The NBA’s All-Star Weekend isn’t very interesting anymore. Of the weekend’s three marquee events, only the Three-Point Contest is compelling. Creativity was drained from the Slam Dunk Contest years ago, and the All-Star Game is played with little more effort than I exert brushing my teeth. But there is an easy way to reignite interest in the weekend, and even capture the eyeballs of non-basketball fans: A one-on-one tournament.
This is hardly a novel suggestion. The idea of a one-on-one tournament has been bandied about for years, and on a conference call last week Shaq reiterated the call for one:
“I would love to see someone put up a million dollars for some one-on-one games. You get 10 of the best players voted by the fans and they all play one-on-one to seven and then the last game we play at halftime of the All-Star Game on Sunday.”
Ignoring for a moment that Shaq—who is worth $350 million—could easily put up a million dollars, money isn’t the issue. The All-Star Game winners get $50,000 while the losers get $25,000, but that hasn’t been enough to compel effort. Magic Johnson offered Lebron James a million dollars to take part in the Slam Dunk Contest, but he declined. Unless somebody is going to put up a $10 million bounty, stars aren’t going to participate.
The reason why, of course, is pride. As anyone who has ever watched an And1 mixtape knows, basically the entire point of one-on-one is to embarrass your opponent. If James played one-on-one against Kevin Durant, inevitably one of them would get their ankles broken on a crossover and fall down, and suddenly become the new Crying Jordan meme. No All-Star wants to be the guy that Paul George ate alive in front of their peers on national TV.
But what nobody seems to realize is that stars aren’t needed for the event to become a huge success. Sure, mega-stars like Michael Jordan and Vince Carter won the Slam Dunk Contest, but players like Isaiah Rider, Jason Richardson, and Nate Robinson were just as memorable and influential of winners. Stars make these competitions more interesting, but they’re not the only players worth watching.
The NBA should go forward with a one-on-one tournament, the stars’ opinions be damned. If LeBron, Durant, and Stephen Curry don’t want to participate, that’s fine. There are probably a few stars or fringe-stars that would risk the embarrassment, and most non-stars could be induced to participate by the million dollar prize, and how much fun they’d have playing.
Imagine if the one-on-one tournament featured the following eight players: John Wall, Greg Monroe, Andrew Wiggins, Nik Stauskas, Nikola Mirotic, Harrison Barnes, Kristaps Porzingis, and C.J. Miles.
That’s far from a Murderer’s Row, but as long as the NBA can find eight guys of that caliber, the tournament would be fun as hell to watch. Andrew Wiggins would try to dunk on everybody’s head, and watching Stauskas shimmy past Greg Monroe and leave him for dead would be the Vine of the year. And after John Wall won, he’d talk so much trash that next year Russell Westbrook would go, “Fuck it, I’ll play and beat your ass.” A new tradition will be born.
There are a number of format details that will need to be worked out—how many players should participate, will they play by ones or twos, should there be separate brackets for bigs and smalls—but they don’t really matter. Porzingis and Barnes going head-to-head is must-see TV, irregardless of the format.
It is a shame that the stars won’t compete, but their participation isn’t necessary. If the NBA builds it a decent set of players will come, and once it becomes All-Star Weekend tradition the lineup will be stacked. The NBA Slam Dunk Contest was introduced in 1984, the Three-Point Contest in 1985, and the One-on-One Tournament in 2017.
At least, it better be.
Photo via AP