Commentary

Making the All-Star Game competitive

Updated: February 18, 2008, 12:39 PM ET
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

NEW ORLEANS -- Hey LeBron, if you were David Stern ...

So I began a line of questioning that was posed Friday to several of this year's NBA All-Stars: If you were the commissioner and had to decide how to make the All-Star Game competitive year after year, what would you do?

"Give away a Maybach, a Phantom, some jet hours, a house. Everybody loves a free Maybach, a free Benz or Rolls-Royce. We'll play hard for that," James said.

As things stand now, only bragging rights and pocket money are at stake.

The winners of Sunday's game take home $35,000 apiece, the losers get $15,000 each as a consolation prize.

Would $50,000 to the winners and zero to the losers make things interesting?

"You know, the money, that doesn't matter," James said. "We don't need money. We have money. A house, a car ...

Kobe Bryant
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillKobe Bryant won the MVP in a less-than-stellar 2007 NBA All-Star Game.
In truth, players usually do compete hard in the NBA's annual showcase event, and more often than not -- at least going by recent history -- the game produces a compelling fourth quarter and a tight finish. Two years ago the East had a two-point victory in Houston and four years ago in Los Angeles it went down to the final seconds (Tim Duncan's fadeaway with 26 seconds left put the West ahead for good) in a four-point win for the West.

Five years ago in Atlanta, in Michael Jordan's final All-Star appearance, the game went into double overtime as the teams combined to score 300 points, and seven years ago in Washington, the East stormed back from a 21-point deficit in the final quarter and won by a single point when Kobe Bryant unexpectedly elected to pass instead of shoot on the final possession of the game.

But there are some All-Star Games that end up being duds, perhaps none more so than last year's game in Las Vegas when the West shot out to a big lead early and both teams more or less sleepwalked through the final three quarters of a 153-132 victory for the West.

Chauncey Billups chastised his East teammates afterward for failing to compete, and some began suggesting that the NBA take a page from Major League Baseball's playbook and award homecourt advantage in the NBA Finals to the team from the conference that wins the All-Star Game.

"I'm like Chaunce," Joe Johnson said. "Last year was a disaster."

I'd have it Friday instead of Sunday.

--Jason Kidd on how to make the All-Star Game more competitive.

"I know what they do in baseball, but I wouldn't be that drastic," said Billups Saturday. "You can't really put a money thing on it, because that's not the motivation for playing. I really don't know what I would do, but I wish they could put something on it where guys would just compete and play a little harder."

Each All-Star Game has its defining moment, but not every game is remembered for what transpired on the court.

Getting ready to make his 10th All-Star appearance, Tim Duncan took a long look at the topic while noting, last year's game was more of an aberration than a trend.

"We try to put on an entertaining game, and in the latter parts of the game it gets more and more competitive. If you go into the locker rooms and hear what the guys are saying, they want to push to win the game. So I think it's very competitive whether the score portrays that or not."

Judging by the final score, last year's game indeed was somewhat of a rarity.

Only once this decade had the game been decided by fewer than 12 points, and not since 1992 -- when the West steamrolled the East by 40 points, 153-113 -- had there been anything quite so one-sided.

"Last year it was because they have too much Vegas," Yao Ming said. "You know Vegas, but maybe people forget that what happened in Vegas stays in Vegas. When they leave town, they forget about what the game looks like."

The competitiveness of this year's game will depend on the competitiveness of the players participating. And different All-Stars bring different levels of intensity to the event.

Some are like Dirk Nowitzki:

"Really the All-Star Game is all about having fun. It's not supposed to be an all-out war. It's about showing the fans a good time ... a lot of dunks, a lot of run-and gun. You could make it more competitive playing foreign players against America players, but I don't think that's really what the weekend is all about. I've been a part of it seven years, and I've had fun all those years. To me, it's not really about the game that much, it's about the weekend, getting to know all the players you always compete against. The hype and glamour around it is more fun than the actual game."

Or, as Carmelo Anthony put it:

"I think in the back of everyone's mind, it's only one game, you're only playing 15-20 minutes and a lot of guys are thinking they don't want to get hurt. But as professionals we still going out there and trying to win the game."

And then there is Allen Iverson, who has been saying since the day he entered the NBA that he approached every game like it's his last (which is part of the reason why he, like Bryant, has won two All-Star Game MVP awards).

"I don't know that there's anything you can do [to guarantee a competitive game]. That's up to the players, and I don't understand why any players wouldn't go out and play hard no matter what type of game it is. That's the only way I know how to play," Iverson said.

At the players' media availability session Saturday afternoon, ESPN.com asked a majority of this year's All-Stars for their opinions on ways to ensure a competitive All-Star Game year after year.

No consensus emerged, although Jason Kidd ... mindful of how a weekend jammed with activities, from making league-mandated appearances to attending late-night parties to fulfilling sponsor obligations, takes so much out of the players ... might have had the most practical solution (and the funniest answer).

"I'd have it Friday instead of Sunday," Kidd said.

As Nowitzki mentioned, some have raised the possibility of changing the format of the All-Star Game, perhaps only on a one-year trial basis, to match the best American players against a team of the best international stars.

"I'm pretty sure David Stern is thinking about that. That's the idea," Anthony said. "The game of basketball has become global anyway, so why not try it? Maybe Stern would try it in the summertime to see how it goes."

Yao played in such a game when he was a rookie in the Chinese Basketball Association, but he indicated that folks in China were particularly disappointed when the Chinese team lost that game to a team of international players.

James endorsed the idea, but Billups disagreed, reasoning that there are only eight or nine legitimate All-Star caliber players from outside the United States and they'd have no chance against a team of the best Americans.

Said Yao: "Maybe you can try it, but if you want to watch those games, why not watch the Olympics and World Championship. Those games are just like the game you're talking about."

Dwyane Wade agreed it would be "an intense game," but there is no clamor or widespread support inside NBA headquarters for experimenting with such a drastic format change, which means the NBA will enter this weekend the same way it enters every All-Star Weekend ... putting on their best show, painting their players in the best light and hoping the All-Star Game itself is what the weekend ends up being remembered for.

That wasn't the case last year and the NBA is keeping its fingers crossed that what happened 12 months ago in Vegas -- especially the anti-climactic game itself -- truly does stay in Vegas.

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.

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