Revamp the dunking contest, add a H-O-R-S-E competition, and more
Every week, our panel of sports fans discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation, Patrick Hruby (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), Jake Simpson (writer, The Atlantic), and Hampton Stevens (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic) talk about pro basketball's ho-hum talent showcase.
The good news about the NBA All-Star Game? It's more competitive than both the NFL's Pro Bowl and the the average Harlem Globetrotters-Washington Generals tete-a-tete. The bad news? That isn't saying much. Professional basketball's annual marketing jamboree-cum-post-Super Bowl coming out party—emphasis on party—All-Star weekend has much to offer: star power, spectacular dunks, celebrity sightings, league gossip, and player rosters unseen outside of using the CPU OVERRIDE trade function on XBox 360.
That said, the weekend mostly lacks the one element that makes sports compelling. Namely, drama.
Oh, sure: We'll never forget an HIV-positive Magic Johnson coming out of retirement to win MVP honors in the 1992 contest. Or a teenaged Kobe Bryant impetuously waving off Karl Malone to go one-on-one with an end-of-his-prime Michael Jordan. Or even Blake Griffin dunking over a car, thereby taking YouTube and corporate sponsorship synergy to literal new heights. For the most part, though, All-Star weekend is a lot like the relatively new Skills Challenge: intriguing in theory, a bit ho-hum in practice.
So why not make it better?
Fact: the NBA is hardly as wedded to tradition as, say, Major League Baseball. Also fact: To gin up fan interest and excitement, baseball actually made its All-Star Game count for something. Now, I'm not suggesting the NBA game determine conference home court advantage in The Finals—I don't want to see any torn ACLs out there—but I do think the league could tweak the weekend, just as it has in the past. (Speaking of torn ACLs: Does anyone remember the now-kaput legends/old-timers' game? Ouch).
A few suggestions: Make the Dunk Contest and every-other-year event. There are only so many dunks that can be done, and a biannual schedule would keep them fresher. Next: Up the number of Three-Point Shootout invitees to 16, and have them compete head-to-head—two men shooting at the same time at the opposite ends of the court—in a single elimination bracket. (Everyone has widescreen HDTVs now, so viewing in split-screen wouldn't be a problem). Grantland guru Bill Simmons repeatedly has called for the addition of a H-O-R-S-E competition. I'm all for that—as anyone who has spent time around NBA practices can tell you, the pros are incredible trick shooters. Why not share with the world?
Jake, how would you revamp All-Star Weekend?