First off, let’s get one thing straight: the NBA has the best All-Star weekend/events of any professional sports league. The NFL’s Pro Bowl is insufferable tripe stomached only by the few capable of getting it down; MLB had a good thing going until they decided to make the game count for home field advantage in the World Series, which is a stink of stupid they still haven’t washed off; and the NHL’s weekend is okay, but only 15 people watch it.
So take this piece with the grain of salt that it is, like making great food on the grill all summer, but constantly tinkering with the sauce in hopes of making it even better.
1. Replace the Celebrity Game and add high school players instead
Think about it, instead of a bunch of B-list celebrities who want to get on television and pretend they can play basketball, you invite local high school players of the state where the weekend is happening to play with, say, two NBA players, coached by a former league player. The high school players are nominated by either a coach, teacher, or someone else in the community through an essay process based on their academics and community works, and then once named finalists, write about why they should be chosen and their future plans. It’d be a great way to mix in the local community and be the experience of these kids’ lives. That’s a whole lot more meaningful than watching rich guys with some name value try to act like professional athletes for an hour.
2. 1-on-1 tournaments
It’s a staple of every gym, lot, cage, or driveway where basketball is played. As long as you have two guys with a heartbeat and a ball, you can play 1-on-1 while you wait on everyone else to get there. Make it a tournament of eight, play the games to, say, seven by ones and twos, and you probably have a pretty entertaining little thing going for about an hour. Nothing is more personal in basketball than the one one one match up, the “I got this guy, no help” and the player with the ball waving off the screens. It would, without question, evolve into a very personal and entertaining watch.
3. Have the players wear jerseys of local high school teams
Not only would it be a unique and exciting way to get publicity for state high schools, it’d also probably be a hoot for the younger demographic that the NBA caters so well to, having guys like Lebron James or Paul George wearing the uniforms of teams in the state where the All-Star game is being played. A portion of proceeds from the jersey sales (and there will be jersey sales so long as they’re being sold) can go either to those school districts or a program helping out youths overall. Plus, imagine the look on some kid in Bargersville, Ind.’s face seeing one of their NBA heroes don the same number they sit on the bench wearing.
4. Three point shootout – only 5’s invited
No, this isn’t some perverse night club asking only 10’s to come to the party, only not 10’s, but 5’s. If you ever watch an NBA practice, the big guys that you think can’t shoot for a lick (most all of them) actually can. While the three point shootout is good fun, have one for the bigs as well, because bigs are too often told to go sit down by the hoop and let dry rot set in before you step outside and shoot a three. The only stipulation is that players have to be a 5 on their team logging those minutes. Let the trees have some fun.
5. “We got next” pickup ball
Basketball’s charm in a way comes from its lack of discrimination or needing a bunch of expensive, high tech equipment to get involved in it. So long as you have a ball, sneakers, and a hoop at the blacktop, you can play and people will show up. The NBA could play on that charm by having a few players go out to a pre-researched place where good pickup games locally happen and film the players playing a game or two out there. Not only would it be cool for the community, but it’d shine a light on pickup ball, which just sort of feels like it’s dying anymore. “Hey, the NBA All-Star weekend is here this week … let’s go out and play and see if we’re at the place the NBA guys choose!” Think about the looks on people’s faces when Kevin Durant shows up and calls “next.”
6. Make the Shooting Stars event an actual 3-on-3 game
If the NBA wants to shoehorn the WNBA into the weekend and add a former team legend to the mix, have them play an actual game. Make it to whatever you want, but fans will get a kick out of seeing Dominique Wilkins matched up against Karl Malone or what have you. It’d be a fun way to get all of those entities on the court but in a competitive atmosphere more than lobbing half court shots with a timer on.