Perhaps no talent showcase brings out more curmudgeons and dissatisfied customers afterward than NBA all-star weekend. Whether it’s the lack of competitiveness of an otherwise meaningless exhibition or the snooze-fest that has become the slam dunk contest, an event that features some of the most well-known personalities in professional sports somehow manages to fall flat.
Though the weekend will never be the unwatchable train wreck that is the NFL Pro Bowl, there is plenty of room for improvement. While the NBA shouldn’t follow the path of Major League Baseball and have the Eastern Conference play the Western Conference for homecourt advantage in the NBA Finals, nor turn the all-star game into whatever the NHL does with team captains and a fantasy draft, here are a few suggestions to bring some energy back to the weekend:
Create an all-star snub-off for extra roster spot
Kevin Durant had the perfect response to those upset he was selected for the all-star game despite missing more than half the season with injuries: “Whoever want my spot can play me one-on-one for it.”
The league’s reigning most valuable player doesn’t have to justify the coaches’ decision to name him a reserve after fans somehow overlooked him. But Commissioner Adam Silver could expand the all-star game rosters in the most thrilling way possible by letting three all-star “snubs” from each conference compete in a King of the Hill contest for the 13th roster spot. The NBA allows teams to have 13 active players each game, so the all-star game should move beyond just 12 players.
A quick, round-robin, one-on-one tournament played in advance of Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge could generate the kind of intense battle that is normally absent. And, hey, if Durant really wants to live up to his word, a “beat the MVP for an all-star spot contest” wouldn’t be too bad, either.
Move the three-point shootout to the closing act
Since it will probably take divine — or sneaker company — intervention to get the biggest names to participate in the NBA slam dunk contest, the league might as well close with the competition that provides the most star power. This season’s field could produce possibly the greatest three-point shootout to date. The assembled field – featuring five all-stars (James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kyle Korver) and two former champions (Irving and Marco Belinelli) – will somehow serve as the set-up act for a four-man, dunk contest group unknown to most casual NBA fans.
John Wall allegedly saved the dunk contest last year when he uncorked a never-before-seen jam in which he hurdled Washington Wizards’ mascot G-Man, grabbed the basketball from him in mid-air, and then threw down a reverse dunk. Wall’s subsequent dance celebration with Indiana’s Paul George shut down the competition — but most fans at home didn’t know it was over because of a bizarre East-West format in which participants weren’t going head-to-head.
Fifteen years after Vince Carter brought back the dunk contest and turned the game’s biggest stars into mesmerized admirers the excitement has fallen considerably and made it more a showcase for up-and-comers or the unheralded. Creativity and athleticism were also replaced by gimmicks and stunts and the rules have been changed so many times that the entertainment value has also been diminished. No need to stick to that formula when the three-point shootout never has a shortage of familiar faces and, frankly, has become the defining shot for this basketball generation.
Stop messing with the Rising Stars Challenge
In recent years, the NBA has taken an if-it-ain’t-broke-fix-it approach with the game formerly known as the Rookie-Sophomore challenge. For reasons that only made sense to TNT personalities and removed any hope for competitiveness, the league scrapped the competition for the past two draft classes and decided to mix up the talent so that participants would play for the pride of … a basketball analyst.
This year, the NBA has created a game that serves a dual purpose of promoting its international talent and the top first-year and second-year players in a United States versus the World format. The switch makes sense this year because there has been a decent influx of titillating talents from overseas. But what happens when there is a drop-off? Or what happens in the unlikely event the American talent is not up to par? USA versus the World has potential to be exciting – and will do wonders in the NBA’s marketing plans – but the best nine rookies and the best nine sophomores should play each other, regardless of where they are born. It doesn’t matter how long they’re in the league, players still debate the talent of their respective draft classes and the old format added an intriguing element for those discussions. Sometimes, it’s okay to leave a good idea alone.
Expand the Skills Challenge to include big men
The NBA has become a little man’s game in recent years, with league rules that prohibit hand checking increasing the need for lead guards capable of breaking down defenses with speed and impeccable ball handling. Those abilities have been highlighted for the past 12 years in the Skills Challenge, an obstacle course of passing, sprinting and shooting that has been dominated by backcourt players.
But the competition has also been incredibly discriminatory. The evolution of the game has forced big men to be more than some plodding post presence backing down opponents all night. The elite modern bigs lead the break, run the floor for lobs and serve as facilitators. Why not allow Anthony Davis or Giannis Antetokounmpo to show off their wide-ranging talent and let them challenge Jeff Teague or Kyle Lowry? Maybe let them team up as guard-big men duos? Wouldn’t it be slightly more entertaining if DeMarcus Cousins or Marc Gasol were involved? Even if the big men failed miserably, they might at least leave behind a memory.
Rotate the game through warm climates
The NBA all-star game is back in the Northeast for the first time since Philadelphia hosted the festivities in 2002. And what kind of weather is in store? Well, it will be 23 degrees on Friday, snow on Saturday and be 18 degrees on Sunday. Fortunately, the events will be held indoors in heated venues. But for weekend participants unable to relax at locations with white sands and blue water, it would be nice to spend mid-February in a place where they might see some sunshine.
From 2006 to 2013, the all-star game was held in either Texas, Nevada, Louisiana, Arizona, California or Florida. That hasn’t always guaranteed the best weather – it snowed in Dallas in 2010?!? – but at least decreased the chances someone would have to pack a winter coat. Rotating the game between Los Angeles, Houston, New Orleans, Phoenix, Orlando and Miami would be a reward of sorts, especially for players in the Eastern Conference who have to spend their winters in chilly locations.
So where does the NBA plan to have the 2016 all-star game? Toronto, of course.