5 Increasingly unhinged solutions to the NBA All-Star Game

As the NBA has observed its golden era of efficiency proliferate from more streamlined offenses to load management run amok, elements of the league have fallen by the wayside. Marquee hoopers play fewer minutes, fewer games and now they barely expend energy or cross halfcourt during All-Star Weekend’s showcase game. The Slam Dunk Contest’s main event has been a shallow kiddie pool for nearly two decades. Jaylen Brown was the first All-Star to compete in the Slam Dunk Contest since DeAndre Jordan in 2017.

We can’t let the All-Star Game become excess fat in the NBA schedule. The ASG is steeped in more cultural relevance than the Pro Bowl. From Mariah Carey in the Wizards gown to Magic returning after his AIDS diagnosis, it’s the closest thing in professional sports to The Grammys or the Oscars. Rudy Gobert’s tear ducts welled up after a snub in 2019 and Jalen Brunson bawled out after being named to his first All-Star Team last month. That’s how much this has meant to generations of hoopers.

Business-wise they’re just shooting themselves in the foot as well. The Chinese have a traditional term for the synergy between business relationships. Guanxi is a concept that the NBA’s league office and its players should embrace. As the league negotiates a new television rights deal, its players need to begin appreciating the relationship between fan interest, viewership, and demand for their product. The more they devalue primetime basketball outside of the postseason, the more they drive down the bids on their packages.

In a last-ditch effort to save the All-Star Game, we might need to thread the needle between solutions so crazy they just might work and downright certifiably insane. Let’s start out with the most plausible restructuring of the NBA’s All-Star Game.

The All-Star Mini-Tournament

Adam Silver believes in tournaments and All-Star reform requires structure being imposed on a loosey-goosey contest that’s gone too far to the extreme. First of all, start by increasing the number of All-Stars by two from 24 to 26. Shout about participation trophies all you want, but 40 years ago there were 24 All-Star spots in a 23-league team. Today, there are 30 teams, and two more are expected to be introduced through expansion by the end of this decade, bringing the total to 32, international stars are clogging the pipelines, and rosters are still only allowed 12 bodies.

The All-Star Game is more exclusive than ever, but everyone will play. The 26 players would be split across four teams; the Eastern Conference Starters, Western Conference Starters, and the West and East Reserves. The starters only having five bodies compared to eight reserves for each conference means they’d have to play every minute without a breather. That’s a bit too much to ask, but there’s a workaround available. The Starters get three rookies from the Rising Stars Challenge as their reserves. That serves two purposes. Their built-in advantage as the NBA’s singular talents isn’t as dramatic because they’ll be relying on rookies to keep the momentum going when they need a quick breather. And rookies get a brief call-up to the biggest stage. Here’s how the rosters would shape out.

East starters: Giannis Antetokounmo, Bam Adebayo, Jayson Tatum, Tyrese Haliburton, Damian Lillard, Brandon Miller, Amen Thompson and Keegan Murray as East interns.

West starters: Luka Doncic, Kevin Durant, Shai Gilgeous Alexander, LeBron James, Nikola Jokic. Victor Wembanyama, Chet Holmgren and Scoot Henderson in the West.

East Reserves: Palo Banchero, Scottie Barnes, Jaylen Brown, Jalen Brunson, Tyrese Maxey, Donovan Mitchell, Trae Young, DeMar DeRozan.

West Reserves: Devin Booker, Steph Curry, Anthony Davis, Anthony Edwards, Kawhi Leonard, Karl-Anthony Towns, Domantas Sabonis.

Here’s how that All-Star mini-tournament would be divided up by 12-minute games instead of quarters.

  • 1Q: East Starters vs. West Reserves
  • 2Q: West Starters vs. East Reserves
  • 3Q: Loser of Game 1 v Loser of Game 2:
  • 4Q: Winners of Game 1 vs. Losers of Game 2

All the participants not voted starters will have an opportunity to showcase that chip on their shoulders. The reserves will force these starters to actually compete from the jump. Nobody says it has to be playoff basketball, but a maximum of 24 minutes of the level of hoops they put forth at those private summer gym runs we see posted on YouTube every summer is a reasonable expectation.

