Holding Court: The bastardized NBA All-Star game
MANILA, Philippines - David Stern is gone. The NBA’s commissioner for 30 years stepped down last February 1 to give way to his successor, Adam Silver, and to be honest about it, he has done good for the league, turning what was once a league that earned $165 million when he started his tenure in 1984 into an enterprise that made $5.5 billion by the time he left three decades later. But there’s a legacy of Stern that still rankles me, and that is the selection process in the All-Star Game that has trivialized perhaps the most important position in the game – the center spot.
Since 2013, the NBA has conducted balloting for starters in the annual midseason classic without regard to the center spot, classifying players just according to whether they’re members of the front court or the backcourt, and it has done the same in the coaches’ selection of reserves. This would not affect the backcourt players, guards being interchangeable anyway particularly in the case of combo guards whose ability to play point and shooting guard makes them fit in just perfectly.
But when the system removes the distinction between forwards and centers, this takes it a little too far to our mind. It makes the game bastardized as it takes away from the importance of the position that has produced some of the greatest players in the game’s history, including such legends as Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain who both defined the position, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Moses Malone, Dave Cowens, Robert Parish, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and Willis Reed, among others.
Can you imagine all that talent whose position now takes a backseat, nay, seems to have been forgotten in what is supposed to be the league’s biggest showcase? The game’s founders must be turning in their graves!
Stern’s move to remove the center from the All-Star Game’s selection process is actually a reflection of the way he had transformed the pro game into a perimeter game, with emphasis on all the free-wheeling plays and the highlights that often result from that style of play. But this has also transformed the sport into a high-scoring “small ball” kind of game, with the physical play and defensive schemes that were the hallmark of the greatest classic confrontations in the past between the game’s greats all but having been consigned to history.
Is this the way basketball is supposed to be played? Should hand-checking and other such physical defense really be sacrificed at the altar of a fast-paced, slam-dunking style that may be pleasing to the eyes of the casual fan but often turns into a drag for many of the game’s long-time followers? Let’s face it, after witnessing all the slam dunks that are produced by such a free-wheeling style, one would tend to get tired of all this supposed spectacular show of athleticism, hops and skills. After all, one can only take so much of the same stuff that’s fed over and over because of the deemphasis on physical defense and inside play.
This has led to the perception of some that the pro game has turned into a soft sport. Some quarters even refer to today’s game as a sissy’s game with all the prohibitions on hand-checking and other such physical acts by a defensive player, tilting the scales lopsidedly in favor of the more athletically gifted.
This year’s balloting for starters actually turned into a travesty as a result of the new rule as the East players who were voted in don’t even include anyone playing the power positions (center and power forward). The frontc ourt starters for the East are Miami’s LeBron James, Indiana’s Paul George and New York’s Carmelo Anthony, all of whom are small forwards who have never even averaged 10 rebounds at any point in their careers and will most likely never do. The West, meanwhile, may have Minnesota’s Kevin Love and the Clippers’ Blake Griffin, both power forwards, to team up with Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant in the front court, but none of them would be mistaken for a center.
In the end, three centers were eventually named by the coaches as reserves for the All-Star teams, with Houston’s Dwight Howard becoming the lone legitimate pivotman for the West and the Pacers’ Roy Hibbert and Chicago’s Joakim Noah filling up that position for the East, but it’s obvious three bonafide centers in a 24-man rotation are just too few for one to think the All-Star Game has not been bastardized as a legitimate showcase of the best the NBA has.
Complete rosters. The rosters for the 63rd All-Star Game, to be held February 16 in New Orleans, were completed when coaches from each conference selected the reserves after fans have voted for the starters.
The All-Star Game lineups are as follows:
Starters: LeBron James (Miami), Paul George (Indiana), Carmelo Anthony (New York), Dwyane Wade (Miami), and Kyrie Irving (Cleveland). Reserves: Roy Hibbert (Indiana), Chris Bosh (Miami), Joakim Noah (Chicago), Paul Millsap (Atlanta), DeMar DeRozan (Toronto), John Wall (Washington), and Joe Johnson (Brooklyn).
Coach – Frank Vogel (Indiana).
Starters: Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City), Kevin Love (Minnesota), Blake Griffin (LA Clippers), Stephen Curry (Golden State), and Kobe Bryant (LA Lakers). Reserves: Dwight Howard (Houston), LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland), Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas), Chris Paul (LA Clippers), Tony Parker (San Antonio), Damian Lillard (Portland), James Harden (Houston), and Anthony Davis (New Orleans).
