I love basketball almost as much as life itself, but I’ve never watched an NBA All-star Game until this year. That sentence seems to contract itself. Why would someone who loves the sport so much not watch a game where the best talent in the world is on display? In the past, the NBA All-star game hasn’t been one dominated by hard work, grit, or passion; rather, it’s just been a free-for-all. To some sports fans – like myself- the All-star Game is the worst part of the entire weekend.
I love seeing offensive barrages, but when I see scores like 192-182 (as was the case in the 2017 NBA All-star Game) I get bored. I like defense. I like seeing blocks, steals, and some energy on the defensive end. It’s 50% of the sport of basketball; why would I want a game that only showcases offense? The NBA experimented with ideas like captains drafting teams, and while that worked to boost popularity somewhat, it wasn’t enough. This year, the NBA created an All-star Game that excited fans. How did they do this?
First, they created an emphasis on the charities. By dividing the game into “games within a game,” there was more emphasis on each quarter. There were four individual games played yesterday inside of one contest. The idea of comparing the results of individual quarters to a cumulative score was genius. Fans were cheering loudly. The children from the charities were chanting the names of their captains. It was a great move by the NBA to get everyone involved.
Second, there was an emphasis on bench players. Chris Paul has 23 points, which was more than starters James Harden and Luka Doncic had combined. Rudy Gobert had 21 points, and Ben Simmons had 17 points. At the end of the game, some starters – one example being Doncic – weren’t even in and were replaced by these backups. This was a game where every single player mattered and made an impact.
Last, due to the target score, the 4th quarter was phenomenal. I don’t know about you, but the idea of a target score is something that brings me back to my playground days when we would establish “Play to 21… win by two, not off a two.” Players were genuinely competing. They were fouling, arguing with the officials, and showing passion – something you don’t regularly see in an NBA All-star Game. Kyle Lowry even took two charges! There was a vested interest by fans and players in the outcome of the game, and that’s not something I think we can say has been true in recent history.
In the end, the NBA found the perfect way to honor Kobe Bryant’s legacy. The trophy named after him will stand as a testament to everything that he did for the NBA. However, more importantly, the NBA All-star Game is now exciting and filled with passion, just like Kobe. Players are trying. Fans are watching. For the first time in a while, even Twitter, which is always divided, loves the changes made. The NBA found a way to mirror Kobe’s “mamba mentality” in the NBA All-star Game, and I can’t think of a better example of the passion for winning that Kobe had than in the player’s faces in the 4th quarter of yesterday’s contest.