All-Star Saturday Night needs saving. It has fallen from the heights of prestige, anticipation, and performance it once soared at. Reform is needed. However, I am no Martin Luther and this is no 95 theses. There are scores of the faithful who are older and wiser than I who have gone ahead of me on this road and fought this good fight. I simply want to pitch-in, echo their concerns, and add some of my own humble observations.
I hereby grant permission for the National Basketball Association to use and implement this material free of charge. If there is a task force for saving All-Star Saturday Night, please sign me up. Or just anyone who is in touch with the depth of history and richness of competition we once had.
Let us dive in, using this year as a template:
The Production and Presentation
- Just like at a Washington Wizards game, we apparently need an emcee to get everyone up and cheering. What is this, the AND 1 Mixtape Tour?
- If there’s anything the NBA loves to talk about, it’s the WNBA. And after that, it likes to talk about its international players and then how how charitable and benevolent it is. Or, in the case of the last item, they had Mary J. Blige sing about it.
- Over three hours of coverage and only seven minutes of that time contains actual stuff you wouldn’t fastforward using your DV-R.
- The clock issues for the Shooting Stars competition made a bad thing turn into a surreal event. I kept laughing and asking myself, “Is this really happening?” Hard to take an event seriously where the operation of the clock is so hit or miss. Then again, I’m sure the Toronto Raptors feel the same way.
- Anything that doesn’t get in our way or distract us from watching guys shoot and dunk.
- Thumping music.
- Light shows.
- This is the NBA.
- Let basketball be basketball.
- Tone it down.
- Maybe going back to what we had in the 80s and some of the 90s?
- Provide a great product that will sell itself.
The TV Coverage
- The friend I was watching this with doesn’t enjoy Magic’s commentating and I can see where he’s coming from, but it’s nothing that requires muting the TV or anything. A minor point of preference.
- Interviewing Gerald Green and Nate Robinson after they had advanced to the second round. Mid-competition interviews are a product of the devil.
- Not zooming in enough to let us read what Dwight wrote on the sticker. Is this not something we’d want to know?
The good stuff:
- Ernie Johnson.
- Kenny Smith.
- Charles Barkley.
- You never feel as though the powers that be are controlling and angling what we see and hear in an effort to package the NBA in a way that is based solely on marketing to junior high students and middle-aged women who wouldn’t know who Jason Kapono is. I say that because I watched last year’s NBA Finals and the past two Christmas day games. I have a feeling that if Disney owned the company covering this, that John Amaechi would somehow, someway be mentioned.
- Moving on … well-timed and delivered replays.
- Montage of Barkley and Bavetta preparing.
- TNT’s crew’s eagerness to bust on Charles at every given chance (“Charles ‘Krispy Kreme’ Barkley”).
- Coverage feels real.
- TNT loves and knows the NBA. They are not caught up in trying to takeover the sports production world. They enjoy what they view and call it like it is. They are part of the festivities (even without the Barkley race). That helps me love it along with them.
- More of the same.
- Do NOT touch this. The institution of the NBA on TNT should not be tinkered with.
- Perceived lack of effort. Why would they try really hard? What’s on the line? What’s at at stake? Doesn’t seem to be taken seriously.
- Bill Laimbeer in form-fitting clothing.
- A title to win that no one cares about (how many times will we ever hear Chauncey Billups referred to as the “2007 Shooting Stars Champion”?).
- More WNBA shoved down our throats.
- The decision to put Smush Parker and Michael Cooper (now in the Chris “Birdman” Andersen and Nate Robinson league of guys with extended trouble getting something done leading to painful awkwardness amongst viewers who just wanted it to end) in a shooting event.
- Also, the unacknowledged potential for disaster as the title “Shooting Stars” can be misleading.
- Halfcourt shots.
- Swin Cash’s name.
- Scottie Pippen’s triumphal (you saw him after he made the halfcourt shot, right?) return effectively squashed by Ben Gordon shooting out of turn. Is anyone losing sleep over that? I don’t think so. I already can’t remember all the teams that competed.
- Best thing the crowd could have done: started to chant, “MVP! MVP!” or even “One more year!” when Scottie was shooting. That’d just be so funny.
- Can it or do it Saturday morning. This is necessary.
