By Alex Frandsen, sports columnist
Every Adam Sandler movie backward. An intellectual discussion about life’s meaning between Tila Tequila and Kim Kardashian. A lightbulb for the full duration of its lifespan.
These are all things I would rather watch than the NBA All Star game.
The West won this year’s iteration – which took place this past Sunday – by a score of 196-173, and it was truly a terrible watching experience. The shot selection would have been highly suspect at a pickup game at Marino, much less an NBA game, and defenders were literally hopping out of the way to allow the other team to score.
I know why it exists. February is squarely in the doldrums of the too-long NBA season, and fans need something to look forward to. It’s great publicity for the league, and undoubdedly brings in huge amounts of cash. But the game itself has become almost a parody. The players don’t care, the coaches don’t care and the public will stop caring very soon. It’s sad, too, because the NBA is the perfect league for an All Star game. No other sport in the US has such widely recognized players, and no other sport expresses the athletes’ skill so constantly. Something needs to change. With that in mind, here are some ways to rescue the NBA All Star game from the pits of basketball hell and bring it back to at least something resembling a competitive sport.
First, give the winning conference home court advantage in the Finals.
This is what the MLB does, and they consistently have the most competitive and exciting All Star games. So take note of this sentence, because it will probably never be written again: the NBA should take a lesson from the MLB on being more exciting.
Getting to play the majority of your games in a playoff series at home is huge, especially in basketball. It means traveling less, no hotel rooms and the privilege of playing a Game 7 in front of your own fans instead of your opponent’s bloodthirsty crowd. It can seem like a minute advantage, but there is a reason teams jockey so hard for the higher seeds.
If the NBA were to implement this, it is pretty much guaranteed that the players would actually break a sweat. Imagine Lebron James and Steph Curry going 100 percent in the fourth quarter because they know it could very well determine how a meeting in May between their two teams goes. Imagine Kawhi Leonard hounding Paul George on defense because he knows it could help bring him another ring a few months from now. It would actually add purpose to a currently purposeless game.
Second, have each conference’s team get picked by fan-selected captains.
The All Star game is essentially a pick-up game, right? The players are only together for one game, having fun is (slightly) more important than winning and there is always that one guy who keeps pulling up for 3-pointers even though he is rocking at .2 percent for his career from beyond the arc.
Why not have the teams set up like a pick-up game, too? The fans would get to vote on who they think should be captain of each league, and the player with the most votes gets top-dog status and gets to craft his own team. Plus, it would all be televised. This year, it probably would have been Lebron in the East and Steph Curry in the West. Which of his teammates would Curry pick first, Klay Thompson or Draymond Green? Would Lebron pick Kevin Love first, his current teammate, or Chris Bosh, his old teammate and friend? Would Kobe Bryant murder Curry on camera if he slipped past the fifth round? The potential for drama is definitely there.
In the words of poet and icon Big Sean, “Ain’t nothing more important than the moolah.” That truth can be applied to NBA players, maybe especially so. Players today are hyper-aware of their brand and business, and some have whole marketing teams behind them. If a considerable cash bonus were given to players on the winning team, and an even more considerable grand prize given to the top performers on each team, then we would probably see a notable increase in defense. The number of revolutions per minute at which John Wooden and James Naismith are rolling in their graves would hopefully be decreased as well.
Plus, it would add a whole new dynamic. All Stars still on their rookie contracts would be diving after loose balls, throwing elbows and boxing out with a vengeance. The insanely rich players could take the prize money and donate it to charity or something along those lines. And at least one player would blow it all at a strip club that night and promptly end up on TMZ the next morning. Who says no?
We are currently in a golden age of the NBA. There is an influx of talent and star power that is maybe unmatched in the league’s history, and it has become the second most culturally relevant sport after football. The All Star game should reflect that. It should be about incredible players doing incredible things, and about giving the fans a product that matches their enthusiasm. So please, no more 200 point games. No more big men pulling up 5 feet behind the line for 3-pointers.
Could some of these ideas end in disaster? Perhaps. Are they practical? Hard, maybe. But regardless, they would be a step in the right direction. It’s time to take the All Star game back.