Coach – Scott Brooks (Oklahoma City).
Davis, the hometown Pelicans’ second-year star who was the top pick in 2012, was originally not selected but was named by NBA commissioner Adam Silver to replace the injured Bryant on the West squad. He thus joins Lillard, Wall, DeRozan, Millsap and Curry as first-timers in the All-Star Game. Brooks, as West coach, will determine who replaces Bryant in the starting lineup.
It would have been the 16th All-Star Game appearance for Bryant, moving him to second all-time behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 19. It will be the 12th for Nowitzki and the 10th in 11 years for both James and Wade, while Bosh will make his ninth appearance, Howard his eighth, and Anthony, Paul and Johnson their seventh.
Rest of the All-Star events. Other events scheduled for All-Star Weekend that starts on February 14 are the Three-Point Shootout Contest, the Slam Dunk competition, the Rising Stars Challenge (the former Rookie-Sophomore game), the Skills Challenge, and the Shooting Stars Contest.
The Three-Point Shootout Contest will see Golden State hotshot Stephen Curry, Minnesota big man Kevin Love, San Antonio gunner Marco Belinelli, Orlando’s top scorer Arron Afflalo, Portland’s sophomore sensation Damian Lillard, Washington shooting guard Bradley Beal, Cleveland floor leader Kyrie Irving and Brooklyn’s veteran guard Joe Johnson battling each other for the distinction as the top three-point shooter in the league.
The Slam Dunk competition, meanwhile, will have as participants Lillard, who will actually be taking part in four All-Star events, including the centerpiece All-Star Game, Paul George of Indiana, Terrence Ross of Toronto, Harrison Barnes of Golden State, Ben McLemore of Sacramento and John Wall of Washington.
The Rising Stars Challenge will actually feature rookie and second-year players but with a twist. The duo that acted as general manager for the two teams, Grant Hill and Chris Webber, drafted a mixture of freshmen and sophomores for their respective squads.
Hill selected Lillard of Portland, Beal of Washington, Barnes of Golden State, Andre Drummond of Detroit, Terrence Jones of Houston, Giannis Antetokounmpo of Milwaukee, Jonas Valanciunas of Toronto, Dion Waiters of Cleveland and Pero Antic of Atlanta, with Antic later being replaced by Phoenix’s Miles Plumlee because of an injury.
Webber, meanwhile, picked Davis of New Orleans, Michael Carter-Williams of Philadelphia, Tim Hardaway Jr. of New York, Trey Burke of Utah, Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk of Boston, Mason Plumlee of Brooklyn, Victor Oladipo of Orlando and Steven Adams of Oklahoma City.
The Skills Challenge will see four tandems, two from each conference, racing through an obstacle course while showcasing their dribbling, passing and shooting skills: Milwaukee’s Antetokounmpo and Toronto’s DeRozan as well as Philly’s Carter-Williams and Orlando’s Oladipo for the East, and Utah’s Burke and Portland’s Lillard as well as Phoenix’s Goran Dragic and Oklahoma City’s Reggie Jackson for the West.
The Shooting Stars Contest, an event that pits three-player tandems of a current-day player, a former pro and an active WNBA player, will see two tandems representing each of the East and the West, each of which will shoot from various spots on the floor, the last of which is at halfcourt. Representing the East are the teams of Tim Hardaway Jr., his father Tom Sr. and Elena Delle Donne as well as Chris Bosh, Dominique Wilkins and Swin Cash. Bannering the West will be the trios of Stephen Curry, his father Dell and Becky Hammon as well as Kevin Durant, Karl Malone and Skylar Diggins. - Rappler.com
Bert A. Ramirez has been a freelance sportswriter/columnist since the '80s, writing mostly about the NBA and once serving as consultant and editor for Tower Sports Magazine, the longest-running locally published NBA magazine, from 1999 to 2008. He has also written columns and articles for such publications as Malaya, Sports Digest, Winners Sports Weekly, Pro Guide, Sports Weekly, Sports Flash, Sports World, Basketball Weekly and the FIBA's International Basketball, and currently writes a fortnightly column for QC Life. A former corporate manager, Bert has breathed, drank and slept sports most of his life.