Why All Star Games Suck

We’re just about a week removed from the 59th Annual NBA All-Star weekend. And yet despite the media hoopla over whether Kobe or AI would play, despite the record setting attendance, and despite the ridiculous venue, the festivities lacked a certain showmanship inherent in the unscripted theatre of sport. The slam dunk competition had no Dwight Howard–no Dominique Wilkins versus Michael Jordan. The three point contest had no Larry Bird or Craig Hodges. And what of the actual game? A snooze fest as per usual. In other words, it was just another All-Star Game. The game got me thinking though, why is it that All-Star Games are so lifeless? Why is it that they can never match the intensity and drama of regular season games? All-Star Games in any sport, be it NBA, MLB, NFL, or NHL, are exhibition games where the game’s greatest stars can gather for a collegial spectacle. Fans pay to see the best players in the league play at the highest level of play. And yet when players arrive at these games, they rarely match expectations. They play for the money or they play because their contract mandates it. Given this reputation, it’s small wonder so many players take the game off either overtly, through excuse, or covertly, through uninspired play. All-Star Games all too often are without the very stars they market.

Sports are meant to be compelling. That’s why Muhammad Ali’s fight against Joe Frazier in the Thrilla in Manila remains legendary; why Babe Ruth’s called shot lights up the eyes of any baseball fan; why Robert Horry’s game winning shots gave him the name “Big Shot Rob;” and why certain plays have the word “The” affixed to them – The Catch, The Drive, The Immaculate Reception. But something about All-Star Games saps this essential element from the beauty of sport. Gone is the smothering defense, the hard hits, the human struggle. All-Star Games are not compelling–they all too often feel dull and unnecessary.

So I propose a change. Get rid of the collegiality in these games. Make these athletes play not because they are compelled to by fiscal or contractual reasons, but by a burning desire to beat the other team or bring greater glory to their name. Bring hard defense a la Isaiah Thomas’ Bad Boy Pistons back to the NBA All-Star Game. Bring back another true dunker to the slam dunk competition – another Dr. J, Dominique Wilkins, or Vince Carter. Bring back that rivalry between the AFL and NFL that made AFL players congratulate Joe Namath on the Super Bowl III win, even as they were tackling him.

The MLB All-Star Game is on the right track, but not because of Bud Selig’s ridiculous rule governing World Series home field advantage. It’s because of the cultural and historical differences between the Senior and Junior Circuits; players play for the glory of their leagues. Differing rules, histories, and players govern baseball. Because American League and National League teams rarely play each other, and because of the deep divisions between the two, the only times players from the two leagues are likely to meet are the All-Star Game and the World Series. The MLB All-Star Game thus creates moments that are not soon forgotten – Pete Rose’s crash with Ray Fosse, Cal Ripken, Jr.’s home run, or even Josh Hamilton’s remarkable Home Run Derby. The MLB All-Star Game never needed Bud Selig’s hand – it was incredible all by itself.

So that is my proposal – make basketball, football, and hockey more like baseball. Give the players pride in their conference. Pride that when they are playing in the All-Star Game they are playing not just for individual awards and accolades, but for their conference.

Maybe then we’ll see a real All-Star Game.

Editor’s Note: This sports column is a regular feature from “The Nightcap” crew,  made up of Ari Zyskind, Dan Campbell, Kavin Shuai, and Ned Schooler, a group of 5Cers who air a weekly radio talk show on KSPC. You can listen in online at KSPC.org (click “Hear us Online via Live365”) every Monday from 8-10 PM.