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A Quick and Lackluster All-Star Weekend

Damian Lillard All-Star Weekend
(Kyle Terada/ USA Today)

The NBA All-Star weekend is a victim of expectations. All-Star weekend is a show for a large part of the basketball community. A week of activities jam-packed the schedule with forums, interviews, TV specials, star appearances, and some basketball. That’s where the detractors come in. To them, the weekend, particularly the game, has lost its identity and impact. 

There is a need for an All-Star game. So the quick-firing takes that say we should disband the All-Star game are ludicrous. All-Star weekend is an unquestionable benefit for the NBA. Having (arguably) the best collection of basketball players in the world all on the same court should be enticing to everyone. However, the power of even that phenomenon has not been able to protect from criticism on how players are selected and if “politics” are involved. The selection process evidently means more than the actual All-Star game itself. Days of coverage will be dedicated to the snubs that lead to every media market pontificating who should have replaced whom in the lead-up to the break. 

There is a strong sentiment around the league, and its players enjoy participating in the All-Star festivities. It’s certainly an honor for them. But how do we, as a basketball community, fix the product we see during the break? Adam Silver is asking himself the same question, too. The commissioner’s displeasure was so palpable during the trophy ceremony that significant changes are likely coming. 

Still, there were remnants of what made the weekend great. It’s just that those remnants are making us nostalgic for old All-Star games, not yearning for future iterations. 


The Effort Paradox 

Would you like the best players to play hard in the All-Star game? That’s an easy yes, right? Well, it’s not that simple. 

In the 1980 All-Star Game, San Antonio Spurs forward George Gervin played 40 minutes in his MVP-winning performance. The Iceman put up 34 points and ten rebounds en route to a victory over the East. That year marked the end of treating the event as a “real” game in terms of playing time. It would be over 20 years before another All-Star played for 40 minutes. For instance, the highest minute total in the 2024 game was 28 minutes (Karl-Anthony Towns and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander). 

The All-Star format hasn’t changed much in the last 42 years, but the effort has. Is it that the 80s and 90s All-Stars cared more? Yes and no. Obviously, technology and science have changed the landscape for the better regarding player health. A long-term, debilitating injury would be catastrophic if it happened in the All-Star game. Considering the ramifications, we can’t blame teams and the league as a whole for understanding how to manage players in these events.

On the other hand, there is an argument to be made that players could get injured training, practicing, or competing in any normal game. While true, the biggest counter to that is that the All-Star game happens in the middle of the year. It is a “break” after all. Conventional wisdom would tell us that most of the non-all-stars are resting during their time off. All-Stars presumably want that, too. Getting these players to try a game that, deep down in their minds, makes them wish they were rather in some tropical destination or home with families is going to take more persuasion than an LED court and meeting past legends. 


The Sabrina and Steph Shootout

The league deserves credit for being at the forefront of sports innovation. Not just in the physical space, as mentioned above, the NBA introduced a full-LED court during the weekend. They also introduced their NBAi, and other league partners, like Wilson, were showcasing their new airless basketball. In some ways, the NBA treated All-Star Week in Indy like the basketball version of Comic-Con. Even with all the innovations, the one that stole the show was the three-point shootout between Sabrina Ionescu and Stephen Curry

As my colleague Trinty Rea wrote in her newsletter last week, there would be predictable backlash and contempt for this event before and after it happened. But to both Ionescu and Curry’s credit, they ignored all of the criticism by showcasing high levels of respect for one another and genuine excitement to compete. Showcases like this are where the All-Star game has thrived in recent years. For a while, the crown jewel of All-Star Saturday was the Dunk Contest, but its place in the hierarchy has been vacated. 

It wasn’t perfect. The shootout was thrilling, but the live commentary took away from the entertainment value. Were the main TNT broadcast analysts not on board with the event? Because that’s what it felt like. Outside of Allie Laforce, the league’s broadcast partner reverted to discounting Ionescu’s performance, which is a puzzling way to promote something. Directly after Steph won 29-26, the analysis ended with qualifiers from the broadcaster Kenny Smith, “She should have shot from the women’s line!” or “There’s a women’s tee in golf, and there’s a men’s tee.”

Not only was it lazy and insulting, but it was a complete miss on the part of TNT. If anything, the battle between Steph and Sabrina was arguably the most compelling part of the evening. 

A Haliburton Moment 

If we are doing the boilerplate “Winners and Losers” of All-Star weekend, a clear benefactor was Tyrese Haliburton. Playing in front of his home city, Haliburton was electric in everything he participated in. He played the role of “host” perfectly, and for a relatively small-market team in Indiana, the Pacers have a player who rates highly in the national discourse. 

He started by lending his voice for numerous interviews and commentary during the Rising Stars Challenge. Bonus points for his fashion choices during the weekend as well. He dawned everything from a logo-plastered jacket to a furry-sleeved suit—star-making stuff. He truly shined on the court, either in the skills challenge (where he cared) or the All-Star game, where he was a starter and hit his first five three-pointers. There was a case to be made early that he could steal the MVP honors, too. Lastly, take this however you want, but his presence with other superstars signified a legitimate stamp of approval (if it already wasn’t there). 


Future All-Star Fixes

The complaining coming out of all-star weekend (this piece could be considered that) is dishonest when we break it down. Audiences should know what they are getting during the All-Star game. There should be no surprise anymore. While that is sort of depressing, it won’t change until incentives or formats change. No small changes, like player drafts or Elam endings, will change that. Sidebar: The Elam ending did produce a few captivating finishes, but it was abandoned quickly after blowouts exposed flaws. 

What do viewers want? On a basic level, we all want to see some form of the best players in the world playing against one another. Although broad, that gives the powers numerous combinations to work with. Ultimately, it looks like there will be changes soon if Adam Silver’s tone after the game was any indication. 

If the league is looking for ideas, here are a few that could be a starting point: 

Option 1: 

  • Two 15-Player Teams (East vs West etc.)
  • Teams break into three 5-man “squads” and play in dedicated rotations. 
  • Two 24-minute halves are broken down into 8-minute stints. 
  • Either the total periods won, or total points at the end of regulation/overtime decides the winner. 

This leans into the competitiveness that we have been itching for. Each squad could have their own motivations, and it would still be a team format. It also promotes rest and safety, where each player will play for the same amount of time. Lastly, it stresses strategy. How would they set up squads, the order in which each squad plays, etc? 

Option 2: 

  • Three v Three Tournament 
  • The bracket is made of the combined All-Star selection on a team ranked one through six. 
  • Games to 15 (1s and 2s) and halfcourt only
  • No game can take longer than 12 minutes

Many people have asked for some version of three-on-three basketball in All-Star weekend. Reforming the contest into this would again take rest and safety into account. One of the reasons the All-Star game is aesthetically not fun to watch is because they use the whole court, and the players want to run less. Shrinking the floor would ease that while also putting NBA players in full half-court sets. The creativity and pure basketball would be superior. If every team is independent, it could get really competitive. In this scenario, the only thing to figure out is how to separate the all-stars into fair and exciting teams. 



Matt Strout is an Editor for Back Sports Page. Matt studied Journalism and Sociology at Temple University for four years and graduated in May of 2022. While there, Matt wrote for multiple student and professional publications covering sports and the City of Philadelphia. Matt is originally from Maine and now resides in California. He has written content primarily for the NBA and PGA Tour. When Matt is not writing, he enjoys cooking and playing golf. Follow Matt’s social media on Twitter @TheRealStrout or Instagram @matt_strout96.

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