Monday, February 14, 2011

Why the NBA Has the Best All-Star Game

By Vito Curcuru

Over the years, the NBA All-Star Game has started to separate itself as the best event of its kind among the four major sports. The slam dunk contest may have lost a bit of its luster over time, but the overall festivities and weekend far outshine the NFL Pro Bowl, MLB All-Star Game, and NHL All-Star Weekend. All four leagues have portions of their events that are good, but the NBA's location, complete lineup of events, and quality of game makes its All-Star Weekend the best that is held.

Location

The NBA, like MLB and the NHL, rotate the game among its team cities. The MLB and NHL have made it mandates in the past that a city has to put up a new stadium in order to host the event. For some MLB cities, however, even after putting up a new stadium there was no guarantee of an All-Star Game. The Detroit Tigers had to wait a few years before getting its all-star and only after much complaining by ownership was an All-Star Game granted to Comerica Park.

The NFL has moved the Pro Bowl back to Hawaii, which is a hard trip for most fans to make after having the Super Bowl city host the game for a year. It is understandable as to why the Pro Bowl was originally in Hawaii. It was a reward for the players, who, for most part, weren't paid enough to make a trip to Hawaii on their salary.

Today's players, however, complain about the long trip, skip the game, and are able to vacation in Hawaii whenever they want. Outside of tradition, Hawaii seems like an awkward choice at best for the Pro Bowl.

The NBA not only has its league cities host the game, but also has put the game in Las Vegas. Many believe the Las Vegas game was a trial run for the city to see if the NBA could expand the league to Las Vegas. The NBA was using the All-Star Game to grow the game, and not to punish those cities whose tax payers weren't able or willing to finance a new stadium.

All-Star Festivities

All four leagues have made tremendous efforts to involve fans and craft events that will generate interest among fans.

The NFL has Ohana Day, where there is an open practice for fans, which is pretty much the extent of their fan involvement. MLB has events that include a red carpet ceremony/parade, the Home Run Derby, in addition to a fan fest.

The Home Run Derby has quickly become similar to the Slam Dunk Contest. An event that started out as a must-see event where players wanted to participate, but it has now devolved into players opting out and a struggle to get the game's best dunkers and heavy swingers to participate. Originally, both events attracted not only the marquee players, but spectacular plays were made that were talked about for years.

The Slam Dunk Contest has maintained a little bit of that swagger with Dwight Howard as Superman and the possible and sometimes rumored entry of a superstar participating. The Home Run Derby's suspense often now comes down to which player doesn't find it too much of an inconvenience and who can overcome the damage that might be done to his swing and his numbers the rest of the season.

The NBA's Three-Point Contest will have its big stars participate as the league's all time three-point shooter in Ray Allen will take on Kevin Durant and Paul Pierce, among other stars. None of these stars seem to be worried about messing up their shooting stroke in this contest.

The NHL Skills Competition is trying to find its groove with a big contest that everyone wants to see. The speed skating contest and shot contest are exciting, but the NBA has its own skills contest that includes dribbling, passing, and shooting. Additionally, the NBA features the Shooting Stars contest where a former NBA player, current NBA player, and a WNBA player compete on teams.

The NBA goes one step further in their events by hosting an All-Star Celebrity Game. The NHL, MLB, and NFL lack this kind of event, which shouldn't be terribly difficult to put together. There have been numerous celebrity softball tournaments, many celebrity hockey games, and a few flag football contests among celebrities, but none have made their way on a consistent basis into their all-star festivities.

The Actual Game

Perhaps it is the actual game that helps separate the NBA All-Star game from the other leagues. It starts with the players. They actually go to the game and are willing to participate. Baseball players seem to find reasons to skip the festivities and when they play, it is for a very limited time.

Hockey players generally go, but there are so many who show-up and get minimum minutes because of the larger rosters that are sent. Prodding NFL players to go can be so tough that some years as many six position players get selected for each conference due to cancellations. The rosters end up going so deep to find people who are willing to show-up that the addition of Pro Bowl on a resume doesn't seem to mean as much in recent years as it did in the past.

The play during the game also separates the NBA's All-Star Game from the rest of the leagues. It is an exhibition, and like hockey and football, it doesn't pretend to be anything else. Baseball's awarding of home field advantage to the league that wins has been ill-conceived at best. It was an overreaction to a tie and has forced the managers to balance getting everyone on the field with trying to win and forcing the players to pretend they care.

The quality of play has risen slightly, but for the most, it hasn't ignited interest in the game. The game was special in the past because there was no interleague play, so the All-Star Game and the World Series were the only times to see the National League play the American League. Now different styles of play are regularly on display in not only interleague play, but because of free agency. Additionally, many American League teams employ the National League's style of play and vice-versa.

The quality of play in the Pro Bowl is akin to two-hand touch and the players don't want to hit or play hard so they can avoid getting hurt and hurting each other. Hockey may as well pull the goalies as offense is emphasized, which also helps keep the injuries down.

Basketball players limit the hard plays for similar reasons, but the interest and excitement stays in the game. The type of game may change slightly, but not to the detriment of the game. Most fans don't enjoy 76-70 slugfests of a basketball game and a 120-115 game is welcome. More offense is not a detriment to basketball as it can be the other sports.

When football opens up the offense in the Pro Bowl, the defenders don't tackle and it is noticeable because players in football don't play both ways. So essentially half of the rosters aren't doing anything. Hockey has its players play both offense and defense, but defensemen play mostly defense and again a large part of the roster is shut-out of playing.

Basketball players can generally shoot, score, and play defense. So more scoring doesn't shut-out half of the team.

Sports that are based on the physical brutality of hits like football don't translate to a friendly game of catch. Part of the appeal of hockey is the hits and fights, which won't happen in the all-star hockey game.

Essentially, each league has parts of their all-star games that are interesting and fun for fans and the participants. The NBA combines all of the best of each of the major sports leagues and then adds other events to make their event the best all-star game. Finally, the willingness of its players to participate and the nature of basketball make the NBA All-Star game the best of the four major all-star games.

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