NBA again left seeking solutions after uncompetitive All-Star Game

ByTim Bontemps ESPN logo
Monday, February 19, 2024

INDIANAPOLIS -- After months of stressing the importance of having a more competitive product on the court for this weekend's All-Star Game, NBA commissioner Adam Silver doubled down on that front Saturday night, declaring, "I think we're going to see a good game" in the NBA's annual midseason showcase at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Sunday.

But after the 73rd All-Star Game looked exactly like last year's lackluster performance in Salt Lake City -- with the Eastern Conference setting the all-time scoring record by becoming the first team to surpass 200 points in what was eventually a 211-186 victory over the Western Conference -- Silver's annoyance at what took place was clearly on display.

"And to the Eastern Conference All-Stars, you scored the most points," Silver said flatly. "Well ... congratulations."

It was a fitting end to an evening that did nothing to stop the discussions over what the future of the NBA's marquee midseason event should look like moving forward. The NBA threw its weight behind making this game a priority for its players all season, with both Silver and Hall of Famer Joe Dumars, the NBA's executive vice president and head of basketball operations, repeatedly saying that getting more effort out of the All-Stars was a priority.

Instead, it was another game with virtually no defense and with little to no life inside the building -- to the point that theLos Angeles Lakers'Anthony Davis said his most memorable moment was when the hype teams from the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers went through their dunk routines between the third and fourth quarters.

"I think the best [moment], we were talking about it, was the Bulls and the Pacers dunkers," Davis said. "With the trampoline? They were very, very impressive."

And, ultimately, Sunday's game left things in the exact same place they were in a year ago: with the NBA throwing up its hands about the fact this weekend, one of the tentpole events on its calendar, ended with a thud, and the players all but universally admitting that while they sympathize with efforts to improve the event, it's not as simple as just deciding to play a little harder.

"I think it's something we need to figure out," said Lakers starLeBron James, who set a new record with his 20th All-Star Game appearance Sunday night but didn't play in the second half as he manages a balky left ankle. "Obviously from a player's perspective, it's fun to get up and down. But at the end of the day, our competitive nature don't like to have free-flowing scoring like that.

"But I think the good thing that came out of tonight was none of the players were injured, and everybody came out unscathed or how they were before the game started. So it's a deeper conversation."

"Obviously the fans and the league and everybody wants to be competitive, but then you also as players think about trying not to get hurt," Davis said. "Obviously injuries are a part of the game, and no one wants to get hurt in the All-Star Game. ... All these guys here are very valuable to their teams. So it's some mixed emotions about it. You try to go out there and compete a little bit and not just be a highlight show. But at the same time, do you guys really want to see somebody going down for a dunk and somebody going to contest it and, God forbid, something happens in the All-Star Game when it could have been avoided?"

Then there was Minnesota Timberwolves star Anthony Edwards, who admitted he wasn't interested in playing all that hard in an All-Star Game, period.

"For me, it's an All-Star Game, so I will never look at it as being super competitive," he said. "It's always fun. I don't know what they can do to make it more competitive. I don't know. I think everyone looks at it ... it's a break, so I don't think everyone wants to come here and compete."

That has been apparent in recent years -- a trend that is not isolated to the NBA, as the NHL, the NFL and MLB have all gone through radical changes to their own all-star events across the past decade or so in order to try to add some spice and competition to them.

The NBA, though, was certainly louder than any of those leagues about the importance of that changing -- with no one more so than Silver himself.

And, in the wake of another failed attempt to increase the competition in the All-Star Game, it's unclear what direction he and the league will take from here.

"There were definitely some [discussions about the game being more competitive],"Boston Celticsforward Jaylen Brown said. "I'm not sure how successful that was, but there was definitely some discussions. I guess guys are trying to figure out how to do that at the same time as having fun, being safe, being injury-free.

"I guess more solutions need to be had to figure that out."

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