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Ego and NBA All-Star Weekend: Recap, tweaks and more!

Can I improve it? That’s to be determined...

2023 NBA All Star Game Photo by Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images

The NBA’s All-Star Weekend has come and gone and now that I’ve had some time to digest it all, I have some thoughts to get out. For most, the focus has shifted to the the second half of the season. I’m not sure why it’s considered the “midway point” being that the Houston Rockets have already played 58 games, aka, 70 percent of their season.

In fact, some teams have actually already played closer to 74 percent of the season. This seemingly minor anecdote is just one of the many issues fans have with the annual festival and something I think needs to be addressed going forward. So that’s what I’m here to do, solve problems.

But first, a quick recap of this past weekend’s festivities:

NBA All-Star Celebrity Game

I caught some of the game and actually found it to be one of the more enjoyable events this time around. What I enjoyed most was a post-retirement Albert Pujols sighting. He’s not pregnant, he’s just been eating good. Also of note, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf took home the MVP award as he displayed his remarkable athleticism and threw down a handful of dunks.

That being said, it’s insane to see how much more graceful basketball players look when they jump compared to genetic freaks such as Metcalf and previous participants, Myles Garrett.

Rising Stars Challenge:

Jabari Smith Jr., Alperen Şengün and Tari Eason represented H-Town as part of the revamped Rookies and Sophomores game. Jalen Green was originally going to participate but didn’t due to his groin strain. Bari and Tari ended up finishing up on the runner-up squad as New Orleans Pelicans’ guard, Jose Alvarado, took home MVP as part of the team coached by Pau Gasol.

I’m still not sure how I feel about the newer format for this game that splits the players into four rosters, but I don’t mind them changing this into a tournament. As long as they’re displaying the young talent, I’m cool with it. Like the All-Star game, this one can be devoid of defense. However, unlike other weekend festivities, the players that people want to see usually commit to it, unless it’s for an injury.

It’s probably not fair for me to pick at the NBA G-League Next Up Game on the account that I missed it. Like the Rising Stars game, as long as they’re showing off the cream of the crop, it’s good with me.

Skills Challenge

Jabari was joined by Jaden Ivey and Paolo Banchero as part of the rookie squad that took on the Utah Jazz and Antetokounmpo Brothers (minus the one we all wanted to see). Jrue Holiday took Giannis’ place and I ask, why not just get the other two Holiday brothers to compete? Anyways, Team Utah won, so in the probable words of Vernon Maxwell, “BOO.”

I won’t sugarcoat it, I’m not a fan of this event. There’s a lack of effort and it’s clear no one is trying to break a sweat. Once it’s over the contestants change back into their street clothes quicker than Anthony Davis can say “get me out of here”. I thought the updates to this year’s rendition were mediocre at best and I especially thought it was dumb when they had them bouncing passes through the largest targets ever.

Close personal friend Bill Simmons made a great observation regarding this event.

If I had my choice, I’d have them replace this with I don't know, anything else! My suggestion: Have Kyrie Irving dribble through a gauntlet of defenders like he did in the Team USA scrimmages. If the fans and his peers are going to put him in the Sunday showcase we might as well keep him busy.

Three-Point Contest

This is the premier event these days, like it or not. Damian Lillard snatched the trophy this time around as he let everyone know what time it is. Truthfully, there’s little to criticize about this event, other than them trying to make Starry™ a thing. I will never choose that over Sprite, I’m sorry.

I appreciate this event because the stars actually come out to compete. Among the contestants in this years contest, five of them were on the All-Star roster. It’s nice to see ego not get in the way of entertainment, for once.

Dunk Contest

Mac McClung did his thing, I can’t hate on it. He put on one of the best shows in recent memory and for that I’m grateful. I do feel that Trey Murphy III should have received some more love, but overall McClung earned it. KJ Martin might’ve had a chance had his first attempt gone down, but he’s still an elite dunker nonetheless. Jericho Sims, thanks for coming out.

