BY PETER DAHL
NBA All-Star Weekend is an enigma. Despite its glitz and glam, it comes and goes with little ado. While it showcases some of the most exciting parts of basketball, it often has lulls in entertainment. Even though it should draw casual fans, it fails to create national buzz. It is a flawed event, but it can be fixed.
For starters, the Celebrity Game has to quit messing around and only recruit A-List personalities. The NBA is the most star-driven league in the country, and a pick and roll run by a teen-heartthrob and the star of whatever new show ABC is trying to promote does not exactly say “star-power.” However, an interesting twist at the expense of star-power would be creating rosters in which each city with an NBA team has one celebrity represent it. Boston’s Mark Wahlberg would match up versus L.A.’s Kendrick Lamar in a veritable Larry Bird/Magic Johnson showdown. Well, sort of.
The Skills Competition has got to go. Watching some of the most explosive and skilled athletes in the world jog through a basic obstacle course is not good television. Replace this with a game of dribble knock-away: twenty point guards in a battle royale in which each player has a basketball and must continue to dribble while also trying to dispossess the other remaining players. As dribblers are eliminated, the field of play shrinks. This is entertaining as all get-out when a bunch of high schoolers do it; imagine the best ball-handlers in the world competing in this.
The Three-Point Shootout demonstrates the amazing shooting ability of the association’s marksmen, and as such it is tough to mess this up. This year could be one of the greatest in history, with a ludicrous field, consisting of Stephen Curry (maybe the best shooter in history), Klay Thompson, Kyler Korver (shooting a ridiculous league-best 53% from beyond the arc), J.J. Redick, Wes Matthews (the league-leader in three-point makes this season), James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Marco Belinelli.
The slam dunk is basketball’s signature feature and the feat that captures the most attention of non-aficionados. The Slam Dunk Contest allows for a flashy exhibition of athleticism, coordination and creativity. Unfortunately, the contest has encountered some major setbacks. It takes too long, superstars rarely compete, and oftentimes potentially impressive dunks take more than one attempt or are not converted at all. Plus, anyone with YouTube can discover that many of the best dunkers in the world are not playing in the NBA. The success or failure of the dunk contest lies in the hands of the contestants. When it fails, it really fails. But when it delivers, the dunk contest can be a special show. The main improvement to the contest is limiting the time between dunks, keeping up the drama as the contest moves along. Thankfully the format this year returns to the conventional way after a problematic divergence last year, and the four dunkers have some serious potential.
The actual All-Star Game itself faces the same problems that the oft-maligned Pro Bowl does. Getting superstars to put on a compelling performance in a game that does not mean anything is tough to do. Despite the flurry of flashy passes and alley-oops, the game is usually forgettable. The format is not likely to ever change, but that does not mean I will not try. Have the fans vote for two team captains. The two highest vote-getters then get to pick their own roster for the game, allowing them to select players based on entertainment value. Instead of the best basketball players in the world facing off, we would have the best fancy passers, highest flying dunkers, and most irrationally confident one-on-one players to dazzle and impress.
Half-time shows in general are an imprecise science, especially indoor ones that do not have the luxury of grand spectacle (although there would be room for some dancing sharks (#leftshark)). The NBA has had its hits and misses, 2011 Rihanna (featuring Drake and Kanye) being quite possibly the best non-U2 halftime show ever. The key for this show, and really most of the weekend, is to showcase hoops culture. In other words, no country singer should ever get this gig, and neither should Ariana Grande (this year’s performer). The NBA has become intrinsically connected to urban music, and to have a show that does not celebrate that is a missed opportunity. The basic formula consists of a big-time rapper, live instrumentals, a cool variation on a well-known song, some neat special effects and a performer that is legitimately a great singer. Again, 2011 Rihanna did all those things, and that is why it worked.
The weekend should be about what makes the NBA great. It is a chance for us NBA fans to celebrate our game as well as say to a football-crazed society “Look, here’s what we can do!” We can only hope that the events give us something to be proud of.