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Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024
The Observer

Coolican: The new All-Star Game format was a huge success

In last week’s Observer Roundtable, while discussing the NBA All-Star Game, I wrote that the it was “nearly unwatchable.” In years past, neither side played any defense whatsoever. Every play ended in either an uncontested dunk or three pointer. It was interesting at first, merely to observe just how offensively talented NBA players are when they face no resistance, but it gets tiresome quickly.

By the fourth quarter, many players stopped trying completely and shot half-court shots or tried to dunk as impressively as possible. Additionally, some all-stars who are elite defenders, such as Rudy Gobert, Kawhi Leonard or Joel Embiid, couldn’t showcase their full game. Nothing epitomized the All-Star Game more than a moment in 2017, when Giannis Antetokounmpo was on a fast break, and Steph Curry lay down on the court and covered his head rather than attempt to play defense.

The NBA recognized the problem and fixed it. This year, they introduced a new format: the scores would reset after each quarter, and the team who won each quarter would get $100,000 allocated to their charity. Team LeBron selected Chicago Scholars, and Team Giannis chose After School Matters, both organizations representing underprivileged youth in the Chicago area. Not only was the game being played for a great cause, it was much more fun for the fans as well. 

In the first three quarters, the players showed only marginally more effort than past All-Star Games, but each quarter was competitive. However, the fourth quarter was where it really got interesting. Twenty-four points were added to the leading team’s score, and the game was played to that score rather than a clock. Not only was it another touching tribute to Kobe Bryant in a weekend full of them, it produced an incredibly exciting fourth quarter. 

Both teams put their best lineups on the floor, and the players played hard, like the game actually mattered. We got to see the best players in the game going head to head in a competitive atmosphere. Giannis blocked LeBron on his signature fadeaway, and later in the quarter, rejected James again as he drove to the basket, coming very close to a goaltend. There was a lengthy reply review. Let me repeat that: there was a replay review in the All-Star Game, with both sides arguing passionately with the referees.

There ended up being two additional coach’s challenges in the fourth quarter, with all 10 players on the court and those on the bench emotionally invested in the outcome. Even the usually emotionless Kawhi Leonard got into it, clapping emphatically after he forced a turnover. Kyle Lowry took a charge, and attempted to take another by stepping in front of James as he drove to the basket. Compare that to Curry’s defense in 2017. 

In the end, the NBA executed an amazing plan to return the All-Star Game to relevance. The players took it seriously, with multiple coaches and players comparing it after the game to a “playoff atmosphere.” It is a phrase that is used a lot in important regular season matchups, but even just last year, it was inconceivable that it could be applied to an All-Star Game. It really did feel like a playoff game, with every player going all out to win the game for their team.

Undoubtedly, there are things the NBA could improve upon. First, they need to find a way to make the first three quarters more competitive. While there was more effort than years past, it still was an All-Star Game-esque the first three quarters, with uncontested alley-oops and open threes abounding. It would be amazing if all four quarters were as competitive as the fourth, especially as both teams used their starters almost exclusively in the fourth quarter, so we could see other All-Stars in the same electric atmosphere. Additionally, it seemed anti-climatic for the hard-fought fourth quarter to be able to end on a free throw, as this game did. 

However, the NBA did an incredible job and made the All-Star Game enjoyable to players and fans again. In a month that has been spent paying tribute to Kobe’s memory, this might be the best one yet: the game’s biggest stars embodying his competitive spirit on one of the game’s biggest stages. Kobe loved the All-Star Game, and now, everyone else does too.