February 9, 2012
By Oliver Layco
The NBA All-Star game is the mid-season showcase for the league’s best players to compete against each other. Now, the definition of ‘best’ has changed in recent years. It currently means the most popular players. Some examples include the likes of Tracy McGrady, Allen Iverson, and Yao Ming. There’s always the nostalgia factor for voting for certain players. Going back to the 1992 All-Star game, Magic Johnson played and was eventually named MVP of the game; that year was supposed to be his comeback year after announcing he had contracted HIV. Other legends, such as Michael Jordan, get voted in due to their contributions to the game. With names like McGrady and Iverson, that’s when we started seeing the popularity of a player take over. This isn’t taking away from each players’ talents but they’ve each had their share of injuries and unproductive seasons to not justify having them as a starter. In Yao Ming’s case he had an entire country voting for him; this also helped McGrady since both of them played for the same team. Again, not taking away from Yao Ming’s talent and contribution to the game but he never played for an extended amount of time. His career was riddled with injuries and those would eventually lead to him retiring at the end of last season.
One issue that doesn’t make sense in the All-Star system is the lack of fan presence at the actual All-Star game itself. During the whole All-Star extravaganza fans are given a chance to experience different aspects of the NBA. There’s the NBA Fan Jam which is basically a mini convention held to showoff everything about the NBA. The Fan Jam lasts the whole weekend, and it is free to the public; events included range from open practices to the celebrity game. On the Saturday of the weekend the main attraction includes three events; the skills challenge the three point shootout and the dunk contest. If I remember correctly, fans are allowed in but at a price. Even at that, I think the tickets are mostly in the upper areas of the arena. The lower seats are too expensive for normal people and they are left for other players, team owners and members of the media. This is the beginning of the exclusion of fans from the main events. This whole weekend is supposed to be a service to the fans, yet there is barely any recognition of that. They have the celebrities and other people who could care less about the sport sitting there on their fancy phones while these athletes are playing right in front of them. These people do it because it’s the cool thing to do.
The complete disregard for fans culminates in the All-Star game itself. When did this game become more a red carpet event? When did the league forgot about the people that drive their business? The tickets are too overpriced for any real fan to get into. The only option we have is to win any number of contests. At the game itself it’s filled with corporate sponsors and members of the media. Those sponsors could actually be fans, but more likely than not they are there to save face for the company. It’s another high profile event for the rich to hang out. As for members of the media, it is their job to cover the event so they are justified in being there. As for the celebrity fans? The main celebrity fans I can think of that are truly fans are Jack Nicholson and Spike Lee. Those two have been there for their respective teams longer than I have been alive. As for when I see Donald Trump, Zac Efron, or any other ‘star’? They aren’t there for the love of the game.
As for the league’s attempt at having the fans be involved? We get to vote in the starters to this game. That’s the only real contribution that the fans are allowed on behalf of the league. Even this system is flawed. I understand that the sport isn’t for hardcore fans only but when the occasional watcher is allowed to vote they don’t know who really is having an All-Star worthy season. They look for who the hot names in the NBA are or some other flawed reason.
This year the starters for the West are: Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, and Andrew Bynum. Personally, I would say three of the choices are correct. I don’t think Blake Griffin and Andrew Bynum deserved their spots. Although these two players have had stellar seasons up to this point, I feel there are other players more deserving based on what they are doing with their teams. To replace Blake, I would have liked to see Kevin Love in his place. No pun intended, but I just love what he’s doing to lead the Timerwolves to where they are right now. If they keep up the way they’re playing, I think they can contend for a playoff position in the West. In place of Bynum, I would have liked to see Marc Gasol. Again, I like the progress he’s made thus far; and despite Zach Randolph being injured, the Grizzlies are also competing for that final playoff spot in the West.
In the East, the starters are: Derrick Rose, Dwayne Wayde, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwight Howard. For this set of starters, the only player I have a gripe with is Carmelo Anthony. He just hasn’t had the kind of season that would justify him being a starter. His team is also underperforming so that plays a major factor. When the Knicks have players the caliber of Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler it’s only fair to expect certain things out of them. Granted this is their first season as a trio and they need time to get comfortable with each other but there’s still certain expectations fans had of them. To replace him, there are a number of players that could have taken his spot; Chris Bosh, Luol Deng, and Paul Pierce could have easily been a starter. Bosh is having a much better season compared to last year. It seems like he is finding his position within the offense better. Luol Deng is just continuing to play at his expectations and then some. As for Pierce, although the Celtics had a slow start they are slowly getting their legs under them for the long haul. Rondo has been their stabilizer all season, but now Pierce and the other members of the Big Three are rounding out and starting to play better.
This years’ All-Star game is in Orlando and it proves to be an eventful one. The Dwight Howard trade rumors are bound to follow him up to the All-Star game and beyond. If he switches teams, and potentially conferences, that will be one hell of a return to Orlando. The stories are plentiful in the three weeks leading up to this showcase. The reserves for the teams are to be announced this week and I don’t see why the players who should have been starters shouldn’t make the team. We’ll be left to see where Kobe can take the Lakers in these coming weeks; if LeBron can continue leading the Heat to redemption; if Derrick Rose can push the Bulls to revive the Windy City. This All-Star game, like the rest of this season, is proving to be as exciting as ever.