NBA All-Star Weekend is the centerpiece of the basketball calendar every February, but the three-day celebration has lost a little bit of its charm in recent years.
The Slam Dunk Contest—which was once the crown jewel of the league's extended holiday—is teetering on the edge of extinction. Meanwhile, the All-Star Game itself has turned into nothing more than a 48-minute reel of potential SportsCenter highlights.
All is not lost, however. There are a number of things that the NBA can do—many with very little effort—that would instantly revitalize its midseason affair. So as we head into this weekend's festivities, here are 10 ways to make NBA All-Star Weekend far more exciting for everyone.
The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge is a great showcase for the next generation of NBA stars, but the 148-140 score in last year's event was an absolute joke.
What's the best way to ensure that the game doesn't degrade into a defense-optional, impromptu dunk contest?
Increase the prize money.
As we all know, money can often be a great motivator. This is especially true for first- and second-year NBA players who are still on their rookie deals.
In the 2010 Rookie Challenge, members of the winning team were each awarded $15,000, while players on the losing side received $5,000. By merely doubling the amount that players on the winning team receive to $30,000, the disparity between the two amounts should provide enough incentive for both teams to make the game competitive.
Let the following sentence sink in for a moment: The NBA D-League All-Star Game will be held at the Orange County Convention Center this Saturday at 2 p.m. Eastern.
If the NBA ever wants fans to take its Development League seriously, then it needs to stop treating the league like a second-class citizen. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to move the game to the main arena to serve as the kickoff event for All-Star Saturday night.
Not only will the best of the D-League get to display their talents in front of an international audience, but armchair GMs around the world could possibly get their first glimpse of the next NBA star. Who knows...we might just see the next Jeremy Lin.
The NBA should be commended for including the WNBA in their All-Star Weekend festivities. However, relegating some of the best female basketball players in the world to the mildly entertaining Shooting Stars contest almost seems like an afterthought.
The current structure of the Shooting Stars competition with four, three-person teams (each consisting of a WNBA star, a current NBA player and a former NBA "legend") is perfect. By changing the event to a single-elimination, three-on-three tournament, the NBA would make the competition infinitely more enjoyable.
For example, instead of tuning in this weekend to watch former Atlanta Hawks guard Steve Smith shoot a three-pointer from a predetermined spot, we'd get to see him in a half-court set doing battle against the likes of Dennis Scott, Kenny Smith and Allan Houston. The change would liven up a contest that is currently a half-hearted appetizer for the more appealing events of All-Star Saturday.
However, making a switch would mean that the NBA would have to own up to its mistake. The league held an All-Star Hoop-It-Up tournament in both 2002 and 2003, but scrapped it in favor of the Shooting Stars event.
As a way to showcase basketball fundamentals, the NBA created the Taco Bell Skills Challenge back in 2003.
It was—and continues to be—a terrible idea.
There's no way to "save" the contest: the baby (and whomever conceived the baby) should be thrown out with the bathwater. The fact that "2 Ball" was a far better concept means that the league would be wise to scrap the event entirely.
If filling television time is a requirement, then the NBA could simply have a concert at "halftime" of the All-Star Saturday Night schedule. Flo Rida and will.i.am are already scheduled to perform that evening, so why not have them each do a 15- to 20-minute set?
Trust me: Even though 95 percent of Flo Rida's songs sound exactly the same, a mini-concert would be far more entertaining than watching Tony Parker dribble around an obstacle course for 40 seconds.
Problem: The Slam Dunk contest has suffered from a severe lack of star power in recent years. Solution: Offer a winner-take-all grand prize of a half-million dollars.
$500,000 seems to be just the right about of money needed to convince virtually every NBA player to sign up for the event. But while it's unlikely that we'll get a dream contest field that includes Blake Griffin, LeBron James, Josh Smith, and Russell Westbrook, there should be more than enough high-profile names for the league to choose from.
