Outside of a couple of highlights, I had to look at the box score to check if Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic actually played in the All-Star game. We’re talking about a guy averaging 33 points and 8 assists a game. Come to find out; he only had four points on five attempts in 19 minutes. Luka?
That sentiment carried itself throughout the whole game. Except for some spirited back-and-forth between Boston Celtics teammates Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the game itself ... well, it just happened. Players got their usual flashy dunks, along with some crazy three-point shots. Otherwise, everybody was just kind of out there in an open gym style with little to no defense.
Yes, LeBron James went out with a hand injury after the first half. Giannis Antetokounmpo subbed out after the first shot he took. Now granted, Stephen Curry, Zion Williamson, and Kevin Durant were missing due to injuries. All were factors of this iteration not having the usual punch it usually does. However, the NBA still features an abundance of young talent. How could that amount to what Denver Nuggets head coach Mike Malone called, “the worst game he’s ever seen.”
But, it was not only a profound lack of buzz around the whole all-star game itself (many people on my Twitter timeline were speaking about The Last of Us. A terrific show, by the way). There was some around the whole weekend itself. You can chalk that up to Utah not precisely being the entertainment capital of the world, but it feels as though NBA All-Star weekend is dangerously close to losing that shine it once had for good.
One of the bright spots was the Mac McClung and Trey Murphy battle during the dunk contest (which the event needed). The NBA then seemingly forgot McClung played basketball when they had him introduce Post Malone the following night. Not to mention, the strange, forced abundance of Karl Malone. It remains to be seen if McClung’s win is a pathway to reinvigorate some interest in the dunk contest, mainly because it’s still all about stars. Star participation waned, and so did the fans' interest – if you notice, most people bring up the old competitions.
The dissent came to a fever pitch during the game itself. There are two schools of thought when you consider what we witnessed. Players are trying to rest and get healthy for the last leg of the season. Fair. Coming into the league, players are playing more basketball games than ever which may lead to more injuries. James tried to block a Pascal Siakam layup that resulted in an injury – a freak accident. The All-Star break could just be looked at now as a reprieve.
On the other hand, it’s hard not to see what an opportunity All-Star weekend is for the NBA to present its best and most talented to the world unopposed. I know there were a couple of XFL games, but for the most part, NBA All-Star weekend has free reign to be a premiere showcase. We’re not saying players must go all out for the entire game, but some effort would be fantastic.
The NBA All-Star game can still be competitive. Just look at the 4th quarter of the 2020 game. Kyle Lowry was taking charges. Players were arguing calls. Some of the spirit of older All-Star games permeated the new school of players, which was great to see. This is not to say that everything has to be beholden to older generations – we all know the game has evolved. However, seeing the late Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan trade shots back and forth in the 1998 and 2003 All-Star Games was incredible.
A conventional NBA fan will rarely see many of these players play, so you have to maximize that opportunity. You watch these games because you want to see those dream matchups. The league can switch it back to East vs. West, and maybe throw some cash incentives in, but it would be a real shame if the game itself went away. It still can be a valuable piece to the sports pantheon. But that’s really up to the players to decide.