When the NBA decided to play its 2010 All-Star Game in the new Cowboys Stadium, it gave the league an opportunity to change the way we think of all-star weekends.
The capacity of the $1billion structure is nearly 100,000 for a basketball game; a figure that would blow the doors off the previous all-star game record of 44,735 in 1989 at the Houston Astrodome.
The venue could not be more perfect for a mind-blowing weekend that could restore glory to the league, which has been missing since Michael Jordan retired (the second time, in 1998).
The NBA needs a weekend like that, where all the stars come out and entertain like they’ve never entertained before. There is so much talent in this league that hides in the shadows of officiating scandals, locker room gunplay, player fights and more.
Commissioner David Stern needed to push all his chips to the center of the table this weekend. By playing the game in Dallas, it seemed he had. But the system failed him.
LeBron James, the man who is in the midst of staking his claim as the face of the sport, could have made the weekend something special. During last year’s dunk contest, James unofficially put his name into the competition for this year’s event.
There has never been a player with the jaw-dropping ability to dunk the basketball. Not Jordan, not Dr. J, not Dominique Wilkins or Vince Carter.
Just when you think you’ve seen the best James has to offer, he tops himself. He has yet to make an appearance in the dunk contest, which has lost its luster in recent years thanks to a mindset reflecting that of James’. That mindset involves fear of being injured in the contest, costing his team his services in regular season games.
The last time the dunk contest meant something was when its stars were clawing to participate. Vince Carter was the last superstar to enter, and he stunned the crowd in Oakland in 2000 with his high-flying slams.
Before he was busy winning NBA championships, Kobe Bryant took home the slam-dunk championship in 1997.
Michael Jordan’s career was also catapulted after he won back-to-back dunk titles in 1987 and 1988. His battles with Dominique Wilkins were unforgettable.
It’s hard to imagine that James’ star could burn any brighter than it does already, but putting on a show for the ages in this year’s competition would not only increase his popularity, but also give the NBA the publicity boost it desperately needs.
Instead, James retracted his decision to compete, and the contest remains a gimmicky closing act to the Saturday night activities.
If the NBA really had wanted to make a splash, it should have coaxed its brightest stars into entering the contests. James would be the headliner, but dunk artists including Rudy Gay, Dwight Howard, and Josh Smith would have comprised an unprecedented field of competitors for the event.
Not only are those players all imaginative dunkers, but also they are all recognizable names by even casual fans of the game.
Honestly, who has heard of Shannon Brown or DeMar Derozan? They are both skilled athletes who will probably show off some crazy moves, but if one of them, or Gerald Wallace or Eric Gordon wins the dunk contest, will anyone really remember that down the road?
Not unless someone throws the ball off the scoreboard hanging above the court and dunks it with his feet.
Nate Robinson became a fan favorite by winning two dunk competitions despite only being five feet, nine inches tall, but really…. how much more creative can he get?
Instead of filling the most watched event of the weekend besides the game itself with the best players in the game today, the NBA picked a compilation of bench players and no-namers to run the show.
The next, and more glaring mistake that the league has far more control over, was the selection of the all-star teams themselves. In a system that time and time again has left deserving players off the rosters, the fans cast their ballots for who they want to see play in the game.
This year’s rosters proved that the fans no longer have the capacity to duly honor the league’s best players. Allen Iverson, who retired a week into the season and has averaged only 14 points in just 20 games this season, was named as a starter for the Eastern Conference team.
The problem would have been compounded if not for a late push of votes for Steve Nash vaulted him ahead of Tracy McGrady into the starting line-up. McGrady has played 45 minutes all season, and in the beginning of the month was the leading vote getter in the Western Conference.
Had McGrady been named a starter for the game, the league would be getting more heat from the media than Lindsay Lohan for whatever she’s going to do tomorrow.
Still, if the league wanted to make all-star weekend one to be remembered, it would allow the coaches to select the teams, and put the best players from the 2009-2010 season on the court for the game.
If they really wanted to be daring, they could even go one step further. With the recent resurgence of Team USA on the international stage, and the prevalence of foreign-born stars in the league, turning the game from an interconference match-up to a US vs. the World game could draw quite the audience.
