Everything has to break before it can be rebuilt — and the NBA All-Star Game has hit rock bottom. This year’s game in Utah wasn’t just the worst game in recent memory, but everyone from the fans, to the players hated it.
The 2023 All-Star Game earned the infamous honor of being the least-watched All-Star Game of all time. Fewer people tuned in this year than watched the Pro Bowl, and almost nobody watches the Pro Bowl. The truth is, the NBA has continually tried to add layers and iterate on the game, and at this point it’s a total mess.
It’s pretty bad when immediately following the game you have a player who scored 35 points talk about how terrible the game was. That’s exactly what Jaylen Brown did when he called the All-Star Game a “glorified layup line.”
This whole weekend was a mess, if we’re being honest. The three point contest had players who were barely sharpshooters in it. The dunk contest was full of players nobody knew. Then to cap it all off we had a confusing, uncompetitive mess where nobody knew what the teams would be except for immediately preceding the event when a live draft was conducted, but softened so reserves were selected first, so nobody was left out.
It was all a big snooze.
Part of the problem can’t be fixed. We’ve seen time and time again that elite players in every league don’t want to risk their seasons by actually competing in a mid-season exhibition game. Nobody is interested in getting hurt and damaging a playoff run. That said, the pride has absolutely vanished from being named an NBA All-Star, and the game is a total joke.
So what can the NBA do to fix this game?
Go back to East vs. West
East vs. West beef is frozen in time and it reached its zenith in the mid 90s, but that doesn’t mean we should just ignore that there are two conferences in basketball. This whole experiment of drafting players and blending everyone together has no consistency from year-to-year, and no reason for anyone to be compelled.
There was always an inherent drama to seeing players feuding all year to be forced together during the All-Star break. Having Isiah Thomas being forced to pass to Michael Jordan, or both Patrick Ewing and Shaq calling for the ball in the paint was glorious. Every possession had an undercurrent behind it, but overall there was an aim to represent something over nothing.
Now it’s all watered down to pointlessness. All-Star drafting might as well be business networking for future teammates. 30 years ago the game went to overtime, the West won by three points. Everyone was used in a rotation that actually made sense — and the ball was shared by all the All-Stars.
In 1993 the West combined for 93 field goal attempts with the leader being Karl Malone with 17. In 2023 Team Giannis shot 123 times with Jason Tatum jacking up 35 shots on his own.
Get rid of fan voting
The entire concept of fan voting was designed to manufacture investment from people, but nobody cares. Voting doesn’t translate into people actually watching the game — and people are idiots.
Certain fanbases love to rally around voting and stuff the ballots, which in turn forces weird weighting systems to play a role to add in player, media and coach voting. Why go to the effort of bending over backwards to jury-rig a system nobody cares about?
We should go to the All-Star game being picked solely by players, coaches, and executives. It’s not that they have some overwhelming insight the rest of us don’t, but it’s so much more fun to direct your ire at authority when you don’t agree with something.
Now when a player is snubbed as an All-Star the go-to answer is “they didn’t get enough votes.” We need back the drama of feeling like the league itself decided, or kept out players to have more to talk about surrounding the game.
Put something on the line
The lack of stakes is a problem in every All-Star game. It’s been suggested that home court advantage in the finals would be a good idea, similar to how MLB used to, but I understand arguments that this process would undermine a team’s work all season long.
We should turn this into something though. Charity is an easy go-to, but how about this: Merchandise for the winners of the eastern/western conference is discounted on NBA Shop for the week following the game — and the MVP gets money to donate to the charity of their choice.
Give back to the fans and get them invested with a fat discount on jerseys, hats etc. Everyone cares when they have some skin in the game, and this would really boost people actually caring about the All-Star Game. Who wouldn’t like to snag a new Giannis or LeBron jersey on the cheap because they worked hard to win? It also makes these players a huge hero to the fans.
The NBA All-Star Game can be fixed, by going back in time
I don’t want to see this game die and wither on the vine. There are too many fond memories from the 90s of seeing all the league’s best players on one court at a time. We just need to get away from every stupid innovation which ruined a good format, and get back to the basics.
Surely the NBA has to see this too, and put a stop to this mess so we never see what happened in Utah again.