All-Star Games Need Some Bizarro
About a month ago, I talked about possible ways to fix the Pro Bowl and what should be valued during that week’s events. I think I missed a key component of the current problem, which was made a bit more clear during the recent NBA All-Star weekend.
A lot of the cachet behind All-Star festivities of the past was for everyone to have access to athletes they may not normally have seen in their markets.
In the 1980s and ’90s, there were no satellite packages to receive every football, basketball and baseball game for the entire season. So if you heard about a special player across the country, you had to wait until they played a nationally televised game or settle for the highlights in a 30-second clip on the news. You could only see Michael Jordan once in a while on NBC broadcasts.
Now, you can stream LeBron playing against the Bobcats from Hanalei Bay if you can pick up a WiFi signal on your tablet.
So the rarity of getting to see all the league’s top players is no longer there.
By that same premise, some of the luster of the NBA All-Star Saturday’s biggest draw, the Slam Dunk Contest, also is gone. We see every dunk every night on SportsCenter, so it’s harder and harder to be wowed.
I actually thought there were some amazing dunks in this year’s contest. Terrence Ross, the new champ, seems like a throw-back who doesn’t rely on gimmicks. Yet even the TNT commentators, namely Shaq and Charles Barkley, were calling it a snoozer as it was happening.
As I said in my Pro Bowl column, seeing athletes do things we don’t normally see is the key. In basketball, maybe more than any other sport, every player wants to go against the grain. More and more, big men are becoming outside shooters and point guards are taking it to the rack. We should embrace that fact and take it to the next level.
I like all the current All-Star Saturday events and I think they should remain in place, but I think we also should have their bizarro counterparts. We can have the traditional 3-point contest with the game’s best sharpshooters, but then we should have a second round with only players 7 feet and taller – and there’d be a moratorium on Dirk Nowitzki. Sorry, Dirk.
There are some great shooting big men in the game, so it wouldn’t be 100 percent comic relief, depending on the participants. Maybe they could have a Division 1 for guys like Pau Gasol and Byron Mullens, then a Division 2 for the, er, less talented bigs like Hasheem Thabeet and Brendan Haywood. They’re not household names, but casual NBA observers probably didn’t know a single participant in this year’s dunk contest, so “tall men heave balls” might be enough of a tag line to draw interest.
Another suggestion is going to be less politically correct and possibly in conflict with the Civil Rights Act, but what if there was a slam dunk contest of just white players?
It’s not exactly a little-known or new stereotype with the movie White Men Can’t Jump having come out more than 20 years ago. In any basketball arena, the white guys who can dunk often create a different buzz. Fans usually share in a much more visceral, surprised reaction.
Why? Because there aren’t that many white players in the league to begin with and even fewer who make their living as high fliers. Again, it’s the rarity aspect that was magnified to the extreme last season with Jeremy Lin’s emergence.
It would be tough to mandate, especially with more players (including Blake Griffin) being biracial, but if the league just used some common sense, had fun with it and laughed at itself once in a while, I’m sure it could work out.
Yet we know it will never happen and the suits in charge will continue to toe the corporate line, only tinkering when pushed. But, honestly, you’d watch “Bizarro Saturday Night,” right?