Monday, February 17, 2014

NBA All Star Weekend Shouldn't Feel This Dull

Winners of the most boring competition ever conceived: The NBA's Shooting Stars Challenge.
By Joe Parello  @HerewegoJoe

Many of us are still enjoying an elongated weekend for Presidents Day, but the NBA's All Star weekend is completely finished. Per usual, it left American sports fans groaning a collective "meh," despite what the league will insist was one of the most exciting All Star weekends in history.

It shouldn't be this way.

As far back as I can remember (somewhere around '93 or '94) fans and pundits have been trying to "fix" the All Star game. On paper, last night's game should have put a ribbon on a thrilling weekend of events. The East broke an All Star game record by erasing an 18-point deficit, and winning with an also-record 163 points, as both teams combined for a, you guessed it, All Star Game record 318 total points.

With all those records being set, Blake Griffin dunking his way to 38 points, Kevin Durant matching him for the game high, and Melo and Kryrie Irving each gunning their way to 30+, what could be better?

Well, honestly, I didn't have much of a problem with the game. It was fun, entertaining, and it gave us a glimpse of all our favorite players' true abilities (Blake's crazy windmill, LeBron hitting the backboard with his elbow, Anthony Davis throwing down all over the place). My problem is the game isn't good enough to carry the horribly boring weekend of festivities that come before it.

The NBA stages seven competitions before the actual All Star Game, and four of them (all on Saturday) have become flat-out painful to watch, while one other (the three-point contest on Saturday night) can go either way.

That means once you get past Friday's All Star celebrity game and the Rising Stars Challenge, you're pretty much screwed.

The celebrity game is great because, well, who doesn't like to watch celebrities play basketball poorly. Or, in the case of U.S. Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan, oddly well. Seriously, check him out here, and fast forward to 1:10 for the sickest "old white dude at the rec center schooling you" pass ever.

Hard to hate on the Rising Stars game either, seeing as it's effectively the Diet Coke of the All Star Game, featuring younger players that are out to make a name for themselves. With so much great young talent in the league now, this game is a-ok in my book.

That leaves us All Star Saturday.

It begins on NBA TV at 3 pm with the D-League All Star Game. If you didn't know that was a thing, you're not alone. The thought of an All Star Game featuring guys that aren't even good enough to be the 12th man on the Bucks is one of the worst ideas ever. It's fine to name All Stars in the D-League, and fine if you want to play a game, but do it in a high school gym in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, don't subject us to this during the "real" All Star weekend.

Then we have All Star Saturday Night, an event that we've been told forever is fun. Well, it hasn't been for quite some time. I had editor Jeremy Conlin over for a few brews and some college basketball Saturday, and we then proceeded to watch NBA All Star Saturday on TNT.

Sure, it had its moments, most of them involving Charles Barkley, but for the most part, I found myself more intrigued by the SeaWorld/Orca documentary "Blackfish" playing on CNN, which I had already seen.

The Sears Shooting Stars Challenge started the night, and it is by far the worst competition the NBA does. Each team of three, consisting of an NBA players, an NBA legend and a WNBA player, has to make four shots. One from just outside the key on the right side, one from the top of the key, a three pointer, and … A freaking half court shot.

As you might imagine, everyone made the first three shots in about the same amount of time, then it turned into an awkward spectacle of chucking up shots from midcourt, hoping for luck to kick in and one to fall.

The fact that every team took so long to make the half court shot rendered the rest of the competition completely pointless. Even if you totally screwed up the first three shots, if you could make the half court one in less than 10 tries, you probably won.

Then we have the skills competition, which consisted of teams of two NBA players, running the floor, passing through tires and dunking, or something like that. It was too damn boring to follow, and I forget who won, but I remember that Michael-Carter Williams and Victor Oladipo were on a team, and thought that was pretty cool. I would've way rather seen a two-on-two tournament with these teams.

Then there's the three-point contest, which is whatever, and the dunk contest, which the NBA somehow found a way to make even more boring and more awkward this year.

Instead of a preliminary round of dunks to be judged, we got three dunkers from the East all "freestyle" dunking for a short period of time, with three dunkers from the West following suit. Judges Dominique Wilkins, Julius Erving and Magic Johnson then picked which team won, but all that did was give the winning team first choice in the "battle round," where individual dunkers from each side went against each other head-to-head.

Ultimately, the East won on a sick dunk from John Wall, but he didn't even officially win the contest until the fan votes for "dunker of the night" came in.

This was a jumbled hot mess that never really crowned a winner, and tried to make dunking into a team sport. Also, the freestyle round forced competitors to throw down as many dunks as possible in the allotted time, meaning there would be no great celebrations after big dunks, draining the emotion and fun out of the first half of the event.

I get that the dunk contest has been dead for a while, but the answer isn't to complicate things, the answer is to make it worthwhile for high-profile players to take part in the contest. That's a tall order, but I'd rather watch a normal, mediocre dunk contest than this garbage.

So, what would I do to fix all these problems? The same thing I proposed to fix the Pro Bowl, make them play kids games. Instead of the Shooting Stars challenge, why not have all those legends and WNBA players square off in giant a game of knockout?

Then, take the NBA players from that contest, and the skills competition, and give me a giant game of 21. Can you imagine Steph Curry, Chris Bosh, Michael Carter-Williams and all those guys scrambling for rebounds and fighting through triple teams to score? It would be awesome.

Will that all happen? Probably not, but the NBA needs to figure something out, because All Star Saturday has gone from must-see event, to afterthought, to nap time in the last decade.

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