The NBA All-Star Game is terrible – Here’s how to fix it

Every Adam Sandler movie backwards.

An intellectual discussion about life’s meaning between Tila Tequila and Kim Kardashian.

A lightbulb for the full duration of its lifespan.

These are all things I would rather watch than the NBA All Star game. The West won this year’s iteration, which took place this past Sunday, by the score of 196-173, and it could truly be defined as terrible watching experience. The shot selection would have been highly suspect at a pickup game at Marino, much less an NBA game, and defenders were literally hopping out of the way to allow the other team to score.

I know why it exists. February is squarely in the doldrums of the too-long NBA season, and fans need something to look forward to. It’s great publicity for the league, and undoubtedly brings in huge amounts of cash. But the game itself has become almost a parody. The players don’t care, the coaches don’t care and the public will stop caring very soon. It’s sad, too, because the NBA is the perfect league for an All Star game. No other sport in the U.S. has such widely recognized players, and no other sport expresses the athletes’ skill so constantly. Something needs to change. With that in mind, here are some ways to rescue the NBA All Star game from the pits of basketball hell and bring it back to at least something resembling a competitive sport.

 

  1. Give the winning conference home court advantage in the Finals.

 This is what the MLB does, and they consistently have the most competitive and exciting All Star games. So take note of this sentence, because it will probably never be written again: The NBA should take a lesson from the MLB on being more exciting.

Getting to play the majority of your games in a playoff series at home is huge, especially in basketball. It means traveling less, no hotel rooms and the privilege of playing a Game 7 in front of your own fans instead of your opponent’s bloodthirsty crowd. It can seem like a minute advantage, but there is a reason teams jockey so hard for the higher seeds.

If the NBA were to implement this, it is pretty much guaranteed that the players would actually break a sweat. Imagine Lebron James and Steph Curry going 100% in the fourth quarter, because they know it could very well determine how a meeting in May between their two teams goes. Imagine Kawhi Leonard hounding Paul George on defense, because he knows it could help bring him another ring a few months from now. It would actually add purpose to a currently purposeless game.

 

  1. Have each conference’s team get picked by fan-selected captains.

 The All Star game is essentially a pick-up game, right? The players are only together for one game, having fun is (slightly) more important than winning and there is always that one guy who keeps pulling up for threes even though he is .2% for his career on them.

Why not have the teams set up like a pick-up game too? The fans would get to vote on who they think should be captain of each league, and the player with the most votes gets top dog status and gets to craft his own team. Plus, it would all be televised. This year, it probably would have been Lebron in the East and Steph Curry in the West. Which of his teammates would Curry pick first, Klay Thompson or Draymond Green? Would Lebron pick Kevin Love first, his current teammate, or Chris Bosh, his old teammate and friend? Would Kobe Bryant murder Curry on camera if he slipped past the fifth round? The potential for drama is definitely there.

 

  1. $$$$

 In the words of poet and icon Big Sean, “Ain’t nothing more important than the moolah.” That truth can be applied to NBA players, and maybe especially so. Players today are hyper aware of their brand and business, and some have whole marketing teams behind them. If a considerable cash bonus was given to players on the winning team, and an even more considerable grand prize given to the top performers on each team, then we would probably see a notable increase in defense. The number of revolutions per minute at which John Wooden and James Naismith are rolling in their graves would hopefully be decreased as well.

Plus, it would add a whole other dynamic. All Stars still on their rookie contracts would be diving after loose balls, throwing elbows and boxing out with a vengeance. The insanely rich players could take the prize money and donate it to charity or something along those lines. And at least one player would blow it all at a strip club that night and promptly end up on TMZ the next morning. Who says no?

Originally published in The Huntington News

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Why we can’t ignore the Manning assault allegations

Peyton Manning is not just famous, he is deified. He has transcended the football world, where he accomplished almost everything a quarterback could hope to accomplish, and become something much more: a cultural icon.

He is a late night TV staple, with multiple appearances on Letterman and Saturday Night Live, and his unmistakable smile and forehead have graced more commercials than any other athlete. His fame has reached the point where any negative publicity simply rolls off of him, waterproofed by the public’s adoration. Al Jazeera mounted serious HGH allegations against him earlier this year, a claim that would at least blemish the image of almost any other athlete. But the public response to it was firm and fast in favor of his innocence. How could Peyton Manning, the golden boy from a golden family, do anything immoral?

The latest Manning controversy could meet the same fate. A report of Manning sexually assaulting an athletic trainer at the University of Tennessee while he was quarterback there has resurfaced and is back in the eye of the public, yet there is a distinct lack of attention. It is our obligation to make sure we don’t write this off like we did the HGH scandal. We don’t know yet what actually transpired that day, and there is a real possibility we never will. But to let our preconceived image of Manning blind us from investigating the assault fully would be an undeniable moral failure.

Simply put, we treat victims of sexual assault poorly in this country. We are quick to doubt their charges, especially when a celebrity is the one being accused, and we shame them regardless of whether they told the truth. Jamie Naughright, the victim in the Manning case, said that she “feared for her job…and feared for her life,” in the report she filed following the alleged assault.

That fear is not unique to her. Countless victims end up derided or ignored after reporting sexual assault− Erica Kinsman, who accused then Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston of rape in 2012, didn’t have her case investigated for ten months and endured countless threats when it finally was. If we don’t thoroughly explore Naughright’s accusations against Manning, then we are perpetuating a cycle of misogyny in favor of keeping our favorite athletes propped up.

Manning’s case is also part of another broad problem: the lack of accountability for big time college athletes. We treat 18-year-old kids like kings, and the “student” part in the phrase “student-athlete” is a joke. This culture pervades Division I athletics, and Manning’s alma mater is a perfect example. A Title IX lawsuit is being levied against the Volunteers right now, accusing the school of creating an environment so poisonous that multiple rapes by athletes went unpunished. The football coach, Butch Jones, reportedly told a player that he “betrayed the team” when he helped a women who said she was sexually assaulted by two other athletes.

The priorities at schools like Tennessee are clear; keep your players on the field first, worry about potential crimes second. If the allegations facing Manning turn out to be true, then they won’t be some crazy exception. They will be symptomatic of a long-term institutional failure. Brushing off Naughright would be easy, given the star power of Manning and the long elapsed time since the incident, but it would be a huge miss in addressing the twisted state of college football.

The way our society is currently set up, this controversy should do nothing to Manning. According to a Seton Hall poll conducted after the allegations resurfaced, Manning has a 68% favorability rating. That is as much as Steph Curry and Lebron James combined. Not only did the allegations fail to put a dent in how people view him, that 68% is Manning’s highest ever. Coming off of a Super Bowl win, the number is slightly understandable.

But that doesn’t make it any more acceptable. We need to treat this case for what it is−a serious accusation of one man forcing himself onto a woman. The fact that the man is Peyton Manning, quarterback god, should not matter. For too long, we have ignored sexual assault victims and let athletic privilege run rampant. The Manning case is a chance to turn the page.

Originally published in The Huntington News