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Monson: NBA All-Stars should honor the game that makes them great

Published February 21, 2017 6:00 pm

NBA • The game has never been known for defense, but lack of real effort turned Sunday's game into a bore
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I don't dislike the NBA All-Star game.

I hate it. I hate it for what it's become.

I watch it because it's a part of the job, but I can't stand it.

Not because it's a bad idea to honor basketball's best players. That's cool and all. Even if those pregame intros on Sunday were just a tad bit over the top, with each individual on the roster highlighted, and then the starters popping out of the floor like the demigods they seem to be. Not to mention the attendant music and Hollywood crowd on the edges of everything.

All of that adds to the hoopla, the vibe, the atmosphere. John Legend is a talented guy and his halftime performance was enjoyable … a lot more enjoyable than what happened before and after.

Ask yourself why you became a sports fan in the first place. Your main reason, I'm guessing, was wholly absent in New Orleans. We all became fans of sports because we loved the drama, the spectacle of competition, not the spectacle of the spectacle.

And that competition went missing from start to finish.

That's not exactly breaking news when it comes to NBA All-Star games. They've often featured some of those missing pieces, all in the name of individualism and showmanship, tracing back to long before that moment when Kobe Bryant waved off Karl Malone's pick to allow his Kobe-ness to demonstrate the full range of his selfish abilities. We all know, it's been going on for years with many different players.

Sunday took that unfortunate phenomenon, a characteristic that killed any hint and all forms of competition, and fired it into hyperdrive.

Players were out there on the floor and on the bench, goofing and laughing, seeming to have a great time.

But it wasn't funny.

It was disrespectful to the game and even worse, it was … boring.

Nobody played defense, a fact that was no more evidenced in the final count — West 192, East 182—- than it was on every trip down the floor, when players simply moved out of the way to allow the next dunk. Here's the thing, though, there is no dunk that hasn't already been done. What makes a dunk — or any other great athletic play — memorable and extraordinary, what moves people to stand and applaud the spectacular, is when it is done straight in the face and force of an opposing accomplished athlete trying to stop it.

The fact that Anthony Davis rose up for slam-dunks off alley-oops, completely uncontested, again and again and again, cheapened the play the first time and, especially, the 20th time. It's the resistance that makes such things special.

And there was no resistance.

Sunday's All-Star game was like watching the Globetrotters take out the Generals. The only difference was nobody threw a bucket of confetti at anybody's head.

Gordon Hayward looked lost out there, even though he was trying to play along, trying to forget everything he had ever been taught to do on the court. Malone would have hated the whole thing. Gary Payton? Joe Dumars? Sidney Moncrief? Robert Parrish? Dennis Johnson? Ugh.

What would Rudy G. have done had he actually been selected to play in this mess, a contest in which there was peer pressure not to play any defense?

I'm not back-in-the-day dude. These modern All-Stars are remarkably talented, as talented as the NBA has ever had, with the possible exception of the players going during the seasons immediately surrounding the 1992 Dream Team. It's not that.

And it's not a case of a sourpuss writer with no sense of humor complaining about a bunch of premier pro athletes having some harmless fun before the final 25 games of a grueling regular season, and an even more grueling postseason.

No. It's a matter of the best players on the planet cheapening the game that makes them great by not playing it the way it is at its best — with force at both ends. How many times can observers get a kick out of watching Steph Curry chuck up a 45-footer as it caroms hard off the backboard and onto the floor? Even if he makes the shot, it's nothing they haven't seen before.

If he does it in the middle of a game that has some snarl and bite to it, now we're talking. Defense has never been the calling card of any All-Star game, but a decade or two ago, there was enough competitive pride not to simply part the floor so LeBron could throw down one more bit of silent thunder.

In seasons ahead, it would behoove the NBA, and the athletes at the pinnacle of it, to play some authentic basketball here, to stop the giggling and the laughing and the joking long enough to give the fans more of their greatness, a real taste of that greatness, honoring the game by playing it the way it's meant to be played.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM. Twitter: @GordonMonson.






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