- Lots of jogging adding to the perceived lack of effort. It’s hard to watch this after, years upon years ago, watching the NCAA try a “buzzer beater contest” where contestants had to receive the ball at one end of the court, run around three barricades, and get a shot off in x (seven?) seconds. This, they thought, would ensure halfcourt buzzer-beaters galore. And it did. At least until Kentucky point guard Travis Ford broke the game. Ford ran so fast that he was shooting full-speed floater-type layups while everyone else was pulling up from about 44 feet. He broke the game. I loved seeing this. I don’t so much love the amount of hustle in the Skills Challenge. And I wonder if part of the problem is the same thing that may (my theory) contribute to the All-Star game not being an actual game: somewhere, the bar for expected effort got lowered, and now all these guys are worried what the others will think if they start really trying. No one wants to be the one playing harder than everyone else, trying to prove something out there (and Gilbert Arenas, hands down the favorite to blow all social norms out of the All-Star game water, has indicated he’s just out to enjoy himself this year). I mean, what multi-millionaire wants to be the first to be labeled “gym class hero”? Maybe I’m crazy. Who knows.
- D-Wade costing himself time with a layup that bounced around the rim when the dunk was the standard. I don’t view that as a good use of fundamentals, I view it as the competition being treated as routine.
- No Steve Nash (not anyone’s fault).
- No one giving us spectacular throw-downs on their last dunk when they know they have the time to spare (personal preference, not needed).
- Did I mention the jogging? These guys look like baseball pitchers during spring training running around an obstacle course.
- Seemed like Kobe did care before getting stuck on that one station in the final round.
- D-Wade seemed to care a bit more in the finals.
- If the players don’t care, why should we?
- The only time we remotely care about this is when a player completes every station in one attempt. We like perfection. Showing us superstars who spend 70 seconds jogging their way to a prize that rivals some people’s annual income is not a turn-on.
- Can it or find some way to make it mind-blowingly challenging. Make players feel challenged. Or…
Pick One: A New Game
Three Options: P-I-G; 21; or Knock-Out
Proposition for P-I-G:
[Many have gone before me with this idea. But, here it is again (my variation, of course).]
- Four players square-off in P-I-G.
- No dunking.
- Two separate games with two participants.
- Winners move on to face each other.
- Or, have one single game with five or six competitors.
- Last one standing wins.
- Have the list of contestants finalized by the new year.
- Preparation and a knowledge of your competition’s weaknesses (especially in the first scenario) are necessary.
Proposition for Knock-Out:
- Normal knock-out rules.
- No interfering with another player’s ball. Ever.
- Two rounds.
- First round consists of two games of five players each.
- Top two from each round advance to finals.
- Suggestions off the top of my head: Kevin Martin (a must), Steve Nash; Ray Allen; Michael Redd; Ben Gordon. A lot of this would depend on who was in the three-point contest that night. Kevin Martin is the only non-negotiable. Steve Nash a close second (who shoots better from two feet, eight feet, 15 feet, and 23’9″?).
- Biggest potential problem: players getting the ball to the next guy in line in a timely manner after a make. Lots of grey area in knock-out. Would need a lot of forethought and preparation to ensure a secure setting.
Proposition for 21:
- Follow the basic rules.
- It better really be a foul to get called.
- Two rounds.
- First round: two games consisting of five players each.
- Top two from each game move on.
- Use these players (who I don’t foresee being involved in any of the other evenst that night:
- Carmelo Anthony — I see him getting to the second round, at least. A true scorer. Could potentially be the hardest to stop
- Dwyane Wade — hindered by the foul call rule
- LeBron James — might be his best chance to win something while a Cav. Used to playing one-on-four or one-on-five. Will be the best finisher at the basket out of everyone. Will absorb fouls the best.
- Kobe Bryant — a favorite going in. 5:1 odds he wins.
- Vince Carter — could crack up into the Kobe/T-Mac area if shot is falling and he decides to jump over people.
- Tracy McGrady — if the timing is right, he could be as dangerous as Kobe
- Ron Artest — if you’re like me, this one name convinced you that 21 is the game you want to see. You’re picturing Ron Artest going up against four other guys in a game where traditionally, t
- Shawn Marion — can’t win it because creating his own shot will be hard, will cause trouble on the boards and will block a lot of shots
- Paul Pierce — darkhorse. Don’t sleep on him.
