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NBA Fans are Mourning the Death of the All-Star Game. They’re Right To.

It had all the elements a sports fan could hope for – A bevy of the world’s best athletes, a courtside appearance list that read like a Hollywood blockbuster and more dunks than Foot Locker outlet, but somewhere along the way, the NBA All-Star Game lost its way. Once a beacon of achievement reserved only for the upper echelon of basketball’s most transcendent talents, the once-a-year spectacle has been reduced to a sideshow attraction that only serves to split the season in half. You need only look at the 2023 All-Star Game for proof.

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Image: KylenMills/Twitter

Over the course of two gruelling hours on Sunday, two teams of top-tier talent treated a crowd of Salt Lake City fans to an onslaught of dunks, three-point shots and trick passes, but while the buffet of enticing match-ups should have had fans licking their lips, it left many yawning under their breath. Team Giannis defeated Team LeBron 184-175 in a game that more closely resembled an organised shoot-around than an athletic challenge. Players walked through set plays, pulled-up from half-court and delivered an earth-shattering amount of near-misses in the hope of nabbing a highlight play. Nuggets coach Michael Malone, who served as the head coach of Team LeBron, even described it as “the worst basketball game ever played”, and it’s hard to argue with him.

“It’s an honour to be here, it’s an honour to be a part of a great weekend, great players, but that is the worst basketball game ever played.”

“I don’t know if you can fix it. I give Joel Embiid and Kyrie Irving (credit), those two guys were competing,” Malone said. “They tried to get some defence in. No one got hurt, they put on a show for the fans, but that’s a tough game to sit through, I’m not gonna lie.”


Jayson Tatum at the 2023 NBA All-Star Game | Image: Kicks/Twitter

Even as Celtics forward Jayson Tatum set a blistering All-Star Game record with 55 points, interest was waning. Much of the Eastern Conference star’s points were scored with little resistance and in a way, it seemed his absurd stat line came simply because he cared a little more than everyone else. It’s also no coincidence that Tatum’s MVP-winning performance came just hours after Jordan Brand unveiled its very-first Tatum shoe. After all, business is business, but not everyone is impressed by the devolution of the All-Star Game. Tatum’s own teammate Jaylen Brown, who starred for Team LeBron with 35 points, voiced his criticism of Sunday’s lack of effort on the defensive end.

“All is fun in games like this,” Brown told reporters postgame. “Real basketball is different. This was like a layup line. I don’t know how much notoriety we would want to get from this. This was a glorified layup line. We got to figure out how to make the game a little bit more competitive. If the fans like it, that’s all that matters.”

Admittedly, Brown’s comments aren’t unusual but his frustration speaks to the validity of the game. Players don’t want to play defence or go too hard in the All-Star Game and risk injury (as LeBron James sadly learned on Sunday) for what is, essentially, a pointless game. But therein lies the issue – It is a pointless game. If the NBA wants to truly fix the competitive nature of the event, it needs to add an incentive for players to win. Of course, there are financial benefits to winning certain events across the weekend, but how much can a USD$100,000 Dunk Contest trophy really mean to Jayson Tatum who is currently on a five-year, USD$163,000,300 contract with the Boston Celtics?

In recent years, the introduction of the Elam Ending has provided a small amount of drama and the decision to televise the player draft has birthed some terrific candid moments, but the game itself still appears to be lacking. Many have suggested greater incentives for players, a return back to the old East vs West conference rules and even a 1v1 component as possible ways to improve the format, but nothing has stuck. The reality is that the NBA needs to do something to bring back competition, something Finnish All-Star Lauri Markkanen would welcome.

“It’s fun to kind of get out there and do some dunks and stuff like that. But we’re all competitors. I think everybody would enjoy it too if we just play against each other and it gets competitive,” Markkanen said post-game. “Obviously, the game wasn’t close at the end really, so it didn’t get to that point.”

Nba all star opinion

Image: Warriorsworld/Twitter

It must be noted that while social media lamented the state of the All-Star Game, labelling it the ‘worst-ever’, it’s unlikely to have quashed the ratings. Last year’s All-Star Game brought in over 6.2 million viewers on TNT/TBS, up from 5.9 million in 2021, leading many to think, ‘well, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. It’s a position the NBA would be wise to ignore. Much like the regular season, the All-Star Game has gone all-in on offence, leaving defensive stalwarts like Marcus Smart, Mikal Bridges and Brook Lopez out of contention for a roster spot. Even Jimmy Butler didn’t get the call-up this year.

Sure, the All-Star Game isn’t the only problem with the All-Star Weekend event (the Three-Point Contest and Skills Challenges still have much to live up to), and what’s more, it isn’t beyond repair. If 6’2″ G-Leaguer Mac McClung is capable of saving the Dunk Contest with sheer energy and effort alone, then perhaps there is still hope for the All-Star Game. What that looks like, however, is anyone’s guess. Adam Silver certainly has his work cut out for him.