Let's call the NBA All-Star Game for what it is: It's a 2½-hour dunk contest with fancy passes and intermittent 40-footers that results in well over 300 total points. It's fun! But competitive basketball ... it is not. The league, to its credit, has implemented changes (televise the darn draft next year!) to quiet the boo-birds who inhabited New Orleans' Smoothie King Center last season. But how to make the game itself more competitive? We've solved the puzzle. You're welcome, America!
Ramona Shelburne: All right, I'll start us off here, guys. We're going to get straight down to it. Anybody got any good ideas?
Brian Windhorst: Jackie, you have the most experience ...
Jackie MacMullan: My idea is, and I've said this, but whatever team Joel Embiid is on, have him go out there, play, talk his trash, dunk on people. And then, at halftime, go to the other team, and then go back and talk trash and dunk on the other team.
Shelburne: That's pretty good.
MacMullan: I like that idea.
Kevin Arnovitz: To that point, you could allow halftime trades ...
MacMullan: See? Here we go! This is what we're looking for.
Arnovitz: The other thing is, if you want to keep the playground thing, have them officiate themselves.
MacMullan: And then, if there's an argument, you have the vote right then and there, from the guys on the bench, not on the floor because they're invested. The guys on the bench. And then you vote. And if there's a tie, the tie gets broken by a random fan with the worst jersey on. So it's like if someone's wearing like a Darko Milicic jersey, they get to break the tie.
Shelburne: OK, so I think before we get into solutions, let's first talk about what's wrong with it right now.
Arnovitz: The fundamental problem is that there's nothing at stake, right?
Arnovitz: To have real competition, there has to be something at stake. That can be a financial incentive, that can be a true bragging rights that actually matter in the world.
MacMullan: A cool satin jacket ...
Shelburne: That would be cool.
Kevin Pelton: I think the weird thing about this is we all know how competitive NBA players are when there's not much at stake, the shootaround postgame, the half-court shots. It's what, 50 bucks, 100 bucks ...
Windhorst: More than that sometimes.
Pelton: Right, but it's still a relatively insignificant amount for NBA players, and yet players celebrate when they make that shot like they've just won the lottery. So how do we get that competitiveness that they have when they're playing horse with each other?
Shelburne: OK, so let's compare it, then, to when they play in the summers. Pickup games. Are those better?
MacMullan: Always. Pickup games are always better.
Arnovitz: Which would suggest to me that the problem is that this is artificial. That there's an artifice that is too slick. That it loses its authenticity, which is why they feel like there's nothing at stake, and their competitive juices are diminished.
Pelton: Well, I think one thing also that might be part of it is, this is happening dead in the middle of the season. This is an extremely long weekend for players, between the appearances they're doing, the interviews they're doing. By the time they get to Sunday, they're not sleeping. We know about the benefits of sleep. They're not doing any of that, and they're probably mentally fried from the weekend, so can we reduce some of that burden on them?
MacMullan: But some of that is self-inflicted, right? Because they set up all this stuff, or their agents set up all this stuff, or their agencies set up all this stuff, and I will tell you that I always, you know, back in the day when I was covering the big three -- the original big three, Parish, Bird, McHale -- Parish would say to me, "How were the results of the All-Star Game [voting], and I would say, "Yeah, Chief, you're not gonna make it." And he was like, "Oh, thank god." He really didn't want to go. He just wanted the weekend off. And Bird would always say, "Did Laimbeer make it?" And I would say, yes or no, and if it was no, he'd be like "Oh, good. Cause then when I get on the bus and he says, 'Hi, Larry' I don't have to say, "F--- you, Bill." So we can bleep that out, OK? But that's the old days.
Windhorst: I can actually hear Larry saying that.
MacMullan: That's the old days. But the new days, these guys are all friends. I'm just amazed at the camaraderie between teams. I watch it before the game, during the game, after the game, so to them this is like, if you're not here, you're out, right? So it's still, like, in these guys' minds, it's cool to be here. Like, Chris Paul's mad he's not here, right? Melo's mad. Even though it's, "Oh, now I have the weekend off, now I can go away or wherever." But no. They want to be here.
Windhorst: Because that's what the competition is, the competition is making the team.
Arnovitz: So I want to build off this. Let me press a nuclear button. We should name All-Stars, give awards, midseason. But let's just eliminate the game. And in its place, do something. Let's create stakes, and a great All-Star, or a great midseason weekend. We're going to have a cup. The East's first team vs. the West's second team and the West's first team versus East's second team, and there's a double-header on Saturday. On Sunday we do all the fun events -- the 3-point contest, the dunk contest, everything else -- and on Monday, we have the finals. The winner of that game gets home-court throughout the playoffs. Or the other idea, if not that, a first-round bye. Now, if we do a first-round bye, that means we'd lose a 16th team, so we'd do play-ins for the final spot. So 15 vs. 18, 16 vs. 17. The point is, create a midseason cup.
Windhorst: So Adam Silver is a big fan of European soccer. And in Europe, there are multiple competitions going on. You have your league competition, you have, in England, the FA Cup, which is all the teams in England, not just the Premier League teams. You have the Champions League, which is the top teams in each individual country playing with each other. The concept there is, give teams more things to win than just the championship. We have 30 teams with 30 fan bases. Only one team can win. Can we give them more things to win? This is why they still do divisions. Because yes, people can pooh-pooh division championships, but there is still something to putting a banner up and a team can declare success.
