Despite another flop of a dunk contest—seriously, next year's lineup has to be Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, John Wall and Dwight Howard—the NBA proved once again that its all-star game is the most entertaining of any of the major sports in America.
Unlike the NHL, where the game is too dangerous to be played competitively; or MLB, where the actual stars don't see the field enough; or the NFL, which combines both problems, the NBA has perfectly figured out the marquee event of a weekend full of fun.
The all-star game remains an exhibition game, but what does that really mean? What does that mean for the fans who tune in to watch the game?
Most fans want to see the best talent while being entertained with some level of effort and competitive edge in place.
As far as the talent goes, the NBA is at something of a peak right now.
By my count, there were 11 legitimate superstars (Kevin Durant, James, Kobe Bryant, Howard, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Dwyane Wade, Paul Pierce) on show last night.
Then comes the superstar talents who have only minor adjustments to make before being superstars (Carmelo Anthony, Westbrook, Andrew Bynum, Blake Griffin, Chris Bosh, Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker, Kevin Love) with a group of promising younger players on the precipice of being perennial all-stars (Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Luol Deng, Andre Igoudala, Roy Hibbert).
While a spectacle such as the NFL's Pro Bowl is destroyed by the number of withdrawals and exclusions—which has led to players like David Garrard, who was the seventh alternate quarterback, taking part in the game—the NBA has so much talent that the sophomore-rookie challenge game was also full of potential superstars with Kyrie Irving, Griffin, John Wall and Ricky Rubio all showing off supreme levels of talent.
Whether it was Durant effortlessly shooting threes, Wade and James flying the length of the court together, Paul easily setting up the stars around him with pinpoint precision or Bryant putting on a shooting clinic, this exhibition game was truly an exhibition of great talent.
On a personal level, that is all I need to be entertained, but for the whole fan base, the players still understood the nature of the game and brought a lot of fun to the occasion.
While the NFL allows us to hear the playcalling of the quarterbacks during its all-star game—which is pretty much like listening to gibberish unless you understand NFL routes, something the average person doesn't—the NBA all-star game allowed us to eavesdrop on the players as they mess with each other during the game.
Howard symbolized the penchant for entertainment value in his home town as he looked to intimidate Bryant with what can only be described as some form of Superman shake, before being the pillar which Durant and Westbrook chose to square up to.
Howard wasn't alone, though, as Pierce, despite his horrible showing on the court, brought a huge amount of energy from the bench, looking to get in Bryant's head, while Bryant himself brilliantly confronted James repeatedly when he passed up shots late in the game.
With scoring records falling in the first three quarters, the competitive edge in the game arrived just in time for the fourth quarter. The West had, for the most part, enjoyed a comfortable lead in the game as the East repeatedly missed open looks and took bad shots.
Outside of a hard foul from Wade, which saw Bryant come up with a bloody nose, very little defense was on show for either side, especially by the team being coached by Tom Thibbodeau.
However, as soon as the fourth quarter began, the competitive spirit went into full flow. James and the East rallied from being down by 20 at one point to make the game close in the final seconds. James and Bryant going at it on one side of the court was fascinating as James knocked down multiple threes from tough positions over Bryant before Bryant got in his face and forced a miss.
Bryant, on the other end—despite the obvious desire of Durant—was acting as the West's closer, taking part in an equally enthralling one-on-one with Wade.
With Howard leaving the jokes on the sideline and each of both side's biggest stars leading the line, the final quarter was as good as any regular season basketball game that you will watch this year. The competition created drama, and the drama had everyone hooked
As the seconds ticked down on the clock, James had a costly turnover down by two points which sent Griffin to the line with 1.3 seconds remaining. In order to set up the perfect finish, although he blatantly didn't do it on purpose, Griffin missed the first and scored the second to leave the East with one final shot attempt to tie the game.
James stepped out of bounds to inbound the crucial pass, which saw Bryant once again prod him about shying away from the final shot. Bryant then had to endure a battle with Wade that saw the Miami Heat shooting guard sprint away from the Lakers star to attempt a tough three in the corner.
In a game where missing was a rare occurrence, Wade's tying shot fell short and the East lost the game. However, the East team were the only losers as basketball once again proved that it is the only sport which has completely cracked the premise of an all-star game.
Now, about that dunk contest...
This article originally appeared on Irishcentral's Sports-Central blog