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How to fix the NBA All-Star game

How to change a glorified scoring match back to a competitive game and giving the players something to try for.

NBA: 72nd NBA All-Star Game Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA All-Star game isn’t what it used to be. Not that I can ever claim to be its biggest fan — even when Spurs were regular participators, I wasn’t a regular watcher — but with the way the game has turned into little more than a glorified scoring match with almost zero defense being played, I certainly won’t become a regular watcher anytime soon.

To be clear, I get it. The players are giving up part of their only extended vacation for anywhere from a 6 to 8 month period, and no one wants to get hurt — heck, LeBron James left the game early as a precautionary measure after his fingers got caught on the rim while trying to block a Pascal Siakam layup, essentially getting punished for playing defense. Also, it’s more a celebration of the NBA’s top talent than a meaningful basketball game. As fun as it is to win, especially for the MVP, there’s no need to do anything reckless, especially as the postseason looms ever so close for most of the participants.

But let’s also be real about something else. This is not celebrating basketball:

The final score of 184-175 in favor of Team Giannis would never happen in any basketball game at any level where a semblance of defense was being played. Just look at the Spurs: they have a historically bad defense this season and still only give up 122.6 points per game. Nuggets coach Mike Malone, who coached Team LeBron, even said afterwards that it was the worst basketball game ever played, and he wasn’t alone in that sentiment.

However, while Malone also said he doesn’t know how to fix it, I have a thought, and it comes courtesy of watching the Rising Stars Challenge (and only because Jeremy Sochan participated — I need Spurs to watch). If you watched or know how the Rising Stars Challenge works, you already know what I’m about to say: change the All-Star game from a standard basketball game to a mini-tournament.

The Rising Stars consists of four teams, three made up of the best rookies and sophomores in the league and the fourth consisting of the G League’s glorified, one-year development program Team Ignite. Teams 1 and 2 play a game, followed by Team 3 vs. 4. The first team to score 40 points wins, and the two winners advance to the finals, where they play to 25 points to win it all.

It may sound simplistic, and it certainly doesn’t add up to a complete basketball game, but it was enjoyable to watch, and without any injuries or carless plays, all four teams fought hard, defended, and played with a sense of urgency, all while having fun along the way. Adapting a similar format would theoretically bring those same elements back to the All-Star game, all while being a little less tiring for the players.

They could always change things up a bit so it’s not repetitive, like changing the final point goals, number of teams or even the number of All-Stars selected. There’s currently 24, so there could be either be three 8-player teams and do a round-robin format, where once a team has two losses they’re out, or do four teams and up the number of All-Stars to 28 so that each team has two subs, just like the Rising Stars.

Odds are this will probably never happen, but surely the NBA knows that when the Rising Stars become more watchable for basketball purists than the All Stars, there’s a problem. It’s a sign that it’s time to shake things up, be it adapting a tournament approach or something as simple as adding more rewards to the game itself, like a Defensive MVP. There’s no telling, but all I know is I barely watch the All-Star game as it is, even when the Spurs are participating, and I certainly won’t watch it again anytime soon as long as this is the new norm.