So, the NBA is considering changing the All-Star game format yet again. According to a report by Shams Charania and Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic, this has been a topic discussed recently among the Board of Governors (team owners) and general managers. The Association wants to increase the competitiveness of the All-Star game and apparently feels like this is one of the solutions.
Maybe they’ve forgotten, but the format of the game was changed in 2018 due in part to a lack of competitiveness in the game. And that’s not anything new for the NBA’s All-Star game. It’s been a glorified 24 Hour Fitness pickup game for the past decade, no matter the format. Teams barely play defense in the regular season, so it shouldn’t be shocking that no one is going all out in the All-Star game. Players have little incentive to lay it all on the line like those back in the day. That’s just how players view it.
Thirty years ago, when role players weren’t bringing in eight-figure salaries, guys wanted every extra penny they could come across. So, the added bonus that came with playing on the winning team of an All-Star game was huge even for stars of the game back then. Now, most players who play in the All-Star game already have $100+ million contracts that are guaranteed, so playing hard in an exhibition with the potential of getting injured is out of the question. We’re lucky they play hard in the closing minutes when the game is on the line. But expecting every player to go full throttle in a game that means nothing to them is purely naïve.
Keep the draft aspect, even if the game reverts to East vs. West
If the NBA does go back to East vs. West, they should keep the drafting aspect of the game. Fans have enjoyed that for the past few years, and it adds a little spice to the event. Whether it’s players getting “snubbed” or guys trash-talking each other, as we saw with James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo in the early years of the current format. That drama adds to the spectacle because those one-on-one encounters are usually the most competition we get surrounding the game.
There could still be team captains if the league wanted to keep that wrinkle. Each team captain could only pick from the pool of players in their respective conferences. That would be the simplest way to reform this process and still make it fun for fans while also being able to create content for television, which is what all this is about. It always comes back to advertising, TV partnerships, and dollar, dollar bills y’all. That’s the name of the game.
As far as getting players to take this game seriously like they would any other, well, that’s a pipedream. The NBA can make all the changes they want, and it still won’t matter. That ship sailed long ago, and it ain’t returning. Going back to East against West would be a nice bit of nostalgia, but that’s about it. We’ll continue to hear the same complaints from fans and media that we’ve heard for years. Aside from money, players have little incentive to play hard for 48 minutes in an All-Star game. When you’ve got players who can make $5-10 million per year and never sniff an All-Star selection, good luck getting high-paid stars to play that game like it means anything of consequence.