I hesitate to call a basketball game featuring awe-inspiring dunks, street ball dribble moves and an endless supply of White Chocolate-esque passes boring. I hesitate to call any basketball game featuring 24 of the best hoopers in the world boring. I hesitate to call any basketball game boring.
But for the past couple seasons, the NBA’s All-Star Game has been —what’s the word — boring.
Despite being marketed as a game that pits the league’s best against one another, the NBA’s All-Star Game has, in recent years, been nothing more than players taking turns to get shots up, with any presence of competitiveness being nonexistent.
In an attempt to increase fan intrigue and simultaneously reinstill some notion of parity, the 2018 NBA All-Star Game will disband the “East vs. West” format and experiment with a playground-style pick-up game in which the top vote-getters in each respective conference select any of the 22 players who earn an All-Star nomination to their squad, regardless of conference.
The change to the traditional format will be a much-needed breath of fresh air for a spectacle that, for numerous reasons, desperately needs resuscitation. The disparity in talent between the historically weaker Eastern Conference and powerhouse Western Conference has well been apparent in the past couple seasons, and with Jimmy Butler, Gordon Hayward and Paul Millsap heading west, the talent gap only stands to grow. With the new format, the All-Star Game will no longer boil down to Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James versus the world.
This change in the format also has unlimited potential to further solidify the association as the best soap opera in all of sports. Imagine a scenario in which James is the East’s leading vote-getter and Kyrie Irving is elected a starter. Or a scenario in which Kevin Durant is the West’s leading vote-getter and both Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook are named starters. It’s even fitting that TNT, the network whose catchphrase is “We know drama,” will broadcast the game.
For all the implications this change to the rules will bring, the burden of curating a quality product will fall on the players’ efforts. What was initially a thrilling exhibition between the league’s brightest stars has devolved into a shootout in which both squads approach the 200-point mark. Players may put in a smidgen of effort in the game’s final moments for bragging rights, but the majority of the match is played with a Sunday stroll-in-the-park flow that juxtaposes the frantic pace to which the game is typically played.
Today’s players don’t care about the All-Star Game, and one needn’t be a lifelong fan of the game to notice the lackadaisical, if not nonexistent, effort on defense. Last year’s All-Star Game looked more reminiscent of a bullfighting match than a basketball game featuring 24 of the world’s best ballers. If a ball handler began a drive to the basket with even the most minimal of energy, the points were there for the taking at the cup.
Too many times were there instances in which nine of the 10 players on the court were standing around doing literally nothing as the ball handler made a move. It’s one thing to try and put on a show with ridiculous passes, 40-foot three-pointers and Slam Dunk Contest-caliber jams, but it’s another to do these during a glorified scrimmage. In essence, the All-Star Game has become boring, a spectacle for the sake of being a spectacle.
Anthony Davis dropped 50 points and no one batted an eye because the majority of his baskets came on uncontested layups and dunks, which even the worst player in the league would have had no problem executing. There were a couple “oohs” and “ahhs” from the crowd when Davis or any other All-Star on the floor slammed one home, but the jams were devoid of substance. It’s not that fans don’t want to see the best players in the world share a court or the highlight plays that seem to defy reality, because those are the key reasons as to why the game exists in the first place.
Hundreds upon hundreds of games take place each year in which the superstar faces off against opponents who are clearly inferior from a talent perspective. So for just one day out of the season, fans want to see what could possibly happen when the game’s best face off at the peak of their powers. This is the reason that when two stars, especially those who play the same position, meet in the regular season or postseason, the game is considered a marquee matchup, because there is an expectation that these players won’t just be battling for the win, but to prove who’s the alpha dog. The All-Star Game should be the perfect storm, but yet the sense of urgency is nonexistent.
In what could have been another monotonous affair, Antetokounmpo shined as a glimmer of hope for the future of the All-Star Game. Making his first appearance, The Greek Freak operated at 100 miles per hour from the jump, slamming down ferocious dunks in traffic, one of which was a poster on Curry by way of a put-back slam, and, shockingly, playing defense. Antetokounmpo played with a ferocity that no other player matched, and although Davis won the MVP award, the Milwaukee Bucks’ pride and joy was the real treat of the night.
If the NBA really wants to make the All-Star Game must-see television, they’ll have to find some way to incentivize players to combine their flashy moves moves with just a fraction of their regular and postseason intensity. The additional drama and excitement will only take the exhibition so far.