• Cameron Tabatabaie

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad All-Star Weekend

The NBA’s All-Star Weekend has always been sort of dumb. Deep down you know I’m right. Sure, it’s not unwatchable like the Pro Bowl. But especially as of late, it’s been a pretty mediocre affair.

As such, the 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend is simply infuriating. In a year where ratings are down, the NBA’s thinking here is almost inexcusable.

It was a product that needed tweaking, a competitive facelift. But the rule changes are bizarre and frustrating, many of the participants uninspired. From start to finish, the events figure to be messy and awkward.

The Three-Point Contest

Let’s start with the purest aspect of the entire weekend, the Three-Point Contest. From Larry Bird and Ray Allen to Peja Stojakovic, Dirk Nowitzkiski to Steph Curry, this has always been an exhibition in shooting of the highest order.

Sure, the Money Ball is a bit of a gimmick, and the full rack of Money Balls is even worse. But on the whole, the Three-Point Contest is a simple, almost elegant. It’s a (mostly) unadulterated display in the graceful art of shooting.

This year the addition of a new “3PT” ball is an attempt at fixing an event that fundamentally wasn’t broken. Name this new shooting area the “MTN DEW Zones,” is even more ridiculous. We all sort of take the blue consumerism pill when we watch professional sports. Can’t PepsiCo. just be happy with a logo on the court?

Selling the soul of the Three-Point Contest is, in a vacuum, not the worst offense. This is, after all, a multi-million dollar entertainment product. But in a year when so much else about All-Star Weekend approaches insultingly stupid, why sully the sanctity of such a timeless event?

The Slam Dunk Contest

The Slam Dunk Contest has, in the past, been a victim of needless rule changes. (Remember that year they all just kind of freeform dunked for two minutes? What was that?) In 2020, though, the relatively normalized rules are back, but severely undercut by a bigger problem: Star power, or lack thereof.

Look, I get that NBA stars are massive brands that need to be insulated from injury risk. And the Slam Dunk Contest can be a way for players with smaller followings to make a name for themselves.

And yet it borders on negligent that Adam Silver and Co. are so complacent in letting the league’s biggest stars sit out such an iconic event. Michael Jordan competed. Kobe Bryant competed. LeBron knows he should have competed. Without applying some sort of pressure or otherwise incentivizing participation, the NBA is left with one of the most boring Slam Dunk Competition cards in quite some time.

Aaron Gordon - a great dunker no doubt - plays in teeny, tiny Orlando. Derrick Jones Jr. is far from a household name. I almost did a spit-take when I heard Pat Connaughton had been selected. For context, these three players have less than 250 thousand twitter followers - combined.

That leaves Dwight Howard as the headlining dunker. Dwight Howard. Dwight. Howard.

Is a 34-year old Dwight Howard really the recipe for a memorable All-Star Weekend? To borrow a phrase, is there no one else??

The Main Event

I’ve buried the lede here, but perhaps the most offensive part of the 2020 All-Star Weekend is the actual game itself. There’s two key problems here.

First, the rule changes. They’re exhaustive; here’s how the NBA explains them.

The charity aspect is commendable, and important. I sincerely hope it incentivizes better, more competitive play. And anything honoring Kobe Bryant is totally worthwhile.

All of that said, these rule changes are preposterous. In no uncertain terms, they are needlessly confusing and alienating for casual fans. More to the point, these new rules are patently dumb.

How does this aid competitiveness? Will a mini-participation trophy for winning the second quarter really make things more compelling? What happens if the first three quarters are completely lopsided? I’d love the be a fly on the wall to hear the justification for this nonsense.

These are the finest athletes in the world, the 24 best people on the planet at playing basketball. There truly was a need to bring a bit of scrap back to the All-Star Game. This was not it.

Final Thoughts

All-Star Weekend is for the fans. We’re often too sanctimonious about this sort of stuff. Trae Young should be an All-Star Starter because the fans love him. This is an entertainment product; give the people what they want.

To that end, the choices made surrounding the All-Star Weekend are antithetical to an enjoyable audience experience. Over-complicating the events makes it hard for ordinary fans to watch comfortably. Ditto if they’ve never heard of the participants. A watered-down, messy weekend loudly brought to you by Mountain Dew takes an already dumb product and cheapens it further.

Honor Kobe and the Mamba Mentality by putting forth a fiercely competitive, unapologetically great weekend. Not with this crap.

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