Just a few years ago, Scott Van Pelt gave one of his “One Big Thing” monologues ultimately ripping the NBA’s All-Star game. At one point Van Pelt said, “You have to really try to make the best athletes on earth, doing incredibly fun things unwatchable but that’s where we are. Because somewhere in the last few years actually trying in this game, has become uncool.”
A basketball game between the best players in the world that no-one wants to watch is undeniably flawed. The NBA isn’t blind to these things, and made some changes in the last few years in an effort to make the game more fun and ‘watchable.’ In 2018, the NBA started having fan-selected captains draft their teams but this year the All-Star game went to another level.
This year, in the fourth quarter the league used a ‘First to X’ format, that anyone who has played basketball understands and loves. In this format every point matters, if you can hold the other team from scoring, you will never be ‘beaten by the clock’ and will always have a chance to come back. Racing to a final target score incites competition and guarantees the most exciting play in sports, a game-winning shot.
Once we got through the explanation of the new rules and a prolonged Chaka Kahn performance, it was everything the All-Star game is supposed to be.
For most of the game, there were the nearly impossible dunks and ridiculously long threes that we have come to expect at the All-Star game. In the fourth quarter, it was clear that everyone wanted to win the game. The level of intensity on both sides of the ball was tangible as the teams approached the target score of 157.
The final stretch of the game felt like a legit playoff atmosphere. LeBron James and Anthony Davis made plays. Chris Paul, James Harden and the eventual MVP Kawhi Leonard all hit big shots to bring their team back from an early deficit. Giannis had multiple blocks including an unbelievable pin on LeBron down the stretch.
When was the last time we had guys smack-talking each other and arguing calls with refs as if it were the playoffs in the All-Star game? It really felt for a moment like the first technical foul for some of the arguing would be given out.
The 35 fouls that were called has to be among the highest in All-Star game history. There are a lot of regular season games where players don’t put in the effort that was given in the fourth quarter because the game ‘doesn’t matter.’ There are also a lot of regular-season games where players will decide not to take a charge from LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry went for both. In the All-Star game.
In the end, Anthony Davis went to the line, missed the first of two free-throw opportunities to win the game and then buried the second. Maybe it wasn’t the game-winner fans wanted to see, but the tension in the building on his final shot was real and ultimately, that’s what is wanted in the All-Star game.
In the only game played all year that actually doesn’t matter, the NBA got its players to buy in and put on a genuinely fun and entertaining show. Was it the recent passing of Kobe Bryant and the renaming of the All-Star MVP award in his honor that inspired this effort? Was it the change in format or just sheer pride? Or was it some combination of the three?
Whatever the reason, the NBA All-Star game is cool again.
“From Our Haus to Yours”