The last time I cared about an all-star game, I was 13 and playing Little League softball. But this past weekend, the NBA All-Star game came to town and changed that for me.
In the sports I cover, all-star games are not a major part of the year. Action sports and Olympic sports don’t really have all-star competition–unless you count the X Games and Olympics. And the Senior and Pro Bowls are hardly major events on any college football or NFL fan’s calendar. The MLB All-Star game was cool, (It was also in L.A. this year, and it was neat to see the NL win for the first time since 1996.) but it certainly wasn’t an event. NBA All-Star weekend was an event.
In the three days the league was in town, Kobe Bryant became the first athlete to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Blake Griffen won the most exciting dunk contest in years, a youth-ruled event that gave me–and basketball fans in general–reason enough not to give up on the NBA … just yet. During Sunday night’s game, Lenny Kravitz gave a pre-game concert, Rihanna and Kanye West performed at halftime and Josh Groban sang the National Anthem. Lakers games are typically star-studded, but this was the most A-List event the Staples Center has seen since the Grammys were held there. Oh, and then there was the basketball. The West won and, to my surprise, I was cheering for them. (When in Rome.) The game was fun and surprisingly close at the end. And we even got a bit of the flash we were there to see. (This is the one time during the season you never hear the crowd chanting, “De-fense!”)
For three days this weekend, starting with Friday night’s ESPN The Mag party (which I commandeered as my birthday party) and all the other Friday-night festivities, I think NBA fans forgot about teams leaving towns and players asking for trades and collective bargaining agreements, and just watched a bunch of really talented athletes have a lot of fun entertaining us. Which seems to get lost by this point in the season. Hopefully this was a jolt of caffeine for the league.
Next, I think the NFL needs to figure out a way to make the Pro Bowl fun and relevant and not just a vacation to Hawaii for the best guys in the league. Those who don’t make it to the Super Bowl, that is.