How The All-Star Game Made A Mockery Of The Great Game Of Basketball

For the first time, one of the teams scored more than 200 points. Yippee. It was trash.
Photography by Bob Kravitz

After the All-Star farce ended, NBA commissioner Adam Silver put the whole high-scoring mess in perspective. Following a week of being constantly asked about fixing the All-Star Game and the explosion in offense around the league, Silver looked like a disappointed dad as he turned to team captain Giannis Antetokounmpo and said, “To the Eastern Conference All-Stars, you scored the most points. Well, congratulations.”

This was Silver’s nightmare. After an otherwise wonderful week for the city and the state, the weather notwithstanding, we saw once again that the worst part of All-Star Weekend is the actual game itself. For some reason I can’t begin to fathom, this generation of NBA stars can’t be bothered to take the game semi-seriously or play a modicum of defense.

If Luka Dončić moved any slower, he would have been going in reverse. Dame Lillard, who took 27 shots in an obvious attempt to win the MVP (over Tyrese Haliburton, who finished second in the MVP voting), hoisted and occasionally made half-court shots. And, of course, there was Haliburton hitting five straight 3-pointers in a 15-point, 92-second flurry that had the crowd howling. There were also some moments of levity, like Nikola Jokić’s efforts to dunk the ball (unsuccessfully, by the way). But for the most part, this was an insult to the NBA and the host city of Indianapolis. 

It was like showing up at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and doing donuts on the Yard of Bricks.

We had Larry Bird, Reggie Miller, and Oscar Robertson, three members of Indiana basketball royalty, sitting in the front row, and the players couldn’t be bothered to pretend to have a minimal amount of passion. I was surprised Bird, who earlier in the day beseeched the players to compete, didn’t get up and walk out. If that was basketball, I’m an underwear model.

The NBA has tried just about everything to fix this game. They had player drafts. They had the Elam Ending. This year, they went back to East versus West and four 12-minute quarters. It didn’t work. The final score was 211-186, the first time an All-Star team eclipsed 200 points, and while I’d love to be a homer and extol the virtues of the Indy All-Star Game, I’m going to be honest: It was trash. Unwatchable trash.

Just for yucks, I went on YouTube and watched a few minutes of the 1993 All-Star Game, and honestly, it was like watching a different game. Guys competed. Guys defended. Guys took on the challenge of playing against the best in the world. There was actual pride in the performance.

During his Saturday press conference, Silver seemed convinced that all the preseason conversations between the players and the league would produce a game worth watching. “I think we’re going to see a good game,” he said.

He was wrong. Man, was he wrong.

These young guys, they don’t get it. Listen to Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards, who thought it would be a splendid idea to shoot left-handed in the Skills Challenge. Because he could.

“For me, it’s an All-Star Game, so I will never look at it as being super competitive,” he said. “It’s always fun. I don’t know what they can do to make it more competitive. I don’t know. I think everyone looks at it [as] a break, so I don’t think everyone wants to come here and compete.”

We should have seen this coming. A few weeks ago, I asked Haliburton how the league could make the game a bit more compelling.

“They met with every team before the season about the significance of being more competitive, but you’ve got to be realistic,” he said. “I’ve got to play 65 games; now, I’m 23, so I’ll be all right, but these other guys, I mean, if you were in their shoes, would you take it seriously?

“I think the Pro Bowl, they play flag football, right? I mean, there’s only so much we can do. Certain guys dictate [the intensity of play]. Like Giannis, he didn’t play last year, but he never NOT plays hard, and others respond. I understand from a general fan’s perspective, you want there to be more juice, want it to be more competitive, but you’ve got to understand, there’s a lot on the table for us …”

The NBA has to make a decision. This cannot be fixed; I’m open to ideas, but I haven’t heard any that make sense just yet. A too-cool-for-school culture has developed in a league where at one point, load management became such an issue, it was mandated that players must play in 65 games to qualify for postseason awards and, in many cases, a significant amount of money.

The two teams set records for most points in a game (397) and in a half (193), most 3-point shots attempted (167), and most 3-point shots made (67). This is what happens when nobody guards.

Now, as Pacers observers, we’re used to seeing less-than-inspired defense, but this was absurd. You see more intensity—a lot more—during an afternoon run at the Irsay YMCA. This is supposed to be a celebration, an exhibition of what makes the NBA such great theater. 

The week itself was beautiful, a love letter to the Pacers, the city of Indianapolis, and our basketball culture. It was a joy to see so many Pacers alumni—Neto, Freddie Lewis, Metta Sandiford-Artest, J.O., and the rest—included in the celebration. The city itself looked incredible with signage and artwork. As always, Indy did it right, but that comes as no surprise. If only the weather had cooperated; oh well.

Haliburton was a great front-facing host for the festivities, calling himself the “prom king.” He was everywhere all at once this weekend, doing a zillion appearances. I was surprised he had the energy to play well in the actual game, but, hey, he’s 23. No excuses, right?

“Hopefully as the years go on, it gets back to being what the fans want to see,” said Jaylen Brown, whose uninspired Slam Dunk Contest performance left the Gainbridge fans cold. “But I think maybe there was a little bit more effort this time. I think. I don’t know. You guys would be a better judge of that.”

Last year in Salt Lake City, Brown groused that the game “wasn’t basketball.”

I’ve got news: This year’s game wasn’t basketball, either.

I’ve seen more defense in games of H-O-R-S-E.

To read the full piece, check out Musings of An Old Sportswriter, Bob Kravitz’s Substack blog.