Players Draft Gives NBA All-Star Game A Competitive Edge

Updated: February 19, 2019
2019 NBA All-Star Game

Before cable television, All-Star Games in all sports served as an opportunity for viewers to see all of a league’s best players in one place. It was a novelty because you might only see the top players a handful of times in the regular season.

Now that you can see the stars on a weekly basis (or nightly, if you subscribe to NBA League Pass), the popularity of All-Star Games has diminished across the board, and it has led to leagues trying all sorts of things to recapture the magic.

Most famously, Major League Baseball instituted a rule where the winning league won home-field advantage for that season’s World Series. While the idea probably sounded good in a board room, it was rife with holes in execution. Managers began to hold some players out in case the game went into extra innings, so those players were deprived of the thrill of playing in an All-Star Game. The other issue is that the game’s best players were routinely pulled in the fifth or sixth inning, so the game was usually decided by good players on bad teams. A player on the San Diego Padres or Minnesota Twins would determine if the St. Louis Cardinals or New York Yankees would get the edge in the World Series. MLB would eventually drop this stipulation after about a decade.

The NFL has tried different formats, different dates, and different sites, but the Pro Bowl drops in popularity each year. After the excitement of the playoffs, viewers aren’t that interested in watching football played at half-speed – because after a grueling regular season and playoffs, players obviously aren’t too interested in putting their bodies on the line for an exhibition.

The NBA’s All-Star Game has always provided excitement, but as the years went on, defense became less and less of a thing, and it became more of a glorified pick-up game.

Sensing a change was needed, the league dropped the East vs. West concept for the 2018 game, and instead instituted a player draft. Team LeBron (James) vs. Team Stephen (Curry) was a hit. Defenses tightened in the fourth quarter, and LeBron’s team pulled out a 148-145 win. Players from both teams commented on the increased intensity level and a desire to win the game for personal pride.

Sunday night, James again captained a team, this time against Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. The highlight was Team LeBron overcoming a 20-point deficit in the second half to win, 178-164. In past games, a team from either conference may not have been motivated to make a 20-point comeback, but it happened last night, with game MVP Kevin Durant leading the way with 31 points. Team LeBron also set an All-Star Game record with 35 made 3-pointers.

“We just didn’t want to lose,” Durant told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols after accepting the MVP trophy on the court after the game. “We know we had a lot of talent over there that can do multiple things. We just wanted to turn it up a bit on the defensive side. I think the group closed the third quarter really changed the game for us.”

James also told a story on how he asked head coach Mike Malone if his team could go into the arena during halftime to watch rapper J. Cole perform. Malone said he would allow it, but he made the team (that was losing by 13 at the time) promise to play some defense in the third quarter. The players held up their end of the bargain – they allowed only 69 points after the break, after giving up 95 in the first half.

After years of seemingly never-ending tweaks on All-Star formats in many different sports, the NBA seems to have found a version that works, as for the second year in a row, the players delivered an exciting, dramatic contest.

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