When the NBA left the Shooting Stars competition out of this year’s All-Star Saturday Night lineup, it left in its wake a sizeable void in the hearts of fans and players alike.
(Ok, maybe not. Nobody liked the Shooting Stars, in which teams of three— a current NBA and WNBA player, and a retired star—shoot uncontested jumpers from various spots on the floor and then, eventually, heave up some halfcourt shots. On Sportsnet’s Free Association podcast Robert Horry said he’d repressed the memory of ever competing in it.)
So, what now? In All-Star Tweakin’ we try to find the next great Saturday night event to join the dunk contest and 3 point shootout (yes, skills competition, you were left out for a reason.)
All-Star celebrations have gone under a referendum in recent years. People are still split on whether or not the MLB’s mid-summer classic should decide who gets home field in the World Series; The NHL has constantly tinkered with their format over the years, most recently adopting a three-on-three divisional tournament; The Pro Bowl has abandoned the AFC vs NFC structure in favour of a draft for teams led by hall-of-famers (there is real momentum to fold Hawaii’s favourite football game altogether)
As for the NBA? Well, there have been slight tweaks this year, but if it were up TNT’s Inside the NBA crew there’d be plenty more changes still to come. On a conference call yesterday, Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Ernie Johnson, and Kenny Smith offered their prescriptions to help enhance NBA All-Star weekend even further.
The best idea came from Barkley. With the first international All-Star weekend just a week away, Sir Charles wanted to expand on that theme moving forward. “I would like to do United States against the World,” Barkley said. “We have enough international players now to make it competitive. I think that would be exciting.” The Hall-of-Famer and 11-time All-Star also wanted to alter the atmosphere: “I would love to see an outdoor game,” he said. “That would by my suggestion if we could get to a warm weather city one year.”
As a past competitor in both the three-point competition and the dunk contest, Kenny Smith’s attention was on those events. The two-time NBA champion said, “I wouldn't mind seeing Reggie Miller or Craig Hodges shooting it in the three point contest. Or in the dunk contest have a random guy,” he said, suggesting the league adds an amateur the pro’s competition. “There are so many dunkers out there,” he said. “Just [let] the average Joe be an NBA guy for a day.”
O’Neal’s remedy is to increase drive up competition by adding a man-on-man element where pride kicks in. The 15-time All-Star’s idea is to “raise a lot of money and get a big pool to bring the big names out. We haven't had a big name in the dunk contest since Vince Carter,” he continued. “So I would like to see, like, a one-on-one matchup for a million dollars. Get ten of the best players, voted by the fans. They all play one-on-one to seven and the last game we play at halftime on Sunday.”
Barkley, however, cautioned that any changes made won’t turn the annual exhibition into an event with playoff level intensity. “I hear these people complain about the Pro Bowl and hockey,” he said. “You can’t play a full speed exhibition game because guys are not out here trying to get hurt. Your first obligation is to your team.”