All-Time All Star Game
Antetokounmpo stuffs LeBron in the post... Lowry takes his third charge of the game... LeBron pulls up from deep for the win... Kawhi dedicates a career game from the perimeter to Kobe Bryant... Davis sinks the elusive walk-off free throw. That'd be a pretty electric series of playoff games, but it was actually all in one game. The 2020 NBA All-Star Game.
Devin Booker throwing down a monster putback jam... Joel Embiid pulling out Hakeem-esque footwork in the paint...Chris Paul throwing down a rimrocking jam off an alley-oop… Both teams scoring in excess of 150 points... All generally predictable stuff in any given All-Star Game (Ok, maybe not the Chris Paul dunking thing). Surprisingly enough Chris Paul's slam wasn't his most impressive accomplishment of the night, nor was his whopping 23 point, 6 assist stat line. Paul's most impressive accomplishment at the entire All-Star weekend, in fact, was how he revolutionized the marquee event.
After the tragic death of close friend and NBA legend Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, as President of the NBPA, suggested a huge change to the All-Star Game: make the first to a target score the winner. After the first three quarters of play, the clock would be turned off and the target score was set to 24 greater than the leading team's score. In its actual application, Team Giannis led 133-124 after the first three quarters, so whichever team got to 24 points first won. This ended up in an electrifying thriller that Team LeBron just slipped away with on an Anthony Davis free throw.
Usually, if someone is playing at an "all-star caliber," it ironically doesn't mean what you would expect from the All-Star Game itself. The All-Star Weekend is almost like a party celebrating the NBA and our favorite players and coaches, and while we of course want them to have fun, it had become a vacation for the players and nothing more than a joke to the fans. The "no defense, no foul calls" concept became an unspoken mantra between the players and refs. The game had really just become our best players trying to perform plays for their highlight reels. In an All-Star Game, assembling the league's best players to play one another, you'd expect the highest level of competition and the best brand of basketball; a real-life Space Jam This year though, for the first time in a long time, that's exactly what we got.
Somehow, they managed to rewrite the script this year. The players loved the opportunity to both show off their skills and play their hearts out, the coaches loved seeing their guys try out there and demonstrate their full arsenals, and the fans loved seeing their favorite players participate in a legendary battle of the NBA greats. Don't believe me? Just look at the ratings: an average of 7.3 million viewers for the game, peaking at 8 million during the show-stopping fourth quarter. This average is up 8% from last year and is about 8 times the average viewership of 885,000 for an NBA game this season.
In an All-Star Game without former Warriors trio Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant, as well as Paul George, Damian Lillard, or Kyrie Irving, the game saw an increase in viewership. Yep, you read that right- without four of last year's All-Star starters and six perennial participants/ league icons, more people were tuning in. Oh and, in case anyone forgot, this seasons views as a whole, as well as revenue projections, are down after Daryl Morey tore a gaping hole in the relationship between the NBA and China. Considering China had been the NBA's second biggest market and the opening of said market expanded the population with access to the NBA Finals to well over a billion, you could say this was a little bit of a loss.
But in spite of Daryl Morey's burning of bridges and the injury bug that's hit the league extra hard this year, this reimagined format brought about more viewers than years past. Just imagine if everyone's favorites were actually healthy and the global market was operating at full capacity- that 8% growth could have been so much more. The NBA evidently recognized that too as they reportedly plan to ingrain this new format into the All-Star Game going forward. This is the first step to not only making the All-Star Game competitive, but revitalizing the All-Star Weekend as a whole. What's next? Some have suggested getting genuine household names back in the Dunk Contest. Others have suggested a 1v1 tournament consisting of our favorite iso players. Above all, however, the NBA should keep getting ideas where they got this first one: the players.
The NBA is a business and the league office, owners, front office members, and media so often neglect the fact that the players are businessmen with a wealth of knowledge. It shouldn't be too complicated- if you want the players to be competitive, ask them what will make that happen. Sure, the players might not always know what is the most marketable decision, but there's not a single fan that doesn't love seeing that competitive fire in the eyes of their favorite players.
Just keep it simple, NBA. Find what's working and stick with it. In this case, listen to the players and the fans, and you'll be able to grow the All-Star Game into the vast potential it has as a celebration and lucrative business opportunity alike. Whatever you do, please don't do what the NFL did with Kick-Tac-Toe and Pro Bowl Dodgeball.
We're begging you.
Sports Fans Everywhere
Stats from basketballreference.com