With NFL draft talk still in its infancy, pitchers and catchers just beginning to report for spring training and March Madness a month away, February is the only month on the sports calendar where pro basketball consistently leads Sportscenter.
For better or worse, the NBA has always been star-driven, so All-Star weekend, where the league’s 24 best players congregate, has an out-sized impact on the public’s perception of the league. It’s still recovering from the debacle that occurred in Las Vegas in 2007, which culminated in a strip-club shoot-out involving NFL CB Adam “Pac-Man” Jones that left a man paralyzed.
** Once the clouds “make it rain”, they can’t take the precipitation back. Similarly, once the money falls on the ground at a strip club, it’s no longer yours. **
To its credit, the NBA is always experimenting to keep things fresh. It doesn’t always work—from adding a “spin wheel” to the dunk contest to putting on a “HORSE” exhibition—but they aren’t afraid of trying new things.
In that spirit, here are six ideas to spice up things in LA next weekend:
The idea of a competition between the best Rookies and the NBDL All-Stars has been floating around the blogosphere for awhile, and it’s not without merit. The Rookies vs. Sophomores game is annually one of the least-interesting aspects of All-Star weekend, primarily because neither side has any incentive to compete. Meanwhile, the NBDL All-Star game is held every year at the same time in complete anonymity.
The story-line writes itself: “the looked over guys” vs. “the entitled millionaires”. Not only would it be a great way to promote the NBDL, but the game would give scouts a chance to evaluate how the minor-leaguers would fare against superior competition. With the “American Idol” aspect—unknowns given one chance to make a name for themselves—the game would have a pop-culture resonance far beyond anything “Rookies vs. Sophomores” could ever hope to achieve.
** A few notable names in this year’s NBDL All-Star Game: Shakur, Jeff Adrien (UConn), Joe Alexander (West Virginia; No. 8 pick in 2008), Sean Williams (Boston College; No. 17 in 2007), Patrick Ewing Jr. (Georgetown) and Dexter Pittman (Texas). **
The idea behind the skills challenge — showcase how skilled the league’s point guards are with a basketball — was sound. But the execution — throwing balls at trampolines, dribbling around cones — just hasn’t worked.
Instead, the league should showcase how athletic their players are. In terms of size, speed and hand-eye coordination, no athletes in the world can match the NBA’s best.
Who is the fastest player in the NBA? The strongest? Who has the highest vertical-leap? Before the draft, every prospect has to go through a battery of drills to test their physical ability. With bragging rights on the line, and contributions to the winner’s favorite charity, the league’s young players would flock to a do-over.
If you open it to any interested duo, there would be an endlessly amount of fascinating permutations. Old college teammates (John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins) re-uniting? Or how about long-time best friends Dirk and Nash?
Could anyone stop LeBron and Wade? Could two fast point guards from UNC (Ray Felton and Ty Lawson) spur an upset? Or would size (Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom) be as important as in a 5-on-5 game?
The Dunk Contest is always the highlight of the weekend. With Blake Griffin set to take center stage in his own arena, anticipation is as high as its been since Vince Carter’s epic night over a decade ago.
But the great white whale has been LeBron. Claiming he didn’t want to be pegged as one-dimensional, James has never entered a dunk contest. It’s a matter of incentives: LeBron feels like he has nothing to gain. So let’s change that.
For less than the cost of one Super Bowl commercial, a company could make a huge splash on All-Star Saturday night. Offer $1 million to the player’s favorite charity … and $1 million in cash in a briefcase at half-court.
The biggest criticism of the game itself is the general lack of competition. The players don’t want to injure each other, and the stakes (a small amount of cash, conference bragging rights) aren’t exactly high.
But a generation after the Dream Team, the number of international players in the NBA continues to grow. And for the first time, they could give the American-born players a game. Not only would such a contest grow the game overseas, but everyone involved would take it seriously.
** A quick look at the possible rosters:
International: Steve Nash / Manu / Nic Batum / Dirk / Pau Gasol. Bench: Tony Parker, Rudy Fernandez, Andrei Kirilenko, Al Horford, Nene, Thabo Sefolosha and Luis Scola.
US: Deron Williams / Kobe / LeBron / KG / Dwight Howard. Bench: Derrick Rose, Wade, Kevin Durant, Chris Bosh, Tim Duncan, Amare, Carmelo.**
Alternatively, the league could embrace the exhibition aspect of the All-Star Game and just have a good time. Have a few circled areas five feet behind the three-point line be worth four points. And if a player makes two straight baskets, he’s “heating up”. If he makes three, he’s “on fire”.
Since the rules of physics would (unfortunately) still apply, the benefits of being “on fire” might be adding a point to every single basket a player makes until the other team scores. This would encourage players to ruthlessly gun for their own shot as well as encourage guys to try harder on defense, if only to avoid the embarrassment of someone like LeBron or Kobe scoring 15 points in two minutes.