winners were excruciating to watch and poisoned any potential positive momentum earned on the court.
KEEP…any situation that allows fathers and sons to participate together. Why not take the conceit further? Who wouldn’t have wanted to see a two on two battle between the Currys (Dell and Stephen) and the Hardaways (Tim and Tim Jr.)? Why not let them all participate in the Three-Point Shootout? Next year bring in the Robinsons (Glenn and Glenn Jr.) and the Thompsons (Klay and Mychal) and make into a father-son round robin tournament. There is so much viewing pleasure here, NBA!
ELIMINATE…any opportunity for Ben McLemore to “act.” He made Shaquille O’Neal look like Daniel Day-Lewis.
KEEP…the money ball location choice in the Three-Point Shootout. This strategic element will improve with more experience (many participants did not seem to use it well), but it does add an appreciated new dimension to the night’s best event.
KEEP…the East versus West motif, but make it actually matter. Bring in Team Captains (perhaps LeBron and Durant) and have them coach their conference participants on each event. It will mean something if there is a greater incentive for winning the night.
ELIMINATE…the Skills Challenge as it currently exists. These are world class NBA players. Why not treat them as such? If you are going to have a skills competition, include higher level professional skills. Perhaps include a full court behind the back pass or a free-style creative dribbling battle. We know point guards are skillful with the ball, but who doesn’t want to see some NBA big men showing some handle in the open floor? If the NBA is really “fantastic” and “amazing,” why include a Skills Competition that is staid, dull, and boring?
ELIMINATE…WNBA participation. Period.
KEEP…retired player participation, but go further with it. As the NBA loves to (rightfully so) honor its past (although these Mount Rushmore conversations are a bit silly), the All-Star Weekend is such a unique opportunity to bring in past rivalries to compete again in some creatively themed events. Who changes the channel for a John Starks versus Nick Anderson clutch shooting competition?
ELIMINATE…the Shooting Stars Challenge all together. No one wants to watch a WNBA player, a former NBA player, and a current NBA player heave half court shots to beat an arbitrary clock.
ELIMINATE…Dunk Contests that end unexpectedly. After John Wall’s impressive dunk of the night, the event was suddenly over. Did John Wall win? Did the East win? I was so confused.
KEEP…a judges panel that features Dominique Wilkins, Magic Johnson, and Julius Erving.
ELIMINATE…going down the judges line one by one in the Dunk Contest to hear who they voted for. Poor Dr. J, so ready to unleash a zinger or two, was asked to always reveal his answer third (no thanks to Nick Cannon), so that by the time it was his turn, the winner had already been determined by Dominique and Magic’s votes. If voting matters, and it could, present it effectively.
KEEP…Steve Kerr and Reggie Miller as Three Point Shootout analysts. I felt like I was listening to a master class.
KEEP…teams in the Dunk Contest. Until the anti-climactic ending, there was a bit more intrigue this year, wondering who was going to face who in the battle rounds.
ELIMINATE…the freestyle round of the Dunk Contest. There were too many missed dunks. Hold these participants to a higher standard.
ELIMINATE…on that note, missed dunks in general.
ELIMINATE…events, besides a hypothetical “the best mid-range jumper for a big,” that Chris Bosh could potentially win. Chris Bosh has won enough already.
The “Celebrity” Game is also in need of a bit of a facelift. The involvement of Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan as a player and Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose as coaches are great places to start. Here are three other suggestions:
ELIMINATE…Kevin Hart as your go-to and, as deemed by ESPN, “A List” celebrity for the Celebrity Game. He is not “A-List,” he is annoying, and should not be asked to return.
ELIMINATE…a Celebrity Game that forces me to look up who some of its participants are. It stretches the meaning of the word “celebrity” to an unwanted extent.
KEEP…Zach Lowe involved. This man is a genius. “Get Lowe…”