Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone called it the “worst basketball game ever played”.
Boston Celtics star Jaylen Brown, meanwhile, likened it to a “glorified layup line”.
Even reigning back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic simply felt like he didn’t belong, telling reporters: “I’m not meant for this game”.
“Fix this,” basketball writer Josh Eberley tweeted, tagging the NBA in a screenshot of Brown going up against Celtics teammate Jayson Tatum as all other players on the floor watched on.
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Funnily enough, a 1-on-1 tournament of some kind is exactly what some NBA fans have been calling for and what some see as the most logical solution to fixing the All-Star game.
The game was supposed to celebrate the best of what the league and its superstar talent has to offer but instead, somewhere along the way, it has become nothing more than a novelty.
Even last year, when the NBA decide to still host the event amid a global pandemic, LeBron James made a few telling comments which spoke to how players really approach the game.
Outside of calling that decision a “slap in the face”, James also said he had “zero energy” and “zero excitement” about playing in the game, adding he and his teammates had been looking forward to a “nice little break”.
Load management is already one of the biggest issues facing the league right now but there is no easy solution. The same rings true for fixing the All-Star game.
Malone, who branded this year’s instalment the “worst basketball game ever played”, said so himself.
“I don’t know if you can fix it,” he said after the game.
“I give Joel Embiid and Kyrie Irving [credit], those two guys were competing. They tried to get some defence in. No one got hurt, they put on a show for the fans, but that’s a tough game to sit through, I’m not going to lie.”
It was equally tough for those watching at home and even the players themselves, with Brown telling reporters the league needs to find a way to make it “a little bit more competitive”.
“All is fun in games like this,” Brown said.
“Real basketball is different. This was like a layup line. I don’t know how much notoriety we would want to to get from this. This was a glorified layup line.
“We’ve got to figure out how to make the game a little bit more competitive. If the fans like it, that’s all that matters.”
But the general consensus was they didn’t — and the numbers backed it up.
This year’s game was the least-watched edition in history, dropping 29 per cent in ratings and 27 per cent in viewership from 2022, per Sports Media Watch.
Prominent NBA journalist Zach Lowe even called it “unwatchable” while speaking on his podcast earlier in the week.
“The whole game was a complete joke,” he said.
“.. The game was unwatchable and even the participants in the game said it was unwatchable.”
Former NBA player turned media personality J.J. Redick agreed, saying it was “not remotely fun to watch” while echoing similar thoughts to Brown and Malone.
“I tend to agree with what Jaylen Brown said,” Redick opened.
“Which was, ‘That was not basketball. That was a glorified lay-up line’. I tend to agree with Michael Malone [who said], ‘That was the worst basketball game ever played’, maybe a little harsh but I tend to agree with it.
“I feel for the fans who want to see a show but also want to see guys compete.”
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The problem though as Redick explained is that the game and All-Star weekend as a whole is not set up in its current format to generate the more competitive approach fans may be after.
“I did the All-Star Weekend two years, I was not an All-Star all I did was compete in the 3-point content on Saturday, got out of there Sunday morning both times,” Redick said.
“It was non-stop, all day long. You obviously have appearances, there is community events that every player that participates in All-Star Weekend has to do. So you’re travelling all around, constantly moving from one event to another.
“The game itself is a f***ing spectacle. I love the draft before the game. Then there’s a Post Malone concert. It’s not meant to be competitive. How the day of the game is set up, how the pre-game is set up — I was watching the pre-game show [and] there were guys doing their shooting two hours before tip-off. I don’t know of a single All-Star who does that.
“The game preparation to get yourself in a place to compete does not exist. The idea we are supposed to watch LeBron and Giannis try to crack jokes for what seemed like 35 minutes and then watch a Post Malone concert and then expect these guys to go out at full tilt, it never has been realistic and it’s not realistic with the way it’s set up now.”
That in itself begs the question. Sure, there are suggestions that making it USA vs The World or playing a 1-on-1 tournament could bring out the competitive firepower everyone is after.
But even still, that alone would not address the “non-stop, all day long” nature of the week itself that Redick said is part of the problem in the first place.
“I feel for fans,” Redick added.
“I don’t know what the solution is. I think what fans want is what Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dion Waiters gave us a few years ago at the Rising Stars game.
“What fans want is a little bit harder than what Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum did in the third because they were still moving at about 60 per cent when they were going one-on-one. Fans want to see that and I get that but there was none of that, zero resistance, and it was not remotely fun to watch.”
So, it’s a low bar, but how can the NBA make the All-Star game even remotely fun to watch?
Well, Oklahoma City Thunder guard and first-time All-Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had a simple solution when asked after the event.
“Money talks you know,” he said, while wearing a fur coat of course.
“If there’s more incentive I think guys will take it seriously.”
But would money really make a difference for the league’s biggest names, who pocketing plenty already?
It certainly made a difference for Mac McClung, who nearly matched his career earnings with the $1000,000 dunk contest win after signing a two-way contract with the 76ers.
“But what’s the value for Ja Morant?” asked Redick.
“There’s more downside than upside.”
Even throwing more money at it poses questions, as Lowe explained, starting with where the extra cash would come in the first place.
“Everyone on the winning team right now gets $100,000,” Lowe said on his podcast.
“Everyone on the losing team gets $25,000. That’s obviously not enough to make the players care. The money thing is complicated for two reasons.
“One, where is the money coming from? Because if it’s $1 million a player, that’s $12 million. That’s got to come from somewhere. I don’t think the union would be happy with it coming out of the 51 per cent BRI (Basketball Related Income). It’d have to become extra money. Who is supplying the extra money? Is it the owners, sponsors?
“I just don’t think it’d go over well with fans if it is, ‘Oh, now they’re trying’. I just think any solution where the players get an enormous amount of stuff, the optics are going to be bad, unless you get $1 million and get to donate it to a charity of choice.”
So if paying the players more money to compete isn’t the simple fix, could a return to East vs West or even a matchup of the best U.S. and international players be part of the solution?
Ohm Youngmisuk, an NBA reporter for ESPN, doubts the latter would have the desired effect.
“If you were to do Team USA vs International All-Stars, I think that’d be interesting for the fans but at the same time, what would make the players want to try win that game?” he said on Lowe’s podcast.
“Are they really playing for international or country pride? It’s not like they’re playing for a global medal. At the end of the day it’s still going to be the same thing, they don’t want to get hurt.”
As for the East vs West suggestions, Lowe said it would be “insane” to decide home court advantage for the Finals series with an exhibition game that otherwise has little meaning.
After all, it is more being named an All-Star than playing in the game itself that is the honour.
And from speaking to those on the ground in Utah, Youngmisuk left with a similar impression that the league needs to find some way to better get players to buy into the event.
The problem though is that he, likely many people right now, doesn’t know exactly what that is.
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“I got this sense talking to players in the leading days up to All-Star when they were selecting teams that guys were kind of just looking forward to having the break,” he said.
“Some of these guys will say, ‘It’s always an honour to be named an All-Star’ and you want to be an All-Star but they also don’t want to be there. And I don’t know what the answer is to wanting them to be there.”
If there is any hope for the All-Star game, the NBA can look to McClung, who Shaquille O’Neal said “definitely saved the dunk contest”.
McClung went from being called up from the G League earlier that week to the talk of the town.
He did it with exactly what the All-Stars game could’ve done with — a little more effort and competitive spirit.
Rediscovering both of those things though may be much harder than it seems.
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