Clearly, the rest of the globe is licking its chops to knock the United States off its perch as the dominant country in the sport. This would be a great opportunity to see the game’s best players play with something we never see in the all-star game: pride.
Here’s a glimpse of what the rosters might look like if the NBA adopted this format:
PG – Chris Paul (New Orleans Hornets)
SG – Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers)
SF – Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder)
PF – LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers)
C – Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic)
G – Rajon Rondo (Boston Celtics)
G – Dwayne Wade (Miami Heat)
G – Brandon Roy (Portland Trailblazers)
F – Carmelo Anthony (Denver Nuggets)
F – Chris Bosh (Toronto Raptors)
C – Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs)
PG – Steve Nash (Phoenix Suns)
PG – Tony Parker (San Antonio Spurs)
SF – Manu Ginobili (San Antonio Spurs)
PF – Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks)
C- Pau Gasol (Los Angeles Lakers)
G – Beno Udrih (Scramento Kings)
G – Hedo Turkgolu (Toronto Raptors)
F – Al Horford (Atlanta Hawks)
F – Luis Scola (Houston Rockets)
F – Anderson Varejao (Cleveland Cavaliers)
C – Marc Gasol (Memphis Grizzlies)
The simple change of the format would create a buzz around the game itself, and with the international flavor, it would be the most watched all-star game ever.
The World team would be at a size disadvantage, starting two point guards in Parker and Nash, but the deadly outside shooting would be the equalizer in a game played by international rules.
Between the mammoth arena, the new format for the game and the star-studded dunk contest, the popularity of this year’s game would reach new heights.
There is one other event the league might want to consider adding to the festivities that could draw strong ratings. Instead of a celebrity pick-up game, where Carrot Top gets his pocket picked by Chris Rock, only for Rock to brick the lay-up, there should be a legends game prior to the dunk contest.
The MLB does something similar to this with a legends/celebrity softball game after the Home Run Derby, but the smaller field and rule change makes it more of a gimmick than anything.
With basketball, recent stars could reunite for four quarters of nostalgic pick-up ball. How’s this for an East vs. West Legends Game roster?
PG – Tim Hardaway (Miami Heat)
SG – Reggie Miller (Indiana Pacers)
SF – Michael Jordan (Chicago Bulls)
PF – Charles Barkley (Philadelphia 76ers… worth the price of admission alone)
C – Patrick Ewing (New York Knicks)
G – Allan Houston (New York Knicks)
G – Anfernee Hardaway (Orlando Magic)
F – Antonio Davis (Toronto Raptors)
C – Dikembe Mutumbo (Atlanta Hawks)
PG – Gary Payton (Seattle Supersonics)
SG – Steve Kerr (San Antonio Spurs)
SF – Robert Horry (Los Angeles Lakers – or Phoenix Suns…or San Antonio Spurs)
PF – Karl Malone (Utah Jazz)
C – David Robinson (San Antonio Spurs)
G – Dan Majerle (Phoenix Suns)
F – Chris Webber (Sacramento Kings)
F – Glen Rice (Los Angeles Lakers)
This is more of a pipe dream; it would be nearly impossible to convince all of these players to converge for one game. Still, if it somehow were pulled off, and players like Jordan, Barkley, Malone and Robinson agreed to play, millions would watch.
Nevertheless, the league clearly is in a crisis for good publicity at the time being. It missed out last summer when the Orlando Magic won the Eastern Conference and prevented a LeBron vs. Kobe NBA Finals (much to the chagrin of Nike and its premature ads featuring Muppets of the two stars).
There are too many stories in the news casting the NBA in a negative light. Some of it is their own fault, and other things are out of their control. The best way to create a new persona for the league would be to hold nothing back in its all-star weekend.
The media will have had a week to digest the results of the Super Bowl, and baseball will still be just on the horizon, leaving the NBA alone to assume the spotlight in sports for the weekend.
As long as Brett Favre doesn’t retire, then un-retire during the week, this plan for a new-look all-star weekend could be the spark the commissioner Stern needs to revitalize his underappreciated league.