This prevents any blowouts such as the one we saw this weekend when the East was ahead so much by the end of the first quarter that the West hunkering down in the final frame was even an option. If they need something else to play for, there is an obvious monetary solution.

$40 million in prize money

In the wise words of the 2023 All-Star Game MVP, “Winner winner, chicken dinner.” NBA stars earn so much that a milli in prize money for All-Star Game winners would be a drop in their buckets at this point, but what about $40 million? That’s how much Ja Morant lost in a potential supermax by missing out on All-NBA criteria this season. However, what if winning the All-Star mini-tournament could ameliorate that situation? How about Silver slips a provision into the CBA that makes the winning team’s players eligible for the supermax regardless of whether they reach the All-NBA criteria or play 65 games? It’s not Adam Silver’s money. He’d agree to that in a heartbeat.

For all those stars invested in playing enough in enough games to retain eligibility to earn 30 percent of the annual salary cap instead of a measly 25 percent of a future $200 million cap. A five percent salary bump is the prize money for those guys and it’ll permeate throughout both teams. Envision how focused Hali, Tyrese Maxey, or Jalen Brunson would have played against Eastern starters knowing they had upwards of 40, 50, or $60 million on the line. Nobody loses in this scenario.

Bring back the kids rooting courtside, but throw in college scholarships too

I watched Netflix’s Greatest Night in Pop Monday night and concluded that the ASG is Basketball’s Equivalent of that star-studded historic gathering, but on one night every February. If the organizer Bob Geldof hadn’t given a sobering speech about the gravity of the cause compelling every megastar in that room to suppress their egos, maybe Stevie Wonder doesn’t take as much pride in the finished product, and he heads home early so nobody intervenes to prevent Bob Dylan from singing like a sedate hyena on the finished track.

The All-Star Game can’t reasonably raise $160 million for hunger in Africa, but the spirit of the idea is the same. The league needs to plant the kids who will benefit from the charities in courtside seats and assign them a conference. This year’s beneficiaries of the All-Star Game were the Special Olympics Indiana and Boys & Girls Clubs of Indianapolis.

One of the best All-Star Games I’ve ever seen was the 2020 version. Held mere weeks after Kobe Bryant’s death, the Kia All-Star MVP was named to honor Kobe and the Elam Ending honored his number 24. The kids representing the local charities whose donations hinged on the winners were loud, brought energy and raised the stakes ever so slightly. If the league wants to dive into Squid Games territory they can put individual college scholarships on the line.

This is their supermax game. The stakes don’t get any higher. Also, the losing team has to re-record We Are the World with Lionel Ritchie and the kids repping the losing side have to listen to it in its entirety.

Losing team gets roasted by a celebrity

The losing teams should be contractually obligated to be the postgame subjects of a Comedy Roast hosted by Inside the NBA. Let Katt Williams host so he can dish out some more of that hot grease he’s become renowned for. Let Katt riff on Dame being the NBA’s black widow after being involved in a divorce, and the firing of two coaches in the last few months. Or let Draymond Green tee off on Karl-Anthony Towns scoring 50 while his team loses by 20 to his face. It’ll either end in good fun or in new grudges being formed. Either way, this is good for basketball and for the audience.

Performance enhancers are legal for one game

How badly does Adam Silver want the product to improve? If he doesn’t want it enough to exempt All-Stars from drug testing for 60 days, then he doesn’t want it enough. I’m not so much even talking about HGH or endurance-boosting supplements because I don’t know how much of a difference they’ll have on peak performance through one-time usage. However, everyone has access to Ritalin and watch how hyper-focused these lackadaisical All-Stars become. We might witness the most intense 48 minutes of basketball in the entire season. Imagine LeBron hyper-fixated on clinching another ASG MVP, completely blocking out the courtside celebrities, berating his teammates, and barrelling through the lane with the intensity of Ivan Drago. Absolute cinema.

Find DJ Dunson on X…or don’t: @cerebralsportex

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