This past week the Utah Jazz hosted the 2022-2023 All-Star Game along with an assortment of other mini-games and challenges. Being named an All-Star or a Pro Bowler is an incredible accolade, which shows that the hard work a player has put in is getting the attention it deserves and shines the spotlight on their spectacular season. The problem that the NBA faces is that players don’t want to participate. Luka Doncic was named to his fourth All-Star Game in only his fifth season and, when asked what he was most looking forward to, he stated, “Sunday when I fly to Mexico.” The promise of a vacation is appealing for players who have put their all on the line for the past four months with little break time. The NFL doesn’t face this problem as their Pro Bowl takes place right before the Super Bowl, but the injury risk still lingers over the players’ heads.
The All-Star Game itself has become a laughingstock for the minimal amount of defense that is played. The competitive spirit is lost, and many players show off flashy dunks or chuck long-range three-pointers. As fun as it is to see Damian Lillard drain a fifty-foot shot off the dribble, it is less impressive when the defense is standing around watching him shoot it instead of contesting the shot. Jayson Tatum set an All-Star Game record with 55 points, and the only time he had to work for those points is when his teammate Jaylen Brown was guarding him in the most exciting two-minute period of the game.
The MLB incentivizes its players to give effort as the winning league gets home-field advantage in the World Series. The NBA offers no incentive. Mac McClung was given a $100,000 bonus for winning the Slam Dunk Contest. This sum of money is equivalent to his total career earnings. But for a player like captain Giannis Antetokounmpo who is struggling with a wrist injury and who has signed a super-max contract with the Bucks worth 228 million dollars, $100,000 isn’t enough to hinder his chances at a second championship ring. Antetokounmpo’s decision to play less than a minute, score a basket and play coach for the game is reasonable. Playing through injury is not something a player should do for a game that doesn’t count towards their season. It just means the game itself is ridiculously boring.
Luckily for NBA fans, the smaller events exceeded expectations. As stated earlier, Mac McClung took home the Slam Dunk Contest trophy with perfect 50s on every dunk but one (49.8). McClung faced controversy leading up to the event with some fans deeming it a disgrace that the NBA had to look to the G-League to find a participant. McClung put all the naysayers to bed by putting on a show and revitalizing the Dunk Contest. Hesitation dunks, jumping over multiple people and a miraculous 720-degree spin to top it off: chef’s kiss.
The Three Point Contest was a blast as Tyrese Haliburton surprised everyone by tying the record for the most shots made in a single round, ending his first round with 31 points. His teammate Buddy Hield held his own with 23 points advancing to the final along with favorite to win, Damian Lillard who had 26 points. The other competitors scores were as follows, Lauri Markkanen (20), Jayson Tatum (20), Tyler Herro (16), Julius Randle (13), and the most disappointing showing came from Kevin Huerter who only mustered eight points. Lillard with his college jersey adorning his back came away victorious with another 26 point round while Hield managed 25 and Haliburton used all of his juice in the first round, only scoring 17 points. Lillard becomes the first Trail Blazer to win the contest in its 38-year history.
The Celebrity Game got its get back as the game has suffered in viewership since the tenure of Kevin Hart MVPs. This game was exciting from start to finish as DK Metcalf, wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks was dunking all over the place and brought home the MVP, hilariously resulting in the NFL requesting a drug test from him two days later. Every celebrity had their moment. It was funny, competitive and surprising, such as when Richard Jefferson transformed himself from broadcaster to referee and then to playing in the game in a matter of minutes. There was also tension as with the clock winding down and Team Wade up three points, WWE wrestler The Miz drained a half-court shot as time expired. In this format, a four-point line is present, so, if this shot left his hands in time, Team Ryan wins. Unfortunately, as Giannis Antetokounmpo made it very clear as he sprinted onto the court with a smile across his face, the shot was waived off, and Team Wade won 81-78.
It was nice to see so many exciting moments from a weekend that is supposed to be about entertaining the fans and giving the superstars their praise. The All-Star Game gets a pass from me for now as long as the other events keep bringing the heat.
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