NBA Basketball Column: Free Throws
The All Star Weekend Solution
This time it's going to be different.
This time - Instead of the rookie-sophomore game, Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley will choose the teams. Instead of having rookie and sophomore squads running at half speed, throwing up errant lob passes, and generally spitting in the face of viewers and paying fans, we'll mix the teams and have the exact same result.
This time - we'll add a bizarre East vs West scoring system. Every event, including those that involve WNBA players, will count towards an overall conference winner of All Star Saturday Night. The NBA will ignore the fact that no one ever complained about Saturday Night not being a conference rivalry, and institute a convoluted system that requires TNT to show essay-length graphics that cause the viewer's eyes to glaze over.
Saturday's first event is NBA player/Retired NBA Player/WNBA player hot spot shooting contest. The highlight - watching the trios heave half-court shots until one of them mercifully drops.
The Skills Challenge - players dribble around human-shaped pylons, shoot long two pointers and drop in layups all while looking painfully disinterested.
On to the Three Point Shootout. Though no single one of that has reached the heights of the best dunk contests, it's by far the most successful event, for two reasons. 1) It's awesome to watch the world's best shooters showcase how truly skilled they are, and 2) The format is simple, and has never been changed in its history - shoot threes from all over the court in a minute. No gimmicks. No props. No overweight former players. Just pure skill.
Finally the "main event" arrives. For most fans the Slam Dunk Contest is dead. Unknowns like James White and Jeremy Evans work from the disadvantage of having no image with the public, so their slams have to be extra special to get a reaction. Commentators wax nostalgic about the days of Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Clyde Drexler - the game's best - participating. While they're right that bigger names would elicit more excitement, they're missing a key point - the energy in the building and at home has been drained by the horrific preliminary events, and the sheer length of the evening. Who can sit through more than three hours of non-continuous, non-game basketball without falling asleep before the three point shootout?
The prevailing opinion is the dunk contest stunk, but take a closer look. Gerald Green threw down a gorgeous side-of-back-board alley-oop double-pump reverse jam, with his head at rim-level. Kenneth Faried put down a nasty off-backboard-through-the-legs crush. Eric Bledsoe smashed a swooping 180-reverse cram. Jeremy Evans flat-out flew for two of his dunks. And Terrence Ross left us with three highly memorable jams. Most of the afformentioned dunks were on the first or second attempts, too.
Unfortunately the energy and lack of star power in the building was non-existent, so the best the participants had to offer wasn'y properly appreciated.
The NBA is not getting rid of the innocuous events that precede the final two; fans wouldn't pay full price for a one-hour show. The League is hardpressed to attract its superstars, 1980s participants be damned. So how do you fix All Star Saturday night - three words:
All Star Saturday is an absolute pleasure with a fast-forward button. You go out for a nice dinner with your significant other, spend time with friends, and get home around 10:30. Turn off your phone, flick on your recorded broadcast and skip by all the garbage. Problem solved! No more Shooting Stars or Skills Contest. No more Rick Fox, Craig Sager or Cheryl Miller sideline interviews. No more Shaquille O'neal saying anything.
Once you reach the Three Point shootout you can appreciate each shooter get in rhythm from down town without multiple commercial breaks and analysis. Games can be analyzed. The same shooting motion 30 times does not require a breakdown from Reggie Miller.
With DVR you can appreciate each gravity-defying dunk without the assistance of five commentators discussing the prowess of said dunker prior to and after every slam (Kevin Harlan, Steve Kerr, Reggie Miller, Charles Barkley and Shaq all wore a headset for the night's final event). Sure the dunk contest loses some lustre with lesser known competitors and higher difficulty in producing something creative, but every year there are at least a few slams that get me out of my seat.
There's no changing the length of All Star Saturday Night in real time. But with the power of technology, we can make time go by a whole lot faster and make that Saturday night a hell of a lot more enjoyable.
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