The National Hockey League, the National Basketball Association, and Major League Baseball all have All Star Games (“ASG” for short). The National Football League has the Pro Bowl, but that’s just because the NFL insists on being different. Major League Soccer might have one, but I literally can’t think of a single event I would care to watch less than the MLS all star game.
That said, I’ve watched a lot of ASGs in my life. I used to enjoy watching the home run derby, and the dunk contest was occasionally entertaining, but by and large I don’t get the appeal of ASGs. The NBA ASG is this Sunday, with the skills competition, three point contest, dunk contest, and celebrity spotting event happening Saturday night. I won’t watch it because I just don’t get it, but here’s the information in case it’s your thing.
A Bit of Background
Major League Baseball became the first North American professional sports league to host an ASG in 1933. It was actually intended to be a one-time event that coincided with the 1933 World’s Fair. It was wildly popular because it was broadcast nationwide on radio in a time when most people’s evening entertainment was getting slapped in the face with a dust storm or maybe using their remaining right-in-the-middle-of-the-Depression 50¢ to by corn dogs and Charleston Chews. Then they’d bury the nickel in change in a Mason jar in their front yard because banks couldn’t (and shouldn’t) be trusted. But the point is that because the first one was so successful, MLB decided to do it every year.
Other leagues followed suit. The NFL hosted what would become the Pro Bowl for the first time in 1938. The NHL had its first ASG in 1947, and the NBA did so in 1951. Since then they have been annual events with varying degrees of flair, though they have all gotten a bit more flashy over the years. And I don’t get it.
I really don’t get it. I mean…I just don’t get it. The games themselves are complete farces, with baseball being the only possible exception. That said, rules about playing time and roster management and what not have taken some of the bite out of the game. But the NBA, NHL, and NFL ASGs are complete crap. No defense, just 48, 60, and 60 minutes, respectively, of showing off and playing grabass. Pete Rose didn’t play grabass, though. Pete Rose ended careers, irrespective of the silliness of the circumstances.
What’s Even the Point?
I’m sure the players like it. It’s a nice break in the season (except for the NFL, which for some reason has its ASG the week before the Super Bowl). Most contracts include bonuses for making ASG rosters, participating in events, and even winning events sometimes. But do the fans like it?
I doubt it. For one thing, viewership is generally low, regardless of the league. The NBA has been on a fairly steady decline since about 1993. That’s for the game itself. My understanding is that the skills stuff like the home run derby in baseball, the dunk contest in basketball, and the skills competition in hockey do fairly well. But generally speaking, the games themselves are kind of blah.
For another thing, there’s no incentive to try hard. And I know, these are world class athletes that have trouble turning it off for a day so there’s bound to be some serious competition. But not too serious, right? I mean, offense is more exciting, so offense should be promoted, and the way to do that and avoid collisions that could result in injuries is to just not play defense. So they don’t. I found this video of the best blocks in NBA ASG history, but look at the scores and relative positions of people’s bodies. These weren’t real defensive moments. These were moments when people thought they could play a little D without getting anyone hurt.
So what’s the point? Money, I guess. I’m a staunch capitalist so I fully support any league’s right to exhibit drivel in the name of entertainment. Hell, MTV has been doing it for 20 years, and the History Channel, for some reason, has, too. But the product suffers. ASGs are Jersey Shore, Real Housewives, and Keeping Up with the Kardashians for sports fans. Keeping Up with the Kardashians used to include appearances from NBA players, so maybe it was trash TV for sports fans, too, in some way.
Can You Say Something Redeeming?
Yes, I can, thank you for asking. I have watched more baseball ASGs than any other sport, but NBA ASGs have provided the most entertainment. Again, not the games themselves, which are always the sports equivalent of a bad fast food hamburger. But the other stuff. The dunk contest has some nice moment. I hated Dwight Howard’s Superman “dunk” that didn’t involve actually touching the rim in any way. And I hated Blake Griffin jumping over a car because he normally jumps from there and normally clears that much space, so it was just a day at the office for him except a car was on the court.
But I liked—nay, LOVED—watching Vince Carter put on an absolute clinic in the 2000 dunk contest (don’t worry, the video is below). And who doesn’t love the underdog story of Brent Barry winning the 1996 dunk contest from the free throw line? Side note: Brent Barry beat Michael Finley, who at the time played for the Suns but later that year was traded to the Mavericks and was one of my favorite players during those Mavs years. And the 2016 dunk contest duel between Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine was fun to watch, too.
But by and large, I think they’re pretty useless. But do I think ASGs should be stopped? No. I think the athletes need a break during the middle of the season, and I suppose an ASG is just as good a way to fill time as any. I don’t think people (myself included) fully grasp how exhausting a professional sports season is.
Basketball and hockey are physically demanding and generally include 82 games over about a 7- or 8-month period. Baseball might not be as physically demanding, but they play 162 games basically in six months. Football is also obviously physically demanding, but they get built-in bye weeks so I don’t know if this applies to the NFL so much. And the travel, the sponsor obligations, groupies, fans, autograph seekers, hotel bars, nightclubs, film sessions, shootarounds, pre-game workouts, and other non-game related stuff is likely more exhausting than the games themselves. I guess if I was making even rookie minimum money I would easily justify spending 100+ nights a year in hotel rooms, but I’d still complain about it.
What’s Even Your Point, Ben?
My point is this: I don’t like all star games. I don’t get their appeal, I don’t understand the hype, and I definitely don’t understand people over the age of like 12 that watch the games themselves. But I won’t pass judgment. The players need a break and all star games are probably the best solution. So all star games are here. I won’t watch them, but I won’t judge anyone for watching, and in my increasingly pacifist point of view I’ve decided to just hope both teams have fun.
You didn’t really think you’d get through this whole thing without seeing this dunk, did you?