MacMullan: Never should put a banner up for division titles. We gonna have this debate right now?
Windhorst: No, no.
Shelburne: All right, so I have another idea. If 3-on-3 can be an Olympic sport, why can't a 3-on-3 tournament be the All-Star Game?
Arnovitz: Now I like that.
MacMullan: That I like!
Shelburne: And they get to choose their own threes. Players get to choose. You guys pair up, pick your team, pick your squad, 3-on-3.
Arnovitz: So eight teams of three.
MacMullan: But wait a minute, what if no one wants to be with ...
Arnovitz: And people love brackets.
Windhorst: Yes, you could fill out a bracket.
Arnovitz: Because you've got eight teams of three.
MacMullan: So If you're LeBron James, who do you want on your team? You want LeBron, KD and Steph? Who's going to beat them?
Shelburne: The eight highest vote-getters get to choose the teams.
Pelton: So are you still having a draft?
MacMullan: Well, you have to, right? How else would you do it?
Arnovitz: And there's a social component too.
Windhorst: For sure.
MacMullan: And that's where it gets interesting.
Windhorst: Shelburne, this is great. Where have you been?!
Arnovitz: This is a great idea.
Shelburne: Eight teams of three, 3-on-3, 10-minute halves.
Windhorst: So, eight to four to two, you play three rounds. You have to win three games.
Arnovitz: There's seven games essentially for a bracket, right? So you have Friday would be the opening rounds, right? We have the quadruple-header; Saturday ...
Windhorst: No, no. Do it in two days. Play the first round on Saturday, the second round and championship on ...
MacMullan: No, the first round on Friday ...
Shelburne: Yeah, gotta have a rest day. And All-Star Saturday night's got to be All-Star Saturday night!
Arnovitz: Friday, Saturday, Sunday. It's perfect.
Shelburne: And then we'll be talking about the teams that won on Friday all weekend.
MacMullan: And you know what else, you know what I love about 3-on-3? You cannot hide. You cannot hide. You have to defend. Or you're going to get ridiculed.
Windhorst: Half court, right? 3-on-3 half court?
MacMullan: Oh, yeah. Half court. That's the only real 3-on-3. You cannot hide in a 3-on-3 game. You just can't.
Shelburne: No subs. Ten-minute halves.
Pelton: Do you think this is going to be more feasible, or prominent of an idea, with 3-on-3 basketball becoming an Olympic sport?
Shelburne: It's an Olympic sport! It should be featured in an All-Star Game.
MacMullan: Here's your problem. I can hear the agents now. I can hear everybody now. Injuries ... they'll get too competitive, that's what you're going to hear.
Shelburne: OK, well you can even have six teams of four.
MacMullan: No, no, I'm not disagreeing.
Shelburne: You can have one sub. One person can be out at all times.
Windhorst: Just keep the game short. You're not going to play four 10-minute quarters. Just two 10-minute halves.
Shelburne: That's it.
MacMullan: And then ... how do we work the tickets?
Shelburne: All-Star Friday night! Saturday night can stay the same. Friday night and Sunday night.
Windhorst: Friday is all the first-round games. Four first-round games. Sunday is the semifinals and finals.
Arnovitz: I don't like them playing two games ...
Pelton: That's a big disadvantage to whoever won the last semifinal game.
Windhorst: It's 40 minutes without full-court running.
Pelton: It's a big disadvantage to whoever won the last semifinal, so we have to figure out something to put in between the semifinals and the finals.
Arnovitz: A concert or something.
MacMullan: How about a media concert? How about a media 3-on-3 game?
Shelburne: Nobody wants to see that.
Shelburne: And this eliminates the idea of even having a practice, right? We don't need to have a practice. There's an All-Star practice on Saturday. Eh, just blow that off.
Arnovitz: I like the 3-on-3. I mean, even this Big 3 thing, there seems to be real momentum in the basketball world for this as a legitimate recreational pursuit.
Shelburne: Yeah, and we're going to have brackets. This is going to be like March Madness!
Windhorst: OK, hold on. A new initiative will only work if it's cash-neutral or cash-added, so obviously it's cash-added for the league because they can now sell a Friday-night package that's way more interesting than the Rising Stars.
Shelburne: Way more interesting.
MacMullan: I'd want to go now on Friday night.
Arnovitz: Right. You're going to see the 24 best players in the world in the most organic setting, which is 3-on-3.
Windhorst: Right, so now, what are the players playing for? Now there's going to be new money into the system. What are they playing for?
MacMullan: I still like the satin jacket.
Shelburne: Prize money for each place. Or, you know, it could go to them or they can donate it to the charity of their choice.
Windhorst: I say the winners get all.
MacMullan: Winner take all. I like that.
Windhorst: I say a million dollars per man, and then, when they get it, they can announce a charity, maybe it's $500,000 per player and $500,000 for charity. They can come up and say, "Thank you, this is a great victory, and for my charity I will donate to the Red Cross, to the LeBron James Family Foundation."
MacMullan: Shooting Touch Foundation, Huntington's Disease Society of America, just suggesting some charities that I like. Not that I'm playing, but ...
Shelburne: I would like to see you play.
MacMullan: Those days have passed.
MacMullan: Those days are way over.
Shelburne: And we call it the All-Star Cup.
MacMullan: We just solved this in 15 minutes.
Shelburne: Yeah, it's pretty good!