Rethinking All-Star Game

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star
Rethinking All-Star Game
For 66 years, the NBA employed the East versus West format.
STAR / File

There has to be some serious rethinking if the NBA hopes to bring back fan interest in the annual All-Star Game. Its not as if the NBA isnt doing anything to make the contest more enticing.

For 66 years, the NBA employed the East versus West format. Then, the league experimented with the top vote-getters from both conferences filling up their rosters through a drafting system and an untimed fourth quarter where the game ended by playing to a target score. This season, the NBA reverted to its original East versus West format with the usual scoring system, junking the unconventional so-called Elam Ending, named after a Ball State professor who conceptualized the strange windup.

In 2017, the NBA went from a pure fan vote to a combination of fan, player and media balloting to choose the starters for the East and West. NBA coaches voted for the reserves for their conferences but werent allowed to choose their own players. If a chosen player wasnt available, the commissioner chose a replacement. This year, Joel Embiid and Julius Randle couldnt join the East so their spots were taken by Scottie Barnes and Trae Young. Each player on both squads is averaging at least 20 points this season with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic and Shai Gileous-Alexander hitting at over 30 a contest. All-Star Game rookies Paolo Banchero, Barnes, Jalen Brunson and Tyrese Maxey were all from the East. Six West All-Stars were 30 and over while only Damian Lillard, 33, was in that category from the East. Four West All-Stars are shooting at least 40 percent from beyond the arc (Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard, Karl Anthony Towns) while two were in this class from the East (Tyrese Halliburton, Brunson). On paper, the West enjoyed the advantage in chemistry with four pairs playing on the same team. The East had only two pairs of common teammates.

Minnesotas Chris Finch called the shots for the West. Milwaukees Doc Rivers was the East coach although the choice was anomalous since his record was only 3-7 since recently replacing Adrian Griffin. Bostons Joe Mazzulla shouldve coached the East but theres a rule that prohibits coaching in two straight All-Star Games.

Nobody cared to play defense when the game started. Three-point shots, dunks and layups went virtually uncontested. The East dropped 42 triples and the West, 25. LeBron James and Anthony Davis played listlessly, not even finishing in double figures. Lillard deposited 39 points to take MVP honors. Hometown hero Halliburton made a case for himself with 32 but was overshadowed by the Bucks guard. For the West, Towns erupted for 50. Because the game was wide open from the start, it was a yawner. The fans paid good money to witness a competition not a shooting exhibition. The East won, 211-186, in a game that shamed proud legendary defenders like the late Bill Russell, Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan. The East All-Stars took home $100,000 each and the West, $25,000. Clearly, the money was no incentive to play with intensity, energy and conviction.

The All-Star Weekend also featured the Skills Challenge involving three teams of three players each, the Three-Point Shootout, the Slam Dunk Contest and a Battle of the Sexes three-point duel between Curry and Sabrina Ionescu. The Skills Challenge was a bore and the rules of engagement were so complicated that fans had no patience to learn how to score it. Mac McClung retained his Slam Dunk crown and Lillard, his Three-Point title so no surprises. Curry used a late blitz to edge Ionescu in an entertaining showdown that stole the show.

There were lots of VIPs and legends at the Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis so fans had their fill of star-gazing. It was a treat to watch 24 All-Stars converge on the same court but a disappointment as they just went through the motions without effort. If this will be the same routine in the All-Star Weekend next season, fans are bound to be wiser not to pay big bucks for another letdown.

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