Columns, Sports

Klein ’19: Draft drama a welcome development for NBA All-Star Game

By
Sports Columnist
Friday, October 13, 2017

The NBA announced a total overhaul of the perrenially-disappointing All-Star Game last week;  two teams, drafted by captains, will play the in game, instead of the customary Eastern Conference and Western Conference teams. The players in the draft pool will be the 24 selected for the All-Star Game via last year’s process — 12 from each conference, 10 starters selected by vote and 14 chosen by coaches. Additionally, proceeds from the game will now be donated to charities.

Reaction to the dramatic changes was mixed. The players who negotiated the move spoke out in praise. “I’m thrilled with what the players and the league have done to improve the All-Star Game, which has been a priority for all of us,” said National Basketball Players Association President and Houston Rockets point guard Chris Paul. Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James said “We had to do something. … The All-Star Game has been pretty bad the last couple years just from a competition standpoint.”

There was still some criticism leveled at the changes. The idea of team captains was found to be problematic — with the potential to cause unnecessary turmoil. Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith hoped that the league would not televise the draft process, saying also about the draft: “That’s a hard situation to put guys in. … I don’t think they really thought that thing through all the way.”

But at the end of the day, regardless of the players’ potentially hurt feelings, changes needed to be made to the All-Star Game. The new format is a massive improvement in every way, and there will probably be further tweaks made over the next couple of years.

The All-Star Game has been in decline for over a decade. The games in the early 2000s, while obviously not as competitive as a meaningful NBA game, were spirited affairs. Players took pride in representing their respective conferences and the closing minutes were intense.

The 2001 All-Star Game ended in a thrilling 111-110 Eastern Conference victory. Trailing 21 points with only nine minutes remaining, the East mounted a stunning comeback to win. Guard Stephon Marbury hit the game-winning shot with 28 seconds remaining.

The 2003 contest, considered by many to be the greatest iteration of the game, was a 155-145 double-overtime Western Conference win. Michael Jordan sunk a shot with 4.8 seconds remaining in the first overtime to give the East a 138-136 advantage, but Kobe Bryant sunk two free throws after being fouled on a three pointer, tying the affair back up. The West took control in the second overtime and came away victorious.

2017’s version of the “competiton” was a 192-182 snooze. While one would assume that a game with such a high score would be a sight worth seeing, the points came so easily that there was little reason to watch. Players chucked up threes and lounged around the court, converting on a few open dunks. There was no defense to be seen whatsoever. Stephen Curry actually laid down on the floor instead of guarding a fast break opportunity.

The difference between past and present is clear. The game precipitously worsened in quality and grew more boring with each new year. There is simply no incentive for players to risk injury in a completely meaningless game.

The new format provides the necessary motivation and for good causes. While it is not exactly clear yet what the charity component entails, we know for sure that each team will play for a Los Angeles-based charity, which should encourage players to actually make an effort. And of course, the more money that goes to those who need it, the better.

Motivation will come too from the new All-Star Game draft. Though some players may worry about hurt feelings, the All-Star Game is supposed to be entertaining, and the potential drama a draft could create could capture everyone’s attention. The Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook and LeBron James-Kyrie Irving feuds will generate most of the headlines, but there will be fun tension no matter what the teams are. Whoever is picked last will have a giant chip on his shoulder, and nothing motivates athletes like disrespect.

New rivalries can form as well. Maybe LeBron James passes on taking Giannis Antetokounmpo for his buddy Carmelo Anthony. Or maybe Stephen Curry picks teammate Klay Thompson instead of James Harden. What if someone passes on a teammate to take a better player? The possibilities are endless.

The All-Star Game, with its new format, has become a reality television version of the NBA, which will be a lot more thrilling to watch than NBA players lackadaisically jogging. Dunks and three-pointers are fun when they occur in a competition. A Stephen Curry three-pointer from almost half court against the Oklahoma City Thunder? Awesome. A Stephen Curry three-pointer with no one near him as LeBron James half-heartedly walks in his direction? Less awesome.

No matter what happens next February, at the very least, the All-Star Game coverage is now worth watching. Change has been a long time coming and the format will only get better in the future as the league finetunes the game, learning what worked and what did not. The NBA has once again proven its admirable ability to adapt.

George Klein ’20 can be reached at george_klein@brown.edu