Basketball Almanac – Trailblazer Damian Lillard’s event proposal could rejuvenate All-Star weekend

Has a movie trailer ever enticed you so much that you’re talking about the film constantly and can’t wait to see it? Of course, we’ve all been there. Has that film ever been a letdown, yet you try justifying its flaws, or say something like, “Oh…It was okay”, deep down knowing you wasted two hours of your life? NBA fans know this feeling all too well, experiencing it annually with the NBA All-Star weekend.


Promotional highlight reels featuring nostalgic and iconic NBA moments – like Vince Carter’s jaw-dropping dunks in 2000 – might mesmerise fans into thinking “maybe we’ll see something special like that this year”. Sure, they might. However, apart from a memorable Dunk Contest between Zach Lavine and Aaron Gordon in 2016, the past decade has been forgettable. There’s been no mind-blowing dunks and the events include players that even have diehard NBA fanatics asking, “who’s that?” But hopefully, due to a proposal by Portland Trailblazer superstar Damian Lillard, we may have good reason to be excited for the festivities again.


The ‘All-Star weekend’, which runs for three days features three basketball games – the All-Star game, Rising Stars game showcasing the leagues best rookies and sophomores, and the Celebrity game, a comical game featuring stars like actor Kevin Hart. The weekend also features three events – the Skills Challenge, where a bunch of players race one another in dribbling and passing drills, the 3-Point Contest, where the leagues best shooters face off, and the Slam Dunk Contest where players have to impress a panel of five judges with impressive and creative dunks.


Teams are extremely cautious with player health and safety nowadays. We’re seeing fewer high-profile players take part, resulting in fans and media members asking annually, “how can we fix All-Star weekend?” Concerned the All-Star game was boring and uncompetitive, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver last year introduced a televised draft where the two team captains selected their squad for the game. Fans loved it and seemingly, so did the players as they played with a hunger that wasn’t present in recent years. The All-Star game has been fixed, for now.


The big issue that needs to be fixed now is the Saturday night – the night the three events are held.


Bleacher Report’s bored Roy Burton sounded a warning as far back as 2012 when he declared the Slam Dunk Contest was “teetering on the edge of extinction”. Eight years later, we’re approaching the 36th Dunk Contest. There can’t be much creativity or originality left in watching players throw down uncontested dunks. We’re subjected to slight variations of the same dunks every year. The 3-Point Contest and Skills Challenge are no better. Uncontested three-point shooting and a short time-trial involving passing obstacles, ball-handling obstacles, finalised by a three-point make. The contestants may be the best of the best, but these are hardly awe-inspiring activities.


The events are dragged out far too long, the atmosphere is awkwardly silent, high-profile stars rarely participate, and it’s become monotonous and rarely memorable. The bright lights and commentary of forced oohs and ahs must stupefy audiences tuning in year after year, with the faint hope of seeing something special. Usually they don’t. The events have run their course.


Damian Lillard may have found the much-needed solution for Saturday’s All-Star weekend snooze-fest.


Last week, Lillard proposed a one-on-one tournament for All-Star weekend, suggesting players could challenge one another, incentivised by financial wagers. The lifeless day of events would be fuelled with fiery, cutthroat competitive battles – exactly what fans are starved of. It’s perfect.


Player comparisons are the lifeblood of NBA discussion. Debating which players are the greatest, questioning who would win in hypothetical matchups, and ranking the best players in the league are incessant talking points among NBA fans and media members. A one-on-one tournament would spur on these debates, generating more conversation and arousing far more interest from diehards and casual fans.


Great NBA players are often arrogant, believing they’re better than almost anyone. There would be at least 20 players in the league who have called themselves the “best player in the league” or have said they believe they will be someday. NBA legend Kobe Bryant recently called himself arrogant, explaining “you have to be” if you want to be great. Players inflated arrogance would create fascinating, must-watch matchups alone. Like if Jimmy Butler challenged T.J Warren to a matchup – players who in early January fought in-game and had Butler calling Warren “trash” post-game, saying he’s “not even in [his] f***ing league”… tell me you wouldn’t tune in. Or how about hot-head Russell Westbrook lining up against long-time rival Lillard? The two guards have been at each other’s throats for years. Just last week Westbrook was barking at Lillard in-game, taunting him with: “[You] can’t guard me. Impossible.”


The potential captivating matchups are limitless. There could be battles for the sheer drama, determining who’s greater, and even for comic relief (like a seven-foot centre challenging a 5-foot point guard). Anticipation for All-Star weekend would be revived, and fans would remain captivated throughout the whole event due to a much-needed infusion of drama, trash talk, comedy, and some hard-fought memorable clashes. It could be basketball’s rendition of a WWE exhibition (minus the scripts and rehearsed performances, of course).


The NBA have trialled a range of different events across All-Star weekend to spark interest, like the childhood game H.O.R.S.E, where players must mimic others made shots. They all disappointed eventually. Distaste for the current events continues to build, so why not trial the one-on-one tournament? It could plausibly headline the All-Star weekend, and unlike other events, never become tedious or outdated as there’ll always be intriguing conflict among rival players.



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