That being said, I’m not sure this competition will ever truly recover until the BIG names come back to it. LeBron James gets a lot of the blame for the gradual decline of this event, and I can’t say I necessarily disagree. Ja Morant says he won’t do it. Anthony Edwards said he’s not interested. That’s a bummer to me.

Shaedon Sharpe dropped out to “focus on the second half of the season”. Sharpe, whose gravity-defying dunks would’ve made him my favorite, is just the latest example of players feeling like it’s not worth their time. My issue with Sharpe’s reasoning is that his teammate still showed up to compete on Saturday AND Sunday night. If Dame didn’t feel like this would impede the Portland Trail Blazers from making a playoff push, then what are we even talking about here?

So why won’t anyone compete?

It’s ego. I’ll continue.

All-Star Game

Jaylen Brown said it himself, this was a “glorified layup line”. Brown scored 35 as he and Jayson Tatum appeared to be the select few who cared to play in this game. Tatum set the All-Star record with 55 points, so this was probably a fantastic night for anyone who roots for the Boston Celtics. Other than that, whoop-de-doo. No one tries anymore and that translates into disgruntled fans.

The product has largely slipped because the players recognize that they can coast (this sounds like the majority of the regular season too). While I’ve long-accepted that the first three quarters of the game are virtually irrelevant, what I can’t accept is a full 48 minutes of uncompetitive three-point chucking. The reason past All-Star games are reminisced about is because the players dialed it up at the end, even for just a few minutes.

Could the lack of competitiveness be derived from a generation gap? Maybe. Most of these guys grew up playing with each other, so the lack of rivalry becomes apparent when it’s time to buckle down.

However, I think the root of the apathy surrounding All-Star Weekend boils down to players’ egos and not wanting to get embarrassed. That’s why the stars don’t show up for the Dunk Contest and why no one plays defense in the Sunday showcase. By playing it cool and not trying, there’s not much room for the perception of “failure”.

So that’s where I’ll step in. Let’s see how we can get these hoopers to exhibit a bit more pride.

Modify the schedule

This is more a function of when the regular season starts, but getting back to my first point, this game shouldn’t take place three-fourths through the season. Move the start of the season back and you won’t have to compete with the NFL as much for one. Also, there’s less leeway for the “saving myself for the stretch run” excuse if the break is closer to the 41-game mark instead of 60 games. It’s been time, Silver, just do it.

More exciting host cities

I understand they have to rotate the game and give shine to all of their markets, but no one, and I mean no one is excited about going to Utah in February. This weekend is a huge hub for culture and entertainment, and with respect to Cleveland, Salt Lake City and Indianapolis next year, who is trying to go there? Especially when it’s cold.

It’s been 33 years since the game has been in Miami. You know people are going to come to Los Angeles. Let’s try out Las Vegas again. New York City would be chilly, but no one is turning NYC down. Like, HELLO?!

I’m not proposing that we cut out the smaller markets. I just think it was poor planning to bunch them together in consecutive years.

Replace the Skills Challenge.

It’s not competitive enough. No one is racing through the course like Deron Williams in 2008. There has to be something else that gets the competitive juices going for these guys. They have tried H-O-R-S-E in the past, but it’s too passive in my opinion.

I think they really need to play on player’s pride to get them invested. LeBron called De’Aaron Fox the fastest player with the ball from baseline-to-baseline when he drafted him this year. Well, maybe we should put that to test. Let’s see if that still holds. If someone wants to retain their anointed title, prove it.

My ultimate solution is a King of the Court Competition. The catch is that the contestants are only eligible to compete if they are one of the 24 All-Stars that were voted into the game. To ensure this, as part of being an All-Star, the league will enforce that each All-Star must be entered into a lottery pool and EIGHT players will be picked at random to compete in this competition on Saturday night. If any of the players want to volunteer to participate ahead of the draft, then that’s just a cherry on top.

Ideally, this would guarantee us the opportunity to watch our premier players duke it out in those 1V1 situations that have highlighted the All-Star and Rookie games of years past.

