Wait, no. That was Willis Reed in 1980. Let’s try again.
The All-Star Game was once “a strictly competitive game with a playoff feel,” the former all-star said. “It was a great honor to be picked, and guys didn’t want to lose. That was it in a nutshell.”
Wait, no. That was Oscar Robertson in 1990.
“The game has become an exhibition,” the former all-star MVP said. “These guys are out there trying to do the dunks. It’s a game of entertainment now. Not that there’s anything really wrong with that if that’s the route you chose to go. You certainly see some amazing things.”
Wait, no. That was Rick Barry in 2005. How about something fresh?
“What we saw last night was a video game,” former all-star Reggie Miller said Monday morning on “The Dan Patrick Show.” “That’s all it is. It’s all scoring and there’s no defense. So yes, the younger generation, the millennials, [think] ‘Oh, that was a fantastic All-Star Game. Guys of our generation, we’re like ‘This is a joke, this is an absolute joke and mockery of the game.’ ”
Miller isn’t alone. This game has gone through swings in its history, and the most recent swing has been rather hallucinogenic. This year’s game, as the Associated Press noted, set new records for points, field goals, assists, and points in one quarter, after a 101-point first session. Among the most memorable plays was one in which Steph Curry went prone on the floor in mock defense.
This is the fourth straight year the game has set a scoring record, and the increases have been dramatic: from 318 in 2014 to 321 in 2015 to 369 last year to 374 on Sunday night. For Miller, this trend has finally gone too far.
“I understand it’s a glorified exhibition game,” Miller said. “The game means nothing, the fans want to be entertained, but there’s got to be at some point some type of competition between the best players in the world. And last night, it was almost a joke. It was comical. And we highlighted that [on the game broadcast]. We showed, obviously, the great dunks and passes. You get that, but usually, come fourth quarter in a close game — which this was — the guys usually say ‘Okay, let’s go for it now. Let’s get after it.’ And that didn’t happen, and that’s disappointing, and it’s been like that for the last three years.
“So is it always going to continue to be like that?” Miller asked. “At some point in time, the players have to take the stand. Everyone’s saying the commissioner should get involved. No. it was not like that the five games I played, because guys were competitive. And it doesn’t turn into East vs. West. No, [it’s] I’m going against another top shooting guard on the Western Conference, let me go after him. That’s what it used to be like. And we just need a little bit more competitive edge. I love seeing the dunks, I love seeing the passes, I love being entertained as well, but I want the players just to compete for eight minutes in the fourth. EIGHT MINUTES.”
This general line of thought, though, has existed for at least 30 years.
“With an absence of some hard-nosed defense and a few well-placed elbows, the scores of N.B.A. all-star games read like the final vote count in a statewide election, the critics claim,” wrote the New York Times in 1986.
“When the greatest collection of basketball players in the world play at Miami Arena this afternoon, they plan to throw all caution to the wind, including any inclination to play defense,” the Orlando Sentinel’s Barry Cooper wrote in 1990. “Defense? That’s for games that count, the players say. The All-Star Game is regarded by the players as being the ultimate pick-up contest.”
“Sunday’s exhibition (I dare not call it a game) gave new meaning to Red Auerbach’s old term, ‘false hustle.’ ” The Boston Globe’s Jack Craig wrote in 1995. “There was so little defense that it made the previous weekend’s Pro Bowl look good. At least the NFL players tackled each other.”
“You wish there was a way the players could honestly play the game the way it’s supposed to be played — all out,” Newsday’s Rob Parker wrote in 1997. “Instead of intensity, you get smiles, hugs and pats on the butt. There’s little defense played. World B. Free would look like a defensive whiz out there. And even the scoring — and usually there’s a lot of that going on — doesn’t seem natural. There’s too much Harlem Globetrotters offense. The only thing missing from the trick plays is the bucket of confetti and the overweight referee. At least with the Globetrotters, it’s funny.”
“We don’t play defense,” Shaq said in 2002. “It’s all about the show, and we try to give the people great athletic moves, a lot of dunks and a lot of running and gunning.”
“The NBA showcase has become little more than an exercise in showboating,” ESPN’s Dan Ford wrote that year.
“If you came to Houston looking for a basketball game this weekend, you really were in the wrong city,” John Smallwood wrote in 2006. “For those of you who were annoyed by all of last night’s behind-the-back and no-look passes, missed alley-oop dunk attempts, cherry-picking breakaways and matador defense, I’ll ask if you are sure you wanted to see what it would have been like if these guys had taken the game seriously.”
“It’s tough to pinpoint the exact moment when we all got burned out and, then, horribly bored with the NBA All-Star game,” the Salt Lake Tribune’s Gordon Monson wrote in 2007. “Basketball minus meaning — where winning isn’t just a nice benefit, but a necessity — isn’t worth a glance. No matter what is feigned to the contrary, the players do not care who wins the All-Star Game. A few of them might worry about looking good in front of their peers and the cameras, but dirt-and-dog-level competition is nowhere in sight.”
A decade later, Steve Kerr — who coached in this year’s game — suggested offering incentives to player charities to increase the effort, that “it’s almost gone too far the other way where there’s just no resistance at all.”
“I would like to see it more competitive,” he said. “I’m not sure how to do it.”
“How about just putting pride on it?” Miller suggested the next day. “Let’s just put pride on it. Let’s just take it school yard. My team versus your team. Let’s put on a show. Let’s go.”
It’s possible that not everyone sees a problem.
“I think the biggest thing coming out of the game is that everybody leaves injury-free,” LeBron James said Sunday night, via Cleveland.com. “We gave the fans what they wanted to see and everyone left injury-free. Another successful All-Star Weekend for myself and everyone.”