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Sunday, January 30, 2011

All-Snooze Game

The All-Star weekend is a big thing in sports- cities are busy with kids clamoring for autographs and related events that get fans involved. But fans don't really get the best bang for their buck.

  Pro sports is an arena where the best in the game entertain fans to be sure, but there is a desire to win. To show up and not try is about the worst thing one could do; even guys on last-place teams have pride. And that pride used to stretch to All Star games. The first 2 pro all-star games were in 1908 and 1933, with proceeds to benefit the families of fallen hockey stars. The other sports adopted such games soon after, and the proceeds often went to the families of players who either died young or suffered career-ending injuries. It was an honour to be chosen as the team to play the league champion, not an expectation. 

  And then something happened. With rising salaries, players just stopped caring as much. Division or Conference formats replaced the chance to play the champs. The All-Star game lost any sense of rivalry. And the benefit format changed- players were expected to play for money into league coffers instead of a good cause. And then leagues started inventing ways to get fans excited again.

  You had the slam dunk contests, slap shot contests, kicking skills, home run derbies, and more. Fans got back into the game. But then salaries rose again and players started realizing that they could lose a career by playing in the midseason show. So leagues instituted fan voting, figuring players would feel loved enough to play. In some sports this has worked, but in the NBA version, it's a joke. 

  The NHL has some interest in the skills contests, as evidenced by Zdeno Chara being the most popular guy on Twitter last night. And that's a good thing. Chara's a super guy who donates a ton of time and money to charities and truly loves his fanbase. As long as Zdeno Chara is in the league, he'll show up because he is an awkward guy born in a small town in a communist country and he feels blessed to get paid to play a game. The skills contests are way more fun than the game and the league knows it so they keep coming up with new ways to test the ability to amaze. 

But what if Zdeno Chara didn't show up for the hardest shot contest? Well, that's what happened to the NBA. The best players started becoming elitist self-involved douchebags who won't dunk unless they're getting a big payday. And I have no answer for egotism and apathy. The NBA All-Star game and skills contests are ridiculous. There is no pride, no effort, no fan love. Just entitlement. If you took the best bench players in the league and had them compete against the starters, the pine riders would win every time because of desire. Maybe that's a new format the NBA could explore because if guys like LeBron are happy getting owned by guys who are "less than"; if that doesn't inspire some sort of effort, the game is irretrievably broken and nothing will fix it. 

I miss this.

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