Clap Clap ClapClapClap: Notes From All-Star Weekend
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 15, 2010
People who complain about All-Star Weekend sicken me a little. Yeah, sure, there’s nitpicking to be done here and there, and I’ll certainly do my fair share below, but on the whole, I’ll never understand how anyone who considers themselves to be an NBA fan can not get excited over the general celebration of NBA culture that is All-Star Weekend. Even when certain parts of it don’t quite live up to expectation, the rush of just seeing all of these guys together under one roof (well, two different roofs in this case I guess, depending) doing there thing is enough to make just about anything forgivable. And when it’s actually good, too…man, it’s just so much fun to watch. Getting through the long first half of the season can be something of a slog at times, and it’s my opinion that All-Star Weekend is our reward as fans for sticking with it. So here are my hopefully mostly open-hearted and not-too-judgmental thoughts on the unfoldings of All-Star Weekend, in chronological order:
I kind of wish more people cared about the Celebrity All-Star Challenge, because damn, is it a sight to behold. Not only do you get to find out weird things about your favorite celebs’ on-court games–turns out Common has some decent point guard skills, and Pitbull supposedly has a deadly three-point stroke (his one long-distance shot was an airball, but he does look a lot like a five-foot-tall Jason Kidd)–but there’s a weird culture to the game itself that’s built up over the years. Chris Tucker and Michael Rapaport seem like they suffer through the rest of the year in their careers as mediocre comedic actors just for the opportunity to suck loudly at this game, and two-time reigning-MVP Terrell Owens (who has nice ups and a decent stroke, though surprise surprise, his game is a little geared towards putting up stats at the team’s occasional detriment) appears way more invested in the game than he really ever does in football these days. This year, the game had so few actual good performances that they gave the MVP to Rapaport for scoring four points and being the “defensive stopper” on TO. Any game which features Chris Mullin, Nancy Lieberman and Robert Horry and ends up giving the MVP to Michael Rapaport is OK in my book.
Friend of the blog Kyle McFarren says he occasionally prefers the Rookie-Sophomore Challenge to the All-Star Game itself, and I’m thinking he might have a point. It’s basically the same deal as the All-Star Game–no defense, endless showboating, ungodly amounts of scoring–but with the kids, there’s a little more to be learned, a little more personality to be developed. I thought I loved OJ Mayo before, but watching him set up teammate after teammate with gorgeous, down-to-the-centimeter alley-oop passes has me salivating at him doing the same at the main event in years to follow. And I never questioned DeJuan Blair’s potential as a pro, but after watching him one-hand-hammer down an off-the-backboard pass to himself, and then score a layup in the game’s final seconds to secure his 20-20 game (even as Brook Lopez tried to literally tackle him from behind), I’m now officially banging my head against the wall that NBA execs passed on him 35 times in last year’s draft. Russell Westbrook going coast-to-coast, Brandon Jennings hitting ridiculous fadeaways, Tyreke Evans finishing shots around the rim that he had absolutely no business finishing…I know it’s a cliche, but this really is the future of the NBA. And it is so pretty.
Less pretty, naturally, was this year’s H.O.R.S.E. competition. I don’t want to be too much of a hater with this, because the event is still in its infancy and I’m hoping they can work some of this shit out in time, but good God is this thing unwatchable so far. The thing I really don’t get is why they keep choosing young’ns for this game–dudes still totally overwhelmed by the spotlight and the big stage, who barely even offer a shred of personality to the proceedings. Casspi, Rondo and Durant were so quiet the entire time that almost by necessity, we were treated to endless amounts of obnoxious barking by one Kenny Smith, who tried to do enough trash-talking and rabble-rousing to cover for all three contestants. What the contest really needs is a bunch of vets–old-school guys who have been around the block a couple times and seen and done it all, and who have played against each other enough over the years to have a natural kind of competitive repartee. If Kobe, Ray and Nash don’t want to do it–and really, I don’t see why they wouldn’t–then ask current role-player vets like Eddie House, Jerry Stackhouse and Jason Williams, guys who’ll just be glad to be part of the weekend at all. Guarantee you the results will be more compelling than this.
