NBA All-Star weekend returns to roots

This year’s NBA All-Star weekend will take place at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. The festivities this year will include the celebrity game, Rising Stars challenge for younger players, the shooting stars challenge, skills challenge, three-point contest, dunk contest and, of course, the All-Star game itself. For the casual basketball fan, the only events that are worth watching are the three-point and dunking contests and the all-star game. Steeped in tradition, these events have come to define NBA’s All-Star Saturday Night. Who could forget Vince Carter’s reverse 360 windmill or Michael Jordan’s tongue-out, one-handed free-throw line dunk? And what about Larry Legend? Bird tore up the three-point contest with a dramatic finish back in 1988. These iconic moments have helped define the modern era of the league and inspire generations of aspiring fans and players to the extent that more recent contests have featured tributes to past dunks.

By 2015, though, even the dunk contest is beginning to lose its luster. There are only so many dunk variations, and after several decades of the contest, there is little originality left. Another issue with the dunk contest is that the best players in the league rarely participate in it. This year’s contestants include Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, Zach LaVine of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Victor Oladipo of the Orlando Magic and Mason Plumlee of the Brooklyn Nets. While these are all young, athletic and exciting players, it would be quite a stretch to label any of them as stars. Not to mention they all come from rebuilding teams that are not in contention this year.

Still, the return to a traditional two round, four dunk format should help breath life into the stale contest as it will bring it back to its roots. Gone are the teams, the “battle rounds” and the “wheel.” Without these novelties, the league and its fans should be able to see who the real best dunker is.

On the other hand, the three-point contest this year should be very entertaining. Unlike the dunk contest, which frequently changes the rules and can often be repetitive, the rules of the three-point contest have remained consistent. This makes the competition more fair and competitive. The competition this year should be particularly exciting, since it will be headlined by the best shooters in the league, including Steph Curry and Klay Thompson from the Golden State Warriors and the Atlanta Hawks’ Kyle Korver, whose transcendent shooting this season has helped elevate his team to “contender” status. Korver is currently shooting a ridiculous 53.4% from the three-point line.

For many NBA fans, though, the most intriguing part of All-Star weekend is not the game itself, nor the competitions and challenges that surround it, but the controversy over who is chosen to be an All-Star. The five starters for the Western and Eastern Conferences are chosen by online fan voting. Fans are asked to vote for three front-court players (forwards and centers) and two guards for each conference. The fan vote is the most controversial aspect of the All-Star selections due to the fact that fans tend to choose players whose name they recognize or who play for big market teams over the players who might deserve to be chosen.

Although the All-Star game itself is meaningless and often lacks serious competition and defensive effort since the players are trying to avoid injury, being chosen to play in the game is a big deal for players. Being an NBA All-Star even for one season provides a large boost to players’ legacies, especially when they become eligible for inclusion in the Basketball Hall of Fame. The pitches for potential Hall-of-Famers typically include statistics on how many All-Star games they played in. This is why it is frustrating to see fans vote in a player based on legacy, such as Kobe Bryant this year, taking away a spot from a more deserving player. The All-Star game is meant to reward players for their performances in the current season, not for their legacy.  Players who miss substantial games in a season, or who play for non-competitive teams, should not be included either.

The most glaring fan selections this year were Kobe Bryant for the Western Conference and Carmelo Anthony for the Eastern Conference.  While Kobe deserves credit for being able to play so vigorously coming off of surgery, his performance is simply not up to the standard set this season by other guards in the Western Conference such as James Harden, Klay Thompson and Damian Lillard. Lillard shockingly did not even make the roster as a reserve.  Lillard’s Blazers have gotten out to an impressive 32-16 record as of Tuesday, good enough for the fourth seed.

In the case of Anthony, while he has been playing well, he is also the best player on a terrible Knicks team, who, at the time this article was written, are 9-38 and have been a tremendous disappointment.

For those that do not know, the All-Star reserves are selected by league coaches who are able to select two guards, three front-court players and two wildcards.  The other restriction is that coaches cannot choose players from their own teams.  While it is hard to say that any of the reserves selected this year were not worthy, one reserve selection that stands out is Kevin Durant.  Although Durant is having an incredible season so far statistically, his injuries have caused him to play in less than half of the Thunder’s games this season.  It is difficult to consider someone an All-Star when they are unable to contribute to their team on a regular basis.  Clearly Kevin Durant is an exceptional talent, and is also the reigning MVP, but at the same time, his inclusion to the roster took away a spot for a player such as Portland’s guard Damian Lillard, who has been having a fantastic season as well, playing regular minutes for a championship contending team.

Despite any controversy of roster selections, the talent pool in the league this year has been outstanding, and the All-Star game should be entertaining.  The question now is whether the Eastern Conference team will be able to hold off the incredible talent of the stacked Western Conference, whose roster includes James Harden, a potential MVP, coming off the bench.

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