The 2012 NBA All-Star Weekend is upon us, with the first televised events coming Friday night. (Yes, Jeremy Lin will be playing in the Rising Stars Challenge as the third game of a back-to-back-to-back.) Each night of the long weekend will feature an event considered must-watch ... but will have real moments of unwatchable dread.
But that's only if you don't look at it creatively. There's joy to be had in every corner of the All-Star TV experience. You just have to know where to find it. To help, we break down each televised event -- yes, even Haier Shooting Stars, that dystopian heartbreaker -- with tips on how to best enjoy it.
SPRINT CELEBRITY GAME
Friday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Yep, ESPN gets one All-Star event ... and its the nearly irredeemable Celebrity Game. You'll notice that I said "nearly irredeemable."
Where else can you see Justin Bieber cross up Common?
Enjoying the Celebrity Game is all about treating it like the writers of The Soup treat their source material: arrive in as immature and cynical a mindset as possible. There's no way you'll enjoy the game for its basketball display or because you legitimately appreciate anyone involved outside of the NBA and WNBA players. (Seriously, Ne-Yo? Vinny from Jersey Shore?) So treat them with scorn! Laugh at how awful they look compared to Tamika Catchings and a 60-year-old Penny Hardaway. (Yes, Penny is playing.) Laugh at ESPN for "landing" this scrap from TNT's dinner table. Laugh at Ne-Yo for wearing a silly-ass hat during a basketball game.
Just try not to remember that you're feeding the sad little monster by watching.
BBVA RISING STARS CHALLENGE
Friday, 9 p.m. ET, TNT
It gets a bad rap, but the Rising Stars Challenge -- formerly the Rookie Challenge -- is my favorite All-Star event. It's like the Catcher in the Rye to the All-Star Game's Philip Roth oeuvre. In a weekend of unmitigated excess, Rising Stars is the peak. Someone will have a completely unhinged performance, like Monta Ellis in 2007 ...
... or Boobie Gibson in 2008:
He took 20 three-pointers ... in 21 minutes.
That this year is remixed with Charles Barkley and Shaq actually picking teams and the rookies and sophomores mixed together is a double-edged sword. More trash talk and legit competition is good ... but not at the expense of the sort of performance art that players like Monta and Boobie have presented. I mean, would you rather see a contested 150-148 finish, or Ricky Rubio executing every pass (inbounds plays included) as a wrap-around? No contest.
NBA D-LEAGUE ALL-STAR GAME
Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, NBA TV
Like half of the original roster has been called up to the NBA or suspended. So this is a D-League version of the D-League All-Star Game. But here's the dirty little secret: the D-League's Dunk Contest, shown at halftime of the All-Star Game, is typically better than the NBA's version in primetime. Our resident D-League aficionado Scott Schroeder of Ridiculous Upside picks this 2009 James White piece as his favorite all-time:
White is overseas, but Schroeder advises that the 2012 field is well worth watching. Terrico White? Yes, please.
HAIER SHOOTING STARS
Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET, TNT
This is the event where a current player, a legend and a WNBA player rep their city by trying to hit some lay-ups, jumpers and eventually a halfcourt shot. That last bit is where you find the joy in Shooting Stars. You can immediately tell which players practice the halfcourt shot -- they actually look like they are shooting when they take it -- and which players have no clue what they're doing. It's typically the big men who look most hilarious attempting those.
Sadly, there are no big men competing this season, unless you count Houston's Chandler Parsons (who is totally the kind of guy who has been practicing for Shooting Stars). The real note of intrigue is that defending champ Team Atlanta has lost Joe Johnson to a knee injury. While the NBA was quick to name a replacement to the Three-Point Contest (Kevin Durant) and All-Star Game (Rajon Rondo), the league hasn't determined who will shoot with Lindsey Harding and Steve Smith. No other Hawks were named to any other All-Star events, so no Hawks will be at All-Star in official capacities. I like to imagine all of the Hawks that will be in Orlando to party, while avoiding David Stern's operatives at every turn, Bourne-style.
This event needs Josh Smith, though.
(Just before the Viewing Guide was published, the NBA announced that Jerry Stackhouse will replace J.J. in Shooting Stars. Stack is hitting the first halfcourt shot he takes, no question about it.)
