NBA All-Star Weekend: Rising Stars and the Celebrity Game - The Guardian (blog)

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John Wall of Washington Wizards at 2012 NBA All-Star Weekend

All-Star weekend is All About The Dunks: Blake Griffin had the score of the night during the Rising Stars Challenge and here John Wall of the Washington Wizards gets in on the act too. Photograph: Mike Ehrmann/Getty

This season's All-Star Weekend is the strangest one the NBA has put on in years. Because of the lockout, the 2011-2012 season isn't even two months old and this weekend's events are shoehorned in an already crowded schedule filled with back-to-back games.

Because the NBA is holding All-Star Weekend in Orlando, Magic center Dwight Howard has become, in All-Star game tradition, the de facto host for a city he's determined to be traded from, which is like being asked to hold a neighborhood party while you're packing for a big move. Heck, the All-Star Game's biggest draw this year wasn't voted into the All-Star Game and will not even participate in the Dunk Contest.

That player, of course, would be New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin who did however participate in the Rising Stars Challenge which kicked off Friday night's All-Star festivities, unless you count the Celebrity Game, which I don't. I have boycotted watching even the "highlights" of the NBA's Celebrity Game until they actually recruit celebrities. This year's game MVP was something called a Kevin Hart, whose horror show of a filmography says he's appeared in the most painfully unfunny movies of the last decade. Well, last year the game's MVP was Justin BIeber, so I suppose it could have been worse.

The good thing about the NBA All-Star Weekend starting with the Celebrity Game is that after watching D-List celebrities and washed up former ballplayers make a mockery of the game, you're a lot more eager to watch talent, young players competing against each other. The Rising Stars Challenge was a revamped version of the Rookies/Sophomores Game, instead of pitting the first-year and second-year players against each other, former superstar players and current TNT analysts Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal handpicked teams that were a mix of both players.

While these young players might, at least right now, lack the name recognition of Sunday's true All-Star Game participants, there's a case to be made that they were a more fun group to watch. Not only did the team feature buzz-friendly, headline grabbers like Jeremy Lin, Ricky Rubio and Blake Griffin (also an All-Star Game starter), but it also liberated great players like DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall and Kyrie Irving from their middling teams and subpar supporting casts.

Unfortunately, the Rising Stars Challenge shared the same problems with most All-Star exhibition games. There was no way to even fake rooting interest in the game, unless you bet on the game (which means you're likely a problem gambler) or really hate either Barkley or Shaq (which is understandable). Plus, because the players didn't even attempt to play defense, the game offered no true drama, it was essentially a scoring contest disguised as a team game. The game ended with Team Chuck defeating Team Shaq 146-133. That's not even an acceptable score for a Golden State Warriors game.

The Rising Stars game did feature several standout moments which made it all worthwhile. Cleveland Cavalier Rookie of the Year frontrunner Kyrie Irving captured the game's MVP award after going eight out of eight at the three-point line.

Detroit Piston Greg Monroe flat out stole the ball from Washington Wizards point guard John Wall in a moment far funnier than any film featuring Kevin Hart. The game's two best moments involved Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin who unleashed two separate dunks that temporarily broke Twitter, the first from Jeremy Lin and the second from Ricky Rubio. These are the kind of moments that justify the entire existence of All-Star Games, despite the complete lack of intrigue.

Blake Griffin at NBA All-Star Weekend Blake Griffin dunks. Photograph: Mike Ehrmann/Getty

As Team Chuck coach Maurice Cheeks said, "it's what All-Star games are, there's not a lot of defense". There's no real motivation for players to get physical in a game that doesn't really mean anything, and, despite what Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig would try to sell you, exhibition games should never "count" for anything in the real world. The best a fan can hope to get out of All-Star Games are isolated moments of greatness they would never get to see in the regular season. This is why events like Saturday's Dunk Contest, and to a lesser extent the Skills Competition and Three-Point Competition, are often more exciting than the games themselves. Free from the flat out lie that the players are participating in a game of consequence, these events simply showcase individual acts of athletic prowess. After all, no one, not even its participants are going to remember the score of Friday night's Rising Stars game, but nearly everyone who watched will remember "Rubio, between the legs, to Griffin for the dunk".

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25 Feb, 2012

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