USA TODAY Sports
The 2013 edition of NBA All-Star Saturday was an unmitigated disaster. Which isn't abnormal. Luckily, with a little elbow grease we could get it back into shape.
For the second straight year, the NBA's All-Star Saturday spectacular was anything but. Per usual, the Shooting Stars competition is all about cracking on NBA players who either look funny shooting halfcourt shots (Brook Lopez) or miss wildly (Robert Horry). The Skills Challenge is the adult version of Punt, Pass and Kick. That's not a compliment. The Three-Point Shootout is a shooting contest -- it's not bad, but the opportunity for memorable performance is limited. And the Dunk Contest, the poor beguiled Dunk Contest.
Adam Silver said on Saturday he'll look at ways to "refresh" All-Star Saturday in coming years. He can start with this list.
1. Men vs. women. There has got to be a better way to incorporate WNBA players into All-Star Weekend than trotting them out for the Celebrity Game and Shooting Stars. We should see the best women in the world showing they can compete with men. What about WNBA stars vs. retired NBA players in a couple of one-on-one games? Maya Moore vs. Robert Horry. Swin Cash vs. Dominique Wilkins. Tamika Catchings vs. Kenny Smith. Or mix in celebs. Tina Thompson vs. Kevin Hart to 21 would at least have the potential for entertainment.
2. Old man HORSE. The NBA did try out HORSE for a couple years, and it didn't go well. It turned into a halfcourt shooting contest. I think a big part of the problem was in player choice. If the very best stars won't compete -- CP3 vs. LeBron would be so good, and Kobe in a HORSE competition would have amazing potential -- get some retired guys in there. You probably couldn't get MJ or Bird to participate, but 'Nique is always game, Reggie Miller loves the camera, the Barry brothers exist for this type of thing, etc. The key to HORSE at this level is roping in people who have nothing better to do than to come up with shots. And bar multiple halfcourt shots. Once is enough.
3. Put a cap on dunk contest attempts. The 90-second rule obviously does not help the pacing of the event. Plus, it gets the dunkers into a bit of a rush toward the end, when you'd rather them take a moment, collect themselves and finish the jam. So remove the time limit and add in the three-attempt cap. In the end, there are two enemies of the dunk contest: a lack of creativity and horrible pacing. The pacing is largely caused by misses. And the bad pacing totally murders all anticipation and drama. When James White was trying to do something very difficult in his second attempt, all the drama was basically gone after the first attempt: we knew what a completed dunk would look like. So that 90 seconds was just a matter of seeing if he could pull it off. It lacked any pulse.
4. Stop demeaning props. I admit it: I'm a propper. Some props are not good. I oppose most human props, particularly ones to be jumped over like Mark Eaton and the ballboy who ended up being the Twitter CEO's kid. Serge Ibaka's teddy bear was a pretty bad prop. But think about the more memorable dunks of the past few contests. Blake Griffin over a KIA and Baron Davis. Jeremy Evans over a painting. I quite enjoyed the ritual of Paul George's 2012 Tron dunk and James White's first attempt on Saturday. Dwight Howard ruining a lot of this with a phone booth, but the 12-foot rim, JaVale McGee's double hoops, the infamous Birthday Cake (which is still the most magical contest dunk ever) ... these are all prop dunks. We need to encourage tasteful, creative use of props. Which means no more human props. One thing to like about Evans is that he's pretty meta in his prop dunks -- the painting he dunked on was something he painted that depicted the dunk he completed. Last year, he dunked wearing a camera.
5. The commentators were awful. Fix that. I adore the TNT studio crew, but they were abysmal on Saturday. And I'm not just talking about Reggie Miller -- at least we know he's going to be annoying. The crew had no clue how the dunk contest worked, and confused the audience. And while Sharp didn't mind Nick Cannon, I'll just say I never once felt compelled to pay attention when he was on screen. Instead of Kenny Smith and Miller bleating on during the Shootout, bring in a current player who should have been in the contest -- J.J. Redick? J.R. Smith? -- to commentate. Or mic up the participants and let them talk (TV appropriate) trash during the shootout. The same could be done during the Skills Challenge. Use one of the NBA's strengths to bolster this.
6. Get stars more involved. In the end, this is the single silver bullet for the NBA. LeBron will never do the dunk contest, which is terribly unfortunate. But the NBA has really never given him a reason. The league is rich enough to throw down $1 million to the charity of the dunk contest winner's choice. Heck, $2 million. Five million. Whatever. Just get Blake Griffin back. Get LeBron in. Durant. Westbrook. Rose. Wall. That will immediately raise the tension level and excitement. And even if the dunks aren't technically great -- Blake's winning KIA dunk has been dissed quite a bit -- they are still memorable.
7. A stand-up routine in which NBA stars' fashion is ripped to shreds. Twitter is good for this, but there are lot of comedians who could pull this off. Heck, maybe Baron Davis could do it.