- Gilbert Arenas — would need to be assertive on the glass to win
- Steve Nash — smallest guy, I know, but depending on what limit you put on free throws, he could do some real damage
- Chris Bosh — along with the Matrix, he’d be the best rebounder out there — and he now occasionally shoots threes
My pick: 21. Hands down. Just spend five minutes playing it out in your mind. If this doesn’t get you even remotely excited, you are dead inside.
Why the NBA won’t do any of these: for the same reasons it won’t raise the rim to 12 feet for Dwight Howard. I don’t know what those are. But, also, massive TV time variations year-to-year. Who knows how long this would take? No WNBA participation.
Anyway, back to stuff that did happen…
Barkley vs. Bavetta
Could have been better:
- It was a great sign of mutual admiration, respect, and friendship, but I was nowhere near emotionally and mentally ready to see Sir Charles and Dicky B go Magic and Isiah on us.
- I really thought Bavetta would win. I just like being right, so that was disappointing. I should have known better.
- This is what former NBA players are for: analysis for networks and racing 67-year-old referees after they ran their mouth-off while doing commentary for a game (with the money going to charity – what’s that $20,000 you won off DeShawn Stevenson doing, Gilbert?). Notice how “participating in the Shooting Stars competition” is not on this list. And for quite a few (but not all), “front office” shouldn’t be, either.
- Three and a half times up and down (good distance).
- Barkley not being disqualified for false starts (come on, you had to imagine that for a split-second, you had to ask yourself just how far the NBA’s iron fist would reach).
- The introductions and entrances of the contestants.
- Barkley running backwards.
- Barkley falling.
- Barkley out of breath.
- Barkley not in Bill-Laimbeer-type attire.
- Bavetta diving.
- Bavetta bleeding.
- These two guys were in the top four of guys who cared tonight.
Summary: The NBA shows its heart. I think it’s safe to say that this race was one of those rare moments in life where you’ll always remember where you were when you saw it.
- I don’t care what Jason Terry’s three-point percentage is, there has to be at least a dozen guys who could be in this contest before him (see: Martin, Kevin).
- Damon Jones was not a selection I would have made. Call me crazy.
- Dirk broke my heart.
- No one with the “Who’s playing for second place?” mojo that Larry Bird brought to the table.
- Little dramatic climax at the end (not really anyone’s fault).
- Mike Miller is a good scorer, not a great three-point shooter. He’s also not someone whose facial hair and long locks (accessorized with a curious headband) make for desirable TV viewing.
- Gilbert Arenas able to this time keep himself from resorting to dancing and yelling in his competitor’s faces while they shoot. Gilbert will have to wait another year to start his list of “1st round draft picks who haven’t won a 3-point contest”.
- An all-time record was tied.
- No instant replay needed by the judges at any point.
- A guy no one knew existed last year gets in and gives a nice performance to win.
- An MVP candidate competed.
Summary: Alright. Could have been worse.
Prescription: Keep it. Find a way to raise the prestige (can’t imagine the silly lights, the emcee, and all the inconsistency of the night from year to year helps with that) so that the best shooters want to get in to claim the title.
Grade: B- / C+
- No 12-foot rims as the NBA decidedly prevented something good from happening to the floundering dunk contest, it seems fate was against Dwight Howard more than just once.
- Nate Robinson: the source of controversy and discouragement as he undeservingly benefits at the cost of someone more deserving for the second straight year. I believe Charles Barkley said that Dwight got robbed (or did he say “jobbed”?) by the judges on his sticker dunk. And Charles was right. Creativity points for Howard’s dunk? 11. Points for degree of difficulty? 10. Final result: not enough to beat Nate Robinson and his routine dunk involving David Lee. In Nate’s defense, his first dunk didn’t get the points it should have. Regardless, Howard should have advanced. No question. This is the second year Nate Robinson has profited from poor judging. And I have to admit, I don’t even know what the NBA could’ve done to select more qualified judges. I was shocked they blew Howard’s score so badly. The guy put a sticker near the top of the backboard while catching an alley-oop!
- Anything in the final round that wasn’t Gerald Green’s last dunk.
Potential future concerns:
- Josh Smith’s tribute to Dominique was nice and Gerald’s tribute to Dee Brown was nice, but I hope that’s it for tributes for a while. I’m just saying, don’t push it.