Also, the pacing of the event is absolutely atrocious. The commercial breaks and other broadcast intrusions (including a shot this year submitted by a fan, which none of the three contestants really had any shot of actually making) totally kill whatever flow the players might accidentally slip into, and end up eating so much time that the contest was barely even halfway through when they had to resort to ending it with a sudden-death three-point competition. Maybe the solution is just to put the contest earlier in the day and have it last two or three hours, with much less pressure and much less fanfare. Casual viewers probably aren’t going to watch it, but after this year’s dud, I bet you they wouldn’t be watching again next year anyway, and in the meantime, junkies like me would be transfixed all afternoon. This year wasn’t a complete waste–at the least it was amusing to see Rondo, not even a reliable free-throw shooter, draining threes like layups there at the end–but if the event has any chance of becoming a permanent weekend fixture, shit’s gotta get done to it before next year.
The Shooting Stars Competition…why does this still exist, exactly? Has anyone ever cared about this? I mean, I guess you gotta kill that half-hour somehow, and it gets the old folks and the chicks in the game a little, but man, just do a big ol’ game of knockout instead and it’d be about a hundred times more riveting. Although it was a shame not to get to see Derrick Rose defend his Skills Competition title this year–I actually really enjoyed watching him in it last season, especially the super-nice double-clutch dunk he capped off his winning run with–it was nice to see a vet like Steve Nash get in and own that shit with his real cool hand. Nash is the kind of pro that this event/weekend really demands–someone with enough respect for the competition to legitimately give it his best, but with enough of a sense of perspective to keep the competitive spirit light (as evidenced by his fake-block on second-place-finisher Deron Williams’ closing layup, after the win had long been iced). And for the Three-Point Shootout…it seems like it’s always the person you least expect, proven again this year but Paul Pierce’s decisive victory. Fun fact: The Truth is currently on pace to shoot better from three in ’09-’10 than much-ballyhooed sharpshooting teammate Ray Allen ever has for a single season.
Then, the Slam-Dunk Contest. So yeah, it kind of sucked this year. DeMar DeRozan got off one genuinely nice slam off his teammate’s side-of-the-backboard-lob, but that was about it, and Nate Robinson didn’t so much win it as he didn’t lose it quite as badly as everyone else. But to say that this is the end of the Slam-Dunk Contest (as Bill Simmons summarily claimed in his “R.I.P. Slam Dunk Contest, 1984-2010” tweet)…well, to me, that’s like saying that the NCAAs are dead because it was a boring Final Four last year, or that the World Series of Poker is over because some punk kid won it last year. There’s nothing worth pulling the plug over here–some years, the Dunk Contest is just gonna suck. Do we not remember the years this last decade where Fred Brown and Desmond Mason won, or the year in the 90s when Harold Miner won for the second time? No, of course we don’t, because they sucked just as much. But the SDC somehow survived all of those loser winners, and in the meantime, we had Kobe, Vince, Josh, Dwight and Nate (well, the first two times). Like I said a few days ago, every couple of years, people have to declare the Slam-Dunk Contest dead, and it looks like 2010 was just the next year for that in the endless rotation. It’s natural, and in a way, sort of comforting. Plus, my Knick fan friends needed something to cheer about this season.
Anyway, the All-Star Game was good enough to make up for it, to me at least. How great is the league right now when two of its five best players–Kobe and Chris Paul–have to sit the game out for injury, and you barely even notice their absence? Just bring Kevin Durant and Deron Williams off the bench and it’s pretty much all good. Really, across the board, the play was so strong from top to bottom on both teams that the only two players I noticed being conspicuously out of place as all stars were Chris Kaman and Gerald Wallace (and that could be just because both are so uniquely hideous that they’re just going to stand out negatively in almost any sampling of human beings). And having Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard and LeBron James on the court at the same time was absolutely terrifying–the three of them put together enough incredible dunks on their own to erase disappointing memories of Shannon Brown pretty much for all time. Sloppiness, ridiculous foul calls and a terrible last-second play call robbed us of what should have been a classic finish, but when an All-Star Game even stays somewhat competitive in its final minutes, that’s generally good enough.
And if all that’s not enough, with this weekend’s surfeit of TNT programming, I have now seen that awful Charles Barkley Taco Bell commercial enough to memorize almost all the words to Chuck’s hypnotically atrocious not-rap. Another successful All-Star Weekend in the books.