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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Friday, March 24, 2023

Column: NBA All Star game format needs to change

The National Basketball Association All-Star game is boring. Even a big comeback and close game couldn’t save the event from playing to a stereotype of the NBA as a league high on star power but low on real competition. No one believes that when you bring together the NBA’s best players, 318 total points scored is a natural result.

Instead, that gaudy number comes from the players’ total lack of incentive to play defense or work as a team. It feels like there’s an implicit agreement between the two teams to allow each other to do whatever they want on offense and show off their high-flying talents.

That’s just not compelling television. Not many people like the NBA enough to think 48 minutes of the NBA’s best screwing around is something worth watching. Even Nick Cannon, the host of the weekend’s ceremonies, seemed bored out of his mind.

As it stands, the NBA All-Star game cannot function as a regulation NBA game. Putting stars into a game that means nothing ruins the incentives that create compelling basketball games.

The reward of the playoffs, gone. The risk of getting benched by a coach for abandoning defense, gone. The reward of a max contract down the road, gone. None of these motivations exist in the NBA All-Star game. This isn’t unique to basketball, though —looking at you Pro Bowl.

By general consensus, the best all-star game is and always has been Major League Baseball’s. This is thanks to the simple nature of baseball as an individual competition masquerading as a team sport.

If a player doesn’t want to try, the total lack of effort is much more visible as he strikes out, misses a catch, or gets a center-cut fastball smashed into the upper deck. No pitcher is going to lob in 70 mph fastballs even if he believes the other pitcher would do the same.

So how does the NBA fix this? How is it possible to introduce the individual responsibility that drives baseball, even for a game that means effectively nothing?

Here’s an immodest proposal: change the game completely. Forget five-on-five, NBA rules. Transform the all-star game into a two-on-two tournament. Take the top six vote receivers of each conference, and let them pick another player from a pool of the next six vote-receivers.

Give the teams with the top four players a first round bye. Have each matchup play for 10 minutes with a 20-second shot clock.

Standing as one of four players on the court, an NBA player is a lot more likely to focus the same way as a baseball player stepping up to the plate against Clayton Kershaw: with a fear of humiliation and a lot of focus.

I’m guessing that if it were Kevin Durant and Chris Paul versus LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, there aren’t going to be a lot of uncontested dunks. Make a player fully responsible for the perception of his performance and he will try a lot harder than in a five-on-five game with virtually no reward.

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Did I mention that everyone in the world would watch this?

Would you like an original Nintendo 64 NBA Jam-style All-Star tournament, or do you like the All-Star game the way it is? Email to let Jack know.

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