- Just to reiterate: two guys in two years getting ripped-off so the world can see more of an hyper-testosteroned Ninja Turtle is not an effective way to get guys to want to participate in the future. It’s as if the judges want us to dislike Nate Robinson the same way refs want us to dislike Dwyane Wade when he drives to the paint.
- Both Gerald Green and Dwight Howard cared and honored the history of the dunk contest and the millions of viewers by bringing it as best they could. Which is more than can be said for the attitude of at least one of the kids who got all those great “life lessons” and “maturing experience” at college. Green and Howard were responsible with what was given to them. They put thought, time, and preparation into what they presented to the world (if you kept up on all that Gerald was doing to prepare, you’d be happy to see him in this any year, also, Dwight made a sticker of himself!). Mr. Green honored his elders by asking and getting help from team captian Paul Pierce. This is good stuff, people.
- Gerald pumping his pumps.
- Gerald’s first dunk was just sick. That was just a teaser to show how high he could get up. Did you see where his head was? My gosh! Just think how good he’d be with 10 fingers).
- The replay of Robinson’s first dunk.
- Howard’s sticker dunk was the most memorable one, by far.
- Paul Pierce’s support of Gerald (this Celtics fan is happy to see it).
- Howard gets an A for his performance. Gerald gets an A- (needed more on the second to last dunk).
Summary: After his comments and given his demeanor, Tyrus Thomas was a lock to come in last place. Dwight Howard should have been in the final round and would have been great for it. Nate Robinson’s dunk contest career should have ended after the first round. It was a good ride, Nate, but we’ve seen all you’ve got to offer. Dwight Howard and Gerald Green were great for the dunk contest. Gerald should have won (and did — never a guarantee). He’s got at least two more good competitions in him. Oh, and am I missing something — why does Gerald have #2 on his headband?
- Five contestants.
- Three dunks in the first round (drop the lowest score because of another rule about to come up).
- The “Nate Robinson” rule (two minutes + two attempts to make a dunk), while having improved upon the bazillion attempts we saw last year in the final round, needs to go. Give every player one chance to make their dunk (or, give them two chances and keep all three scores). This dragged-on junk completely deflates an audience’s expectancy and I believe subconsciously affects our demeanor every (yes, every) time a player attempts a dunk. Each attempt means less (even the first one because there’s not as much at stake). Make this challenging and make harder dunks even more worthy of reward. Timed routines are for figure skaters. They don’t lend themselves very well to dunking duels (see: Jordan / Wilkins).
- Still have just two dunks in the finals and have the composite score win.
- No “teammate needed for one dunk” rule. That’s unnecessary. You get three dunks to do with as you please.
- Strive to find guys that care.
- Strive to make people care. We don’t want to know who the best dunker out of four guys who relectantly agreed is. We want to know who the best in the NBA is.
- Strive to salvage the prestige of this again (anyone who “just wants to get their check” can take a hike).
- Find a way to improve the judging to help salvage the integrity of this event. Find more judges like Michael Jordan who are smart enough to not give out a ‘10’ early (the scoring is relative, remember?).
- Do not rob yourself of great PR while preventing the masses from seeing a man dunk (a 360 and a between-the-legs, respectively, I hear) on a 12 foot rim. Had Howard made it to the finals, I wondered if we would see him kiss the rim.
I have one friend that can vogue for this, but after Gerald’s dunk over Nate Robinson, I said, “I can see the headlines right now with a picture of this dunk: ‘Green tops competition in Dunk Contest’ or ‘Green soars over the competition in dunk contest’ or something like that.” Got home, went to ESPN.com’s NBA page and found a picture of Gerald Green dunking over Nate Robinson as the headline with a caption under the imagine that read: “Gerald Green flew over the competition to take the dunk title.” Not my exact words, but, close enough to count, for sure. Come on, I have to gloat. How much did someone at ESPN get paid to do that? And can I submit a lower bid for that work?
The future of All-Star Saturday is in the hands of NBA executives. Let’s hope they can regain some of the prestige that has been lost. We need more competitors like Green and Howard. And we need them to gain swaggers. And then we’ll have something that runs itself.
The key: we must appeal to player’s competitive sides.
Let Mr. Bavetta’s blood and sweat set the standard for all.