All-Star Weekend begins on Friday. And you know what that means: a whole lot of people complaining how much the weekend sucks, how much better it was back in the ‘80s, and how none of the players actually care. Some of these claims are valid—I’m not exactly brimming with excitement to watch Jeremy Evans or Chase Budinger throw it down on Saturday night—but the weekend as a whole is still a fun time. If I were talking about All-Star Weekend in terms of a basketball team, I’d say it’s in need of a new coach. A lot of the right pieces are there, but it’s in need of a fresh perspective for everything to work together perfectly. So what would I do if I were running the show in Orlando? Glad you asked (credit to Zachariah Blott for a couple ideas).
1) Get rid of the Celebrity Game, the Rookie-Sophomore Game, and everything else apart from the Dunk Contest, Three-Point Shootout, and the All-Star Game itself.
Let’s face it—you might watch some of these extraneous events, but I can’t remember ever hearing someone utter the words, “I can’t wait to see San Antonio versus Detroit in the Shooting Stars Competition!” Everything on Saturday night is geared towards building anticipation for the Dunk Contest. But why drag the night into a three-hour slog when all anyone’s thinking during the Skills Challenge is, “How long til the Dunk Contest?” Keep the Three-Point Shootout because that’s a classic and then get right into the Dunk Contest. There’s enough of a delay between dunks as it is (guys attempting dunks multiple times, commercials between rounds); there’s no need to draw the night out even longer with other bogus events.
2) Add in H-O-R-S-E
This was a part of All-Star Weekend in 2009 and 2010, but it was canceled last year due largely to the lack of publicity the league gave the event. I think it’s a great idea—trick shots are awesome—but the league executed it poorly, not broadcasting the contest live or holding it in the same arena as the other events. The event wouldn’t even have to feature exclusively NBA players. Bring in a Harlem Globetrotter or a trick-shot specialist. The dunk contest needs star power, but when it comes to H-O-R-S-E, I’d rather see incredible trick shots than see a couple NBA guys trade three-pointers.
3) Change the voting system for the All-Star Game.
The system isn’t totally flawed, but it can be improved upon. Remember when Yao Ming was voted in as a starter last year despite playing just five games all season? What if Jeremy Lin’s hot streak had started a few weeks earlier? Couldn’t you see him getting more votes than the more-deserving Derrick Rose or Dwyane Wade? To avoid potentially awkward situations like this, the league should pick the rosters two weeks prior to the game and then have fans vote for starters in the 12-14 days leading up to the game. That way, fans have a longer sample of work to judge players on, and it’s less likely that voting totals will be skewed by people stuffing the ballot box for their favorite players as soon as the window opens.
4) Incentivize the Dunk Contest.
The number one problem with All-Star weekend is the lack of big-name talent in the Dunk Contest. The two best contests of the last ten years were 2011 and 2009. Both times, the contest featured a superstar versus a dunk specialist (Dwight Howard vs. Nate Robinson in ’09, and Blake Griffin vs. JaVale McGee in ’11). Unfortunately, most recent dunk contests are more similar to this year’s lineup, which features Paul George, Derrick Williams, Jeremy Evans, and Chase Budinger. Why would the casual fan have any interest in watching those guys? Obviously, the solution is to get the league’s top names (who, not surprisingly, often double as the most athletic players) to enter the contest. But there’s a reason that LeBron James has never participated in his nine seasons in the league—he has no incentive. LeBron plays a lot of minutes at a high level during the regular season, and I don’t blame him for wanting a break over All-Star Weekend (especially since he always has to play in the game on Sunday night). But what if the league got some sponsor to offer a massive cash prize—say $5 million—with the provision that the prize can only be redeemed if the top guys like James, Griffin, etc. ALL participate? If there’s one thing NBA players love, it’s money. If that doesn’t get someone like LeBron interested in the Dunk Contest, then I don’t know what will.
Let’s take this a step further. If the cash prize scenario were to play out, three of the four spots should go to NBA superstars (or seven of eight if this incentive works as well as it should). The final spot should be one non-NBA guy, reserved for one of the best dunkers in the world. It could be someone like Terrico White or one of the guys on the AND1 Mixtape Tour, a guy who is well-known in dunking circles, but who would never have the chance at a $5 million payday. The crowd would immediately root for this outsider, especially since he’s bringing his best dunks to win the money. That would push the NBA guys to a whole new level, because you know there’s no way that they want to lose to some non-NBA scrub. Heck, we could even hold a Dunk Contest to get into the Dunk Contest for the non-NBA guys. That needn’t be on Saturday night (after all, we’re trying to eliminate no-name dunkers), but I’m sure someone would televise/sponsor it if the original idea ends up being a hit.