A compliment and a complaint mixed together regarding the NBA’s and the Jazz’s announcement on Wednesday that the league’s All-Star game will be played in Salt Lake City in 2023 hopefully can turn into a useful recommendation.
Celebrate the game (in a general sense), and change it (in the specific).
Here’s the irony: All-Star weekend is mostly about hoisting a toast to NBA basketball, to the glorious competition it stirs. Isn’t that why most people who admire the greater game became fans in the first place? On nearly a nightly basis from October into June, the league’s brand of ball pits many of the greatest athletes on the planet against each other in remarkably entertaining tests of the physical and the mental. Those tests combine pure talent with the power of will. Whichever team has the greater capacity to compete wins.
The NBA is as good at that as any professional endeavor in sports. Rewarding both greatness and the grind.
But its All-Star game is a different matter. It takes greatness out of its normal gritty realm and transforms it, awkwardly positioning it into a casual carnival show. Everybody puts on the dog, the dips-y-do, nobody plays defense.
A celebration of the league and its game is a terrific traditional idea. Good for marketing, good for the game, good for the fans to see so many stars on the court at one time. It’s a fine way to pay tribute to the world’s best players.
Yet, the All-Star game itself betrays their greatness — because it is largely bereft of the ferocity that draws out their best, replaced by fancy — and sometimes silly — showmanship.
With all kinds of accoutrements, such as skills competitions, dunk and shooting contests, parties, etc., the weekend is cool, worthwhile, a lofty get for the Jazz and for Salt Lake City. Having the best players in the league, with other stars from other walks of life, from the worlds of music and entertainment, congregate here in Utah is fun, is fantastic.
Think about how fantastic it would be if the weekend’s centerpiece, the actual game, reflected the same care factor as regular-season or playoff games. Yeah, there are concerns about injuries and energy expended, but goofing around on the court seems just as risky, if not more so, as playing all out.
Who knows? Maybe by the time 2023 comes around, the All-Star game will revert back to what it was, at least in part, when Doc and Jordan and Bird and Magic and Stockton and Malone played in it. When pride was at stake. When reputations hung in the balance. When greatness stared down greatness. When a modicum of defense was played. Isn’t that how it was the last time the All-Star game was played here? Maybe that’s romanticizing, glamorizing the past.
Either way, we, those of us who love basketball, can always hope.
Maybe having Rudy Gobert, the league’s best defender and one of the proudest players in the NBA, as an All-Star would make a difference, underscoring that that end of the floor matters, too. It’s always mattered to fans in this town, where hard work is valued, appreciated and applauded. The way it is now, if an All-Star puts up rugged resistance, there’s a kind of palpable peer-pressure backlash, like: )Hey, man, what are you doing? Knock it off. Chill. We’re all having fun here.
No. It’s a whole lot more fun when great players are challenged, forced to be greater, still. Who here thinks Gobert would require that out of whoever he’s guarding? In other words, play real basketball.
“I don’t think Adam Silver would disagree,” said Steve Starks, the former Jazz president who is now CEO of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies.
The weekend is worth celebrating, the overall game is worth honoring, the gathering of the greats is worth noting, and at the announcement at Vivint Arena on Wednesday, Jazz officials were there, NBA commissioner Adam Silver was there, the governor was there. It’s a big deal.
People were excited. People are excited.
Now, reward them by giving them the competition, the grit, the grind, the greatness, the game they love.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone, which is owned by the parent company that owns the Utah Jazz.