Anytime Team USA convenes, a practice clip will emerge that shows these guys giving great effort on both sides of the ball. For instance, look at how they’re getting after it in the clip below. With a large portion of the basketball world watching, I can’t imagine many players would tone it down in risk of getting cooked on live television.

Bribery in the Dunk Contest

My first suggestion would be to throw the bag at Ja and Ant or any of the other guys we really want to see out there in this contest. How much? I’m not sure what’s feasible, but make it a number that they can’t turn down. Just get them in there.

I’m not saying it’s the case with these two in particular, but the truth is that in general, these guys are letting their pride block them from participating because they know what the narrative would be if they lost to McClung or a Jeremy Evans level of player.

The other truth is that you’ll probably win based off clout if you’re in this competition. You don’t even have to be that impressive, just complete your dunks. I promise you that Blake Griffin would have still won that contest even if he didn’t jump over the hood of a Kia. LeBron could’ve strolled into a trophy had he just shown up. But now it seems that the players who were destined for this event feel that it’s beneath them.

Also, they need to fix the voting system. A six being the lowest score a judge can give out is pretty weak. Bring back the 0-10 scoring scale. The judges should also have quicker access to a replay of the dunk. Too many times I’ve seen them knock down the score of a dunk because they weren’t aware of the intricacy of it.

As for the actual All-Star Game...

I’ll be honest, I’m kinda stumped. I’ve seen a lot of awful suggestions for this and I’m not so sure I can do much better, but I’ll give it a go.

It’s really hard to get the guys to care about this game. Money isn’t enough to make them play harder either. Most of the guys who play in this game have already signed a max extension so money can’t motivate them to get up for what’s essentially an exhibition. They justify not playing hard due to injury risk. It’s the same reason the NFL’s Pro Bowl vanished.

I’ve seen it suggested that shortening the game would make it more exciting, but I can’t see that making a difference. I don’t like the 3V3 proposals either. While I like the captains drafting à la a fantasy draft, it feels like it just emphasizes another issue that the league is facing, no rivalries. Players move around too much and don’t stay with the same teams long enough to create those matchups that built the league up. I wouldn’t mind going back to the East vs West format if that helps any.

As for the solution, I don’t think there’s anyway to get an entire game or even a full half of competitive basketball. However, if I can guarantee that we get just one quarter of intense play, that’s a compromise I think most would be satisfied with.

What has resonated with me the past few years is that fourth quarter of the 2020 game, which was the introduction of the Elam Ending. It was incredible watching the 10 guys on the court get after it, and I didn't even mind Kyle Lowry taking charges in an exhibition game. Now of course there were unprecedented circumstances that influenced this game given the timing of Kobe Bryant’s death and how impactful this was to everyone surrounding the sport. I do think we can get back to that level of play though, and it only requires one tweak, and ultimately the players willingness to dial it up for approximately 10 minutes.

I’d keep the Elam Ending in effect, my only change would be that the score is completely reset for the fourth quarter. Let the players lollygag and hoist up half-court shots for the first three quarters because they’re going to do that anyways. Quarters one through three are a moot point and there’s no changing that. Make the focus of those quarters for charity. The players’ stats will still count the same and can be filed into the All-Star record books, it really doesn’t matter.

It goes against conventional wisdom of competition, but the reason I’m advocating for resetting the score for the fourth quarter is that it sets everything equal and gives the implicit signal that this game can still be won. The problem with the first three quarters of the game is that a lot of the time the lead gets too bloated because again, no one cares, and at that point why would the team with the deficit care to make a comeback in a game that doesn’t matter? By leveling the score and essentially making it the first to score 24 wins, my hope is that pride would kick in.

Am I a hopeful romantic? Likely, but I think by literally bridging the gap, the players would be more open to compromising for just one quarter of good play. One is better than none in my book.

Are there holes in this scenario? Yes. The biggest would be explaining how and why the box score is always tied after the third quarter, and to that I answer, who cares?

If you made it this far down in this post, I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below!