NBA

How the NBA All-Star Game Was Saved

Feb 16, 2020; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Team LeBron forward Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots a free throw during the fourth quarter during the 2020 NBA All Star Game at United Center.
Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

If you turned your TV onto ESPN recently, you might have caught some of The Basketball Tournament (TBT). TBT always comes at a convenient time, when there is no NBA or college basketball to watch. 

TBT is up and coming. The tournament has seen success these past five seasons. Most of its participants are former D1 college players or from overseas. Some are even retired NBA players. With $1 million on the line for the champion, these teams come ready to play. With the exception of a few players (like NBA alum Joe Johnson), most lack financial security.

As Kobe once said “The NBA, it was actually easier [than high school], because what I found in the NBA is a lot of guys playing for financial stability… no wonder Mike wins all these f*****g championships,” 

What makes TBT so special aside from the intense, semi-professional style of basketball is its unique game ending. TBT addresses their point target match system as the ELAM ending. This style is named after Nick Elam, creator of the alternative game ending.

All-Star Game Intro

Over the past few years, fans could sense the NBA All-Star Game (ASG) getting less competitive with every passing year. Back in the 90s, players looked at the All-Star Game as they might a playoff game. The game was not just an opportunity to get the fans excited, but to also show up against the NBA’s elite. 

In today’s NBA, the actual game matters less to the players than the All-Star nod itself.

The main reason why is that the All-Star Game does not count towards seeding or anything important. There is simply no incentive to play hard.

Then you think of the potential for injury. For example, Paul George broke his leg in the 2014 Team USA scrimmage. Albeit that was an exhibition (not an All-Star game) but it is a similar dynamic. Players find no benefit to risking their health and value to a meaningless game. 

In the 2018 All-Star Game, Jimmy Butler asked to sit out the entire game, electing to eat popcorn on the bench instead of participating. Butler had led the NBA in minutes per game at that point in the season, but it was still unordinary for a player to volunteer to spend the whole game on the sideline.

Incidents like the Paul George one have contributed to the NBA’s load management trend among superstars, to the point where players will even miss regular-season games. 

The games had gotten so weak spirited that hardcore NBA fans would tune out of the game or All-Star weekend completely. 

Suggestions

A lot of different ideas were pitched to spice up the All-Star game.

In 2018, the NBA eliminated the standard team format of East vs. West. There would still be 12 players from each conference, but a captain from the West and a captain from the East would draft players from the selected pool of players, without regard to what player the conference was in. 

In 2019, the NBA televised the first All-Star “draft” in hopes to stir up rivalries and understand why captains selected the players they did. Despite this, the 2019 ASG tied a record low rating with the 2008 and 2010 ASG. It was obvious that changes still needed to be made.

Adam Silver and Bill Simmons suggested midseason tournaments.

In the end, the NBA decided to take TBT’s ELAM ending idea and set a point target match. After the first 3 quarters, the leading team’s score plus 24 points would be the target score. 24 in honor of Kobe. Whichever team gets to that point total first wins.

With no game clock to account for, all teams have to do is play lockdown defense and score. Teams would no longer be forced to resort to late game fouling to slow the clock down and put the ball back in their hands.

Success of This Years All-Star Game

It actually worked. The game was intense, with players from both ends playing lockdown defense and going 100%. Kyle Lowry even took two charges, who would have ever thought that would have happened in the modern ASG?

People tuned in, and the game was very close, coming down to the final few possessions. An Anthony Davis free throw sealed the game, and Team LeBron bested Team Giannis by only two points.

The All-Star Game was such a success that people floated the idea of implementing an ELAM ending to the NBA’s regular season and playoff games. Both Zach Lowe and Daryl Morey have suggested the benefits this change could make for the league.

In close basketball games, trailing teams foul in late-game situations with hopes their opponents miss and turn the ball back over in order to regain possession and score. However, most games don’t end with a Tracy Mcgrady 13 points in 35 seconds kind of miracle. The fouling strategy stretches out the 4th quarter and disrupts the game’s flow.

Could we see the NBA experiment this idea in the G League first? Is a point target match a real possibility in basketball’s future worldwide?

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