So All-Star weekend is over and I didn't catch any of it for the first time in a while and I have to say that to my surprise, I'm pretty OK with it. I watched the highlights and I know who won each of the events but that's it. My interest in it has waned over the last couple of years, but I never thought I would forsake it altogether, especially considering that it didn't use to be like this for me; in fact quite the opposite. When I was younger I loved watching the whole thing. Some of my favorite NBA related memories (non-Spurs championship edition) happened during All-Star weekend. Vince Carter absolutely destroying the dunk contest, a weaker East team coming back to win the 2001 game on the backs of Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury and Dikembe Mutombo and watching Manu finally getting the recognition he deserved are all treasured mementos of my NBA fanhood. But over the lat few years I have developed a dislike for the whole thing.
Before you roll your eyes thinking this will be a curmudgeonly article begrudging the lack of defense on the game or the lack of star power in the dunk contest I should mention that it's nothing about the events themselves that I dislike. Those can be entertaining if you go into them with the right mindset (and/or blood alcohol level), and the game itself always has an interesting narrative surrounding it to go with the crazy highlights. I'm not against fun, so I have no problem with what takes place on All-Star weekend.
But as my knowledge of (and exposure to) the game has increased, I've realized that what has begun to bother me has nothing to do with the product on the court. What makes it hard for me to enjoy a thoroughly exciting event like the All-Star game is the fact that both fans and media still use All-Star appearances to even partially determine a player's worth.
The mentions of "X time All-Star" before a player's name as a selling point have always been something I found troublesome and All-Star weekend serves to remind me that for some strange reason, it's still relevant in the eyes of fans and media. In an era where everyone can watch any game they want and statistic archives are available for anyone geeky and bored enough to peruse, it's astounding to me that something as trivial, and at times devoid of reason, is still used as a barometer for how good or important a player is to a team and in the context of the league as a whole.
This article penned by Matt Moore, of Hardwood Paroxysm fame, featured in ProBasketballTalk and serves to illustrate what I'm talking about. (Here's a clip, but you should really read the whole thing. It's so interesting.)
So today is a day for lazy skip passes, a few off-the-backboard alley-oops. Kobe will shoot a lot and if he's feeling it will score a lot and make everyone shake their head, grin and go "Oh, Kobe." LeBron may have one of those days... you know what, no, James has never taken this event seriously, probably never will. Blake Griffin will do some stuff. But none of it means anything, and the process of their respective assemblies is obviously flawed, subjective, invalid and largely a joke. But the fact that they are there (or in Joe Johnson's case, there in spirit) does resonate. It does reflect something about their position in the context of this game, of sports, of culture.
Having been an All-Star means something, even if being one doesn't.
Moore is right. Having been an All-Star is important enough to convey a general idea of that player's worth in the eyes of a lot of people and can even affect his legacy. That's partially why I wanted Tony Parker to get the nod; because it would provide validation for an often overlooked player. For the people that turned to the league later in their lives or just didn't have access to a lot of NBA basketball before the Internet (like myself), there was not a lot of information to go by when it came to understanding just how good a former player was, so we had no choice but to turn to raw stats and things like All-Star appearances to get an idea.
Even now, whenever there's a debate about some player's claim to the Hall of Fame, someone will quote All-Star appearances as often as championships. Instead of admitting that fan selection (Allen Iverson, 2010 All-Star?) and the archaic positional limitations (why no point guards, wings and bigs?) reduce the real relevance of the event, all the involved parties encourage the overvaluing of being an All-Star since it helps further individual agendas: players get an ego boost form being selected and get a huge stage in which to expand their brands, the media gets to report on guys that everybody knows instead of having to keep coming up with content during a long season, and the league gets the huge marketing opportunities it so desperately covets. It's silly to think anyone involved will acknowledge the huge flaws of the process and the skewed views it promotes in term of player value when it's so beneficial to keep the charade going. The new CBA even includes a clause that rewards players that have two All-Star selections with the possibility of getting a longer extension for more money.
Fortunately, we don't live in those dark pre-Internet times any more. Now there's plenty of information to base educated opinions on, which means that fans are more knowledgeable than ever and are starting to make up their own minds as far as greatness is concerned. They're disregarding the established narrative and forming their own conclusions, and I see this trend getting only more pronounced in the future.
"Who invited Jamaal Magloire?" asked everyone in this picture.
I'm looking forward for the time when legacies will not be based upon what a player was doing on a weekend in February but on what he did before, and more importantly, after that. Kids that are interested in the NBA ten years from now will have a better understanding of who was truly a transcendent player thanks to the slew of information the new electronic age has and will continue to give them access to. They'll get to know, just like we do, that guys like Manu Ginobili shaped the landscape of the league more than some of his more decorated contemporaries. Or at least that's what I'm hoping for.
Silly titles like All-Star mean less when League Pass and other ... options have made it possible for fans all over the world to watch most games. As a result, players won't get to skate into history based on their resumes. Everyone knew Deron Williams was a special player before he was ever officially named an All-Star. And they know that, in spite of being a 6-time all star, Jermaine O'Neal was nothing more than just a good center. There's data out there that allows fans to decide for themselves if they, for example, prefer Josh Smith's complete game over Joe Johnson's inefficient scoring, and maybe even realize that Tim Duncan's per-minute brilliance was actually more interesting, if less flashy, than both. In spite of the league's marketing, fans are finding ways to circumvent the official story and draw their own conclusions as to who is worthy of praise. The days when a team could sell their fanbase on the signing of a guy like Wally Szerbiak by throwing the words "former All-Star" in front his name, are numbered. Enjoy it while you can, you Mo Williams' of the NBA world, because the future shouldn't be as kind to you as the past has been.