TACO BELL SKILLS CHALLENGE
Saturday, after Shooting Stars, TNT
This is all that you need to know about the Skills Challenge: Stephen Curry got injured this week on purpose to avoid it. You cannot convince me otherwise. Guards have openly tanked the first round to get out of doing the course twice. I see you, Dwyane Wade in 2008.
If a Skills Challenge trophy made it onto eBay, the 'buy it now' price would be 'LOL.' The Skills Challenge is a disincentive for guards to make the All-Star Game. That's actually why Jeremy Lin commits so many turnovers. It's on purpose so that he doesn't have to compete in this event.
Nevertheless, the Skills Challenge can be enjoyable. The key: grade it like a dunk contest, as Bethlehem Shoals and I did last year. Get your critic's pen ready!
FOOT LOCKER THREE-POINT CONTEST
Saturday, after Skills Challenge, TNT
The Three-Point Contest is the only event of All-Star Weekend where science reigns. You'll know this because Reggie Miller (one of the greatest shooters ever) and Kenny Smith (not exactly one of the greatest shooters ever) will break down the impacts of individual shooting motions on contestants' ability to finish the grueling contest in form.
And you know what? Reggie is usually right. TNT's broadcast of All-Star Weekend is an exercise in hyberbole, and Miller is totally grating as a game analyst. But this is a subject he knows intimately well. It's the one time a year where listening to Reggie Miller is actually informative and entertaining. Embrace it. He'll be back to speaking gibberish by Sunday night.
SPRITE SLAM DUNK CONTENT
Saturday, after Three-Point Contest, TNT
The Dunk Contest is the real main event of All-Star Weekend, even when it sucks. Ask the average NBA fan what they remember from the 2011 All-Star Weekend in L.A., and the usual answer will be:
- Blake Griffin dunking over a KIA
- Kobe's MVP performance in the All-Star Game
The Dunk Contest has resonance as a display of the physiological and creative capacity of the best athletes in the world. But more than that, it's completely unpredictable. Going in, you have no idea whether you'll be amazed by ingenious feats like JaVale McGee's triple-dunk or by comedic brilliance like The Birdman's Flight. You could get prop dunks as contrived as Serge Ibaka's teddy bear rescue or as inspired as Gerald Green's birthday party. You never know!
But the best part of the Dunk Contest is the reactions. The broadcasters, especially Kenny Smith, will scream at high volumes for just about any dunk that's not totally technical in nature. (The Jet will also declare the Dunk Contest to be "back" at some point, as he has in each of the last six years.) The NBA players and celebrities sitting courtside will provide genuine enthusiasm -- heck, more enthusiasm than they'll show in the actual All-Star Game on Sunday. Some of them will act as giddy as fans at home (Caron Butler's reaction to the Birthday Cake jam is still the best). And while a highly sophisticated dunk will get snubbed in favor of product placement or gimmick in the end, this is All-Star at its very best: basketball tilted toward maximum entertainment potential. Long live the Dunk Contest.
NBA ALL-STAR GAME PRESENTED BY KIA MOTORS
Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET, TNT
The main event on paper oscillates between drudgery and legit entertainment. The subplot in 2011 was that LeBron James was attempting to steal the MVP trophy from Kobe, who was playing at home in Los Angeles. The best part of that: LeBron's performance looked effortless, while Bean legitimately looked like someone trying desperately to win the MVP award.
There's no telling what subplots this All-Star Game will bring. Don't expect Dwight Howard's status to be addressed by the Orlando crowd -- these games are filled with corporate clients and minor celebrities, not your average hometown fan. But we know Dwight's an incredible ham for attention, so don't rule out the big man bringing up the topic himself. Deron Williams will be on his team, after all.
There's an outside chance that the Lakers-Clippers rivalry truly is personal, which means that we could see Chris Paul and Kobe freezing each other out and Blake Griffin and Andrew Bynum literally fighting for rebounds. Tom Thibodeau will coach the East side like it is an elimination game; Scott Brooks might not even show up to coach the West All-Stars.
Something interesting is bound to happen when you get the 20 best players in the world together on one floor. There will be lulls, there will be a Pitbull and Ne-Yo halftime show (God, help us all) ... but you'll be surprised at how much fun it is to soak up all of it.