Even better: Take a page out of the "World Series of Poker" handbook and stack the prize money on a table right at center court. Putting the potential winnings on display for all to see would definitely turn up the intensity on an event that has been stagnant for several years.
It's bad enough that the NBA can't get any of its superstars to compete in the Slam Dunk contest. Even worse is the fact that they've completely overhauled the rules for this year's event.
This year, the dunk contest will consist of a single round in which each player will execute three dunks. Once each player completes their first dunk, fans will be able to vote for their favorite competitor via text message, NBA.com and Twitter.
This won't end well.
The old format with multiple rounds and in-house judges worked just fine, and it's easy enough to incorporate an online scoring component, if necessary. All of the changes in recent years are clear signs that the NBA knows that the event is quickly losing its luster.
The National Hockey League does a lot of things right with its midseason showcase, and the best idea the league may have ever come up with is their annual All-Star Fantasy Draft.
Borrowing heavily from the NHL, the NBA should have the leading vote-getters in each conference be the team captains, and each captain would select players as if it were a glorified pickup game (which it pretty much is).
Of course, this flies in the face of the conventional East vs. West All-Star philosophy, but does that even matter anymore? Besides...the possibility of Chris Paul throwing lob passes to LeBron James should be enough to get any pessimist excited.
The NBA is already embracing the idea in the Rising Stars Challenge, so it may not be long for the concept to make its way into the weekend's premier game. And in a scenario where we could potentially witness a Derrick Rose/Dwyane Wade/Kevin Durant fast break, we all win.
Last November's Carrier Classic between North Carolina and Michigan State was one of the most memorable games in recent sports history. It was an ingenious event that paid a well-deserved tribute to the men and women who risk their lives as members of the United States Armed Forces.
If only for one year, the NBA should borrow that idea and turn the All-Star Game into their own version of the Carrier Classic.
Of course, there are a few caveats to the proposal. For starters, the concept would (obviously) only work in a coastal city. In addition, the fact that there is no actual arena means that there would be no ticket revenue, but that should be the least of the NBA's concerns.
A league that generated $4.3 billion in revenue last season isn't exactly pressed for cash, and the goodwill that the NBA would receive from such a gesture would be immeasurable.
One of the few benefits of the NBA lockout? Fans who couldn't normally afford a ticket to an NBA game had the opportunity to see some of their favorite players in charity events all across the country.
During the summer, it seemed like Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant showed up at virtually every pickup game on the Eastern seaboard, whether he was invited or not. The 66 points that he scored in a game at Harlem's historic Rucker Park quickly became the stuff of legend, and the reaction to his performance shows why the NBA would be wise to embrace its playground roots.
Most basketball diehards (and many players in the league, for that matter) grew up playing on asphalt, so paying homage to the outdoor game by using a blacktop court would be a pitch-perfect move.
There would be little risk of injury—after all, it's not like anyone dives for loose balls in the All-Star Game as it is. And provisions would clearly have to be made for inclement weather, but if a basketball game can be played on an aircraft carrier, then playing on blacktop should be no problem at all.
And for the record: bonus points if the NBA includes the chain-link nets as well.
Most of the recent All-Star Games have followed the same pattern: Little to no defense for the first 43 minutes, followed by playoff-like intensity for the final five—if the score is close.
In its current form, the exhibition does a disservice to the league, and is almost as embarrassing as the NFL Pro Bowl. The All-Star Game bears only a slight resemblance to a typical NBA matchup, and the result is usually forgotten within days.
Money can change all of that.
The NBA should up the ante and give the victors a $2 million pool of prize money to split among the players and coaches. And since there were Kia Optimas seemingly everywhere during All-Star Weekend last year, the league might as well go the Oprah route and give a free car to everyone on the team.
It's a shame that a league full of multimillion dollar athletes has to resort to such tactics, but it's the nature of the beast. Two years ago, players on the winning team in the All-Star Game earned $35,000. At the right party down in Orlando this weekend, 35 grand might barely cover bottle service.