NBA Season in Review: Looking back at the 2020 All-Star Weekend

NBA All-Star Game LeBron James (Photo by Lampson Yip - Clicks Images/Getty Images)
NBA All-Star Game LeBron James (Photo by Lampson Yip - Clicks Images/Getty Images) /

With the NBA season in a hiatus, we look back at the 2020 All-Star weekend

So while NBA fans wait for a resumption of the suspended season, our time is spent watching classic games, reading basketball biographies, or firing up the computer version of Strat O Matic Basketball (or maybe I’m alone in that camp).

As we wait and see what transpires, now might a good time to look back on some of the top games, teams, and players that have brought about some memorable moments for the 2019-20 season. This time, we’ll turn the calendar back to the weekend of February 14-16, 2020 and review the NBA all-star weekend.

All-Star Friday Night

The first event of the weekend is the All-Star Celebrity Game. For the uninitiated, this is an annual exhibition basketball game held by the NBA that takes place during the weekend and features retired NBA players, WNBA players, actors, musicians and athletes from sports other than basketball.

The game is usually televised by ESPN and often the game will feature their personalities who are involved in some aspect of the game. The coaches for the game were First Take analyst Stephen A. Smith and Pardon the Interruption co-host, Michael Wilbon. Team Wilbon defeated Team Stephen A. 62–47. Rapper and recording artist  Common took home the MVP award.

While it was Valentine’s Day on the calendar, there wasn’t much love being displayed on Friday night during the game. For the first time since the game’s inception in 2003, a technical foul was issued during the game and it went to Smith. Perhaps that was most appropriate since being brash, loud and verbose is what makes Stephen A who he is. He is the 21st-century version of Howard Cosell. So mouthing off to a referee and obtaining a T would be nature taking its course.

The Celebrity game was not appointment television for me, and quite frankly it hasn’t been for several years. But to see Stephen A have a meltdown during an exhibition game would have been worth my time.

The main event of Friday evening is the Rising Stars Challenge. This is an exhibition game in which players are first- and second-year players selected by the NBA’s assistant coaches. Two people designated as “general managers” draft players for the two opposing teams.

Over the years, the format of the game has gone from East vs. West to first-year players vs. second players to its current configuration of Team World vs. Team USA.

All the formats have been good, I personally like World vs. USA the best, because it celebrates the global impact of the NBA. This year I thought it was particularly appropriate with the recent passing of former league commissioner David Stern.

Commissioner Stern was a visionary who saw opportunities to grow the game internationally. From exhibition games in Asia to Basketball Without Borders in Africa, to league expansion in my home country of Canada. The Rising Stars Challenge needs to be a yearly tribute to Mr. Stern as a celebration of basketball all around the world.

The game itself had more of a video game setting with both defenses set on easy (read non-existent) as the USA outlasted the World team 151-131. It seems to be that the Rising Stars Challenge is suffering from the same symptoms the All-Star Game was dealing with a few years ago.

While it’s great to have a sneak preview of who the future all-stars of the league will be, from a purist standpoint, I didn’t feel like I was watching a basketball game. It felt more like a show or a performance and not teams who were trying to compete. I actually look forward to watching the NCAA games that were televised on Saturday afternoon just so I would remember what real basketball looked like.

Perhaps playing quarters instead of halves and using the rules of the Elam Ending may bring some of the competitiveness back into what could be a fun Friday night game.

All-Star Saturday Night

This series of competitions is the most fun part of the weekend. Seeing players face off in a series of basketball-related events is something that other sports can’t even come close to duplicating, although the NHL comes in a close second surrounding their All-Star events.

The competitions include the Skills Challenge, the 3-Point Shooting Contest, and the Slam Dunk Contest. One thing that I would consider changing is putting the dunk contest at the beginning, assuming it’s still part of the event.

The dunk contest has been a bit of a dud over the last several years. Perhaps this is due to its lack of star power. As well it has been surrounded by some controversy over the objective scoring format which leads to some dubious and anti-climatic endings (just ask Aaron Gordon in 2016, and then ask in him again on February 15th). So if it’s still in its current state in 2021, all I ask is that we just start the night with it and get it out of the way so we enjoy the rest of the night with the real competitions.

The Skills Challenge has demonstrated that this event is not just for those who play the guard position. Over the last few years, winners have included Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis, Jayson Tatum and this year’s victor: 6-foot-9 Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo.

The 3-Point Shooting Contest had a new wrinkle this year. Two additional Mountain Dew (the event sponsor) shots were placed on each side of the top of the key, worth three points each. This increased the maximum possible score to 40 (from 34), and the time limit was increased from 60 to 70 seconds.

Sacramento’s Buddy Hield won the competition with a dramatic final round score of 27, with the deciding score going down just as time expired. Now that’s how to end a night of basketball.

Sunday All-Star Game

Once again, I will admit the All-Star Game itself has not been something I have looked forward to in recent years. I grew up watching it in the 80s and 90s. So I am bringing an old school perspective. The lack of defense in the game troubles me.  It’s more like watching playground basketball except no one calls their own fouls.

The Team Player X vs. Team Player Y format bothers me. While it’s great to have players who are the faces of the league, the focus on these individuals overshadows the idea of the team aspect. Basketball is a team game and you need all players playing hard on both ends of the floor in order to have success. Which is what made the fourth quarter of this year’s game the best it’s been in years.

While I’m not altogether sold on the Elam Ending Rules in the All-Star Game, I think it brought about a great competitive spirit that’s been sorely lacking. The first team to 24 (or more) made the quarter go longer than necessary. The game-winning point being made on a free throw seemed an unnatural way to finish.

But here’s what I liked, the starting five players were also the ones who finished the game. Team LeBron’s five ironically enough were also the fan votes from the Western Conference. Team Giannis’ five were the fan votes from the Eastern Conference. And maybe it’s time to return to East vs. West. Keep the winning quarter for charity rule, but keep the cumulative score throughout.

Next. NBA Draft: Top 5 bigs from the 2020 class. dark

The narrative from this weekend was all about honoring Kobe Bryant. Bryant was an 18-time all-star, as well as a four-time All-Star Game MVP.  If we want to honor Kobe, let’s play the all-star game in the way it was played when he played.