April 18, 2024

Following the highest-scoring All-Star Game in the league’s history, the NBA’s signature in-season event again feels at a crossroads as attempts to make Sunday’s closing event more competitive fell flat.

The East beat the West 211-186 in Indianapolis, a game that simultaneously stoked fears that there’s too much offense in the current product and that players don’t seem to care about playing hard in the NBA’s signature showcase event.

“It’s an All-Star Game,” Anthony Davis said when asked about the lack of defense.

Following an awful game in Salt Lake last season that delivered record-low ratings, the league and its players made changes to the format with the NBA agreeing to remove a lot of the fanfare (musical performances, prolonged introductions, convoluted scoring and rosters) in favor of a traditional East-West game.

“Andre Iguodala now, who is the executive director, former player, of the Players Association, shares that view with the league office; that we’re not necessarily looking for players to go out there as if it’s the Finals necessarily, but we need players to play defense, we need them to care about this game,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Saturday. “And the feeling was that maybe — and I’ll take responsibility for it; as you know, I used to run something called NBA Entertainment — that we’d gotten carried away a little bit with the entertainment aspect.”

Jennifer Hudson, Sunday’s halftime act, performed just one song — one example of how the NBA altered its All-Star scripts.

“Frankly, fans are able to vote by what they watch too,” Silver said Saturday. “They have so many options. So the thought was here, we sat down with the players, we said, let’s return to a focus on the game of basketball. Let’s come pretty close to your typical routine. We still want the opportunity to introduce to fans around the world the All-Star rosters. We still want to have a little bit of fun at halftime, so just add a slight amount of time and let’s see what we get.

“My sense is it’s a combination of discussions that the leadership of the players are having with the All-Stars. I think discussions Joe Dumars is having directly with players. Frankly, having (head of basketball operations) Joe Dumars and his credibility in the league office, I think we’re going to see a good game tomorrow night.”

Welp.

After the game, as Davis listed some of his favorite moments from the game — LeBron James’ signature dunk in his 20th All-Star Game, Damian Lillard’s three-pointer from midcourt and Karl-Anthony Towns — he settled on a trampoline dunk performance during a timeout as the best moment.

Lakers star Anthony Davis stands during the national anthem before the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday.

Lakers star Anthony Davis stands during the national anthem before the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday.

(Juan Ocampo / NBAE via Getty Images)

“I think the best, we were talking about it, was the Bulls and the Pacers dunkers,” he said sincerely. “The trampolines. Like, they were very, very impressive.”

It was not televised.

Following the game in Utah, Boston’s Jaylen Brown was critical of the product, saying the game “wasn’t basketball” and just a “layup line.” To his credit, he tried to inject life into the weekend, participating in the dunk contest on Saturday and even playing some defense Sunday.

“We were attempting to put a little more effort into it, but I’m not sure how successful that was. But hopefully, as the years go on, it gets back to being what the fans want to see,” Brown said. “There were some discussions. Definitely some. I’m not sure how successful that was. There were definitely some discussions. I guess guys are trying to figure out how to do that at the same time as having fun, being safe, being injury-free. More solutions need to be had to figure that out.”

And at the core, that’s the biggest issue, the game demanding players to play at speeds they just don’t normally operate at.

“Obviously the fans and the league and everyone wants it to be competitive, but then you also, as players, you’re trying not to get hurt,” Davis said. “Obviously, injuries are part of the game. No one wants to get hurt in an All-Star Game especially going back — I mean, all these guys here are very valuable to their teams. So, there are some mixed emotions about it.

“You try to go out there and compete a little bit and not just be a highlight show, but at the same time, do you guys really want to see somebody going for a dunk, somebody going to contest him and, God forbid, something happens in the All-Star Game? Like, when it could’ve been avoided?

“… We were talking about it during the game, like what can we actually do? But then you think of the aspect of the competitive nature and if players really compete like how they do in the season. … It’s not, ‘OK, compete a little bit.’ There’s only one way to compete, and I think a lot of players aren’t really up for it to compete at that level.”

James, eager to continue his All-Star break and recovery time, left the arena in his uniform Sunday night.

Before that, he posited maybe the biggest question — that the All-Star Game is maybe just a symptom and not the actual problem.

“I think it’s something we need to figure out,” James said. “Where is the median? This is what a lot of the games are starting to look like too. We wanted to get more pace into the games. We wanted to get more shots. We wanted the game to be more free flowing. We stopped letting the game — be freedom of movement, a lot of freedom of movement now. That’s what our games are like in the regular season now. They let us tighten up in the postseason.

“… It’s a deeper dive into a conversation of how we can shore up this game. Obviously from a player’s perspective, it’s fun to get up and down. But at the end of the day, our competitive nature don’t like to have free-flowing scoring like that. But I think the good thing that came out of tonight was none of the players were injured, and everybody came out unscathed or how they were before the game started. So it’s a deeper conversation.”

A conversation, the NBA, frustratingly, will have again and again.

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