For sports fans who believe that NBA basketball has been “too playground” since Larry Bird retired in 1992, this year’s All-Star game is doing the opposite of reaching out to those fans.
The NBA is taking it all the way back to the schoolyard this year in Salt Lake City. Yes, the starters will still be voted on by a combination of the media, fans, and players. Also, there will still be 12 players from each conference, reserves voted on by the coaches. The difference this year, fans will get to see the players divided up live, in a pregame segment.
For five seasons, the NBA has done away with East vs. West All-Star game matchup, and had the two leading vote-getters serve as captains who pick and choose teams from amongst the other all-stars. In 2018, it was done privately. LeBron James then tweeted out that he wished it had been done on television, so since then captains have made their picks live.
While the process is aired on TNT, only Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Ernie Johnson, and Shaq are in the same room. The captains are in different parts of the country and no other players are televised. This season, if LeBron James and Kevin Durant — or whoever the leading vote-getter in the East is — decide to mess with James Harden by picking him last, he will be staring right at them if receives an All-Star selection.
The NHL did something similar to this from 2011-15, except they set it up like the actual draft. It was interesting, but it might have been more fun if the players were lined up at center ice and skated over to the side that chose them.
The details on how exactly the choice of players is going to be executed have not yet been revealed. We will all find out together whether or not pyrotechnics will be involved, if Kevin Hart will be making witty comments about the players as they are picked, or if players will be elevated up from underneath the court once their names are called. I’m just happy they finally have gone all in with this pickup game style of dividing up the teams.
I used to enjoy the East vs. West matchups every year, regardless of how competitive the game was. NBA All-Star Weekend is one of my favorite events on the sports calendar. I never thought it needed fixing. If I was in charge I would bring back the old Stay in School Jam from the 1990s — more so for the mascot slam dunk contest than the wholesome message.
As fun as it was to pull for the perpetual underdog Eastern Conference, change is fine with me as long as the idea is good. Bringing basketball back to its literal most elementary form, choosing teams at recess, sounded like a winner as soon as the NBA decided on it. Of course, it will be more embarrassing this year for a player to be the last pick in front of a national audience than it would be in front of 10 of his friends two decades ago, but NBA players receive large financial bonuses just for being selected as an all-star. That check should quickly remove any shame.
NBA fans, be sure to get to the T.V. a little bit earlier than usual on All-Star Sunday. It’s the most athletically similar your favorite players will ever be to you. Waiting to be selected for a pickup game in the middle of winter.