In the wake of one of the worst All-Star Saturday nights in NBA history, fans, players, and league officials can only be left dreaming of improvement. They hype had been replaced with an incredible hush, as the participants of Saturday’s dunk contest silenced the crowd at the American Airlines Center in the worst possible way. The three-point contest was competitive, but doesn’t have the built-in suspense to carry an entire night. The Skills Challenge may get some undeserved criticism, but at its core, it’s still an event based on a professional basketball player throwing a ball through some rings, dribbling around nonexistent defenders, and shooting open shots. The Shooting Stars competition is the Shooting Stars competition.
We know all of the problems, and the manner in which Nate Robinson, DeMar DeRozan, Shannon Brown, and Gerald Wallace capped off Saturday’s festivities should instill everyone involved with the All-Star institution a sense of urgency. How do you fix events that have tumbled out of control, to the point where making a highlight reel out of a highlight fodder event (like the dunk contest) would be next to impossible? How do we “take back” All-Star Saturday?
Truth be told, I’m not sure it can be done. Though the NBA has been reasonably progressive in regard to changing up the All-Star events if need be, the events themselves are so static in nature to force a reboot through institutional change. You can tweak the dunk contest, but slightly modified rules won’t make Shannon Brown anything but a complete flop. The other events are equally self-contained; how and why would you change the three-point shootout?
None of the formats are perfect, and I’m sure the NBA will be looking into all kinds of potential changes after this past weekend’s let-down. But tweaking the structure won’t save the event, and neither will transcendent talent (sorry LeBron). It’s spectacular performances that have and always will make for intriguing Saturday night competition. The NBA doesn’t necessarily need high-profile A-listers to headline every event, though I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt viewership or the bottom line. But these events need better incentives for the players to participate, better selection for the event fields, and an artificial stimulus that will make the contests more important and more relevant. Hype is a funny thing, and if All-Star Saturday is drained of it after this year, it could take some serious work to get it back.
Look, you don’t need Jordan and Dominique to have a great dunk contest. A young up-and-comer named Vince Carter, a limited player named Desmond Mason, and a quasi-star named Jason Richardson happened to do just fine running the damn thing. It’s more than just getting the right players — the NBA needs the right dunkers.