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Steve Aschburner

Do Dwight Howard (left), Zach Randolph and other big men need an event on All-Star Saturday?
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Players, NBA legends sound off on some All-Star changes

Posted Feb 15 2010 10:15AM

The 2010 All-Star Weekend, in quantity and quality, appeared to be a resounding success. Lone Star State? More like Lotta Stars State, at least over the span of 72 hours that ended late Sunday night.

Everything about this weekend was big in a way that Texas loves, with a record-size crowd (108,713) in the 10-gallon hat of sports stadiums. Most of the events lived up to their billing as some mix of entertainment and competition. And the actual game on Sunday was better than most, with all the athletic and amusing highlights one expects but with the bonus of a tightly contested finish determined by real basketball plays (MVP Dwyane Wade's steal at 139-139 with 17.8 seconds left, the West team's strategizing in the closing seconds).

"It was amazing -- what an experience,'' veteran Phoenix point guard Steve Nash said. "At the same time, I felt like I was on, y'know, Battleship Galactica or something. It felt like a huge spaceship in there. It's a beautiful arena. There were so many people, but in some ways it didn't feel like it because you couldn't even see them. What a great event."

It was not, however, a perfect event. For one thing, there still is an intensity gap from the NBA's regular product, never mind its postseason offerings, that might be fitting for a weekend of relaxation but doesn't do the league brand justice.

Also, the sideshow events on Friday and Saturday have room for improvement -- the reality wasn't as bad as the possibility this time but the prospect of two interminable minutes worth of false starts and failed attempts in the Slam Dunk contest hangs like a dark cloud over each participant's turn. The selection process could be tuned up to avoid the sort of Tracy McGrady-Allen Iverson "controversy'' that might get folks talking (good for marketing) but can get embarrassing for otherwise great players (not so good).

But from a sheer business standpoint, in the great tradition of shark-like, always-moving-forward American capitalism, All-Star Weekend needs to keep growing or changing just to avoid getting stagnant. Even Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban acknowledged as much in the immediate afterglow of his sport's grandest party.

"It was an amazing weekend. I'm glad we made it through," Cuban said, beaming. "I'm glad it turned out the way it did. I'm proud of everybody involved. Now we've got to figure out how to top it."

Exactly. That's why I hit a spectrum of people -- players, coaches, celebrities -- all weekend with the outwardly simple question: If you could change, add, subtract or tweak one thing about All-Star Weekend, what would it be?

My own suggestion still relates to roster size. Twelve All-Stars per side was plenty when the league was smaller; for a brief period in the 1970s, the rosters were bumped up to 14 players -- times two, of course, East and West -- for a total of 28 players in an NBA of 17 franchises. Today, we get 24 All-Stars from 30 franchises. That's way out of proportion.

One argument against expanding the rosters is that all the Friday and Saturday events provide opportunities for players deserving of some spotlight. Well, yeah, but no one confuses an invitation to jack up 3-pointers or to dribble through cones with the honor of a real All-Star selection.

Another objection is fitting more players into a game fixed at 48 minutes; no one wants to give up his All-Star break only to make a cameo appearance on the court. There's an easy fix for that: Play 15-minute quarters. Boosting the game time by 25 percent would accommodate expanding the rosters to 15 per side. Then cinch up the pre- and post-game coverage to fit it all into the broadcast window already allotted.

But that's just my view. Here are a selection of interesting ones from the weekend -- and for the record, I think Moses Malone is really onto something when he suggests some Saturday event to showcase the league's rebounders and shot blockers the way shooters, dunkers and ball handlers already get their due:

• Hall of Fame center Moses Malone: "Y'know, they've got all these skills challenges, they've got all these shooting challenges they do. They should get a rebound challenge -- a 'tough man' challenge! -- to see who can bang and get the ball off the rim. All these things they do with the guys who make the pass, handle the ball, but the big men do the dirty work. Find a way. A tough rebounding drill. Give the big guys an opportunity to do something -- it's not all about the smalls. Let the big guys try the 3-pointers.

"Or get some of them Legends to shoot with the stars from right now in a two-man shooting contest. Your Legend, he might not be shooting the 22-footer, he might shoot a 15-footer. Get a Legend and an NBA All-Star together. Because we made the game, and we should get an opportunity to do things with them in front of the crowd, because people love us like they love them."

• Nash: "Well, I think you should always be open to change. I don't necessarily have any ideas right now. Basically, you want to give as much content to the people. You want Saturday night and Sunday night to be the highlights of that content. I don't have any suggestions, but we've always got to be open to change. The game speaks for itself, but Saturday night is something that I think will always change, adjust slightly, through the years."

Boston point guard and first-time All-Star Rajon Rondo: "Tweak about All-Star Weekend? Tweak or 'tweet?' No, no, not from this first one. I soaked it up. I didn't miss a single event -- I'm actually kind of tired. I was yawning out there. I've been doing everything, every hour on the hour. Nah, I would [change] not one thing."

• Cuban: "I just made it through this. I'll think about it and come up with something. ... I'm going to sleep. I've got to get back in the gym and start working out again. I eat when I stress."

• Denver forward Carmelo Anthony, when asked about a possible 1-on-1 tournament: "I don't know how they'd fit it in with the events.''

• San Antonio's Tim Duncan: "I say it every year: I enjoy the game very much. [Laughs] I refuse to answer that question. ... Probably a lot less of some things. But you know what, it's a weekend for the fans and it's an honor to be here. I appreciate it on that level.''

Nuggets and West coach George Karl: "The only thing that comes to my mind is, the game has gotten to be more entertainment than intensity. So I would probably drift to 'How could you make it a really competitive game?' It's a celebration. And if the celebration means slam dunks and fancy plays and athletic talent, so be it. But for me, it might be interesting to have two All-Star games and cut the season [into thirds] and have two breaks."

Toronto forward Chris Bosh: "I don't think I'd add or change anything. I think it's pretty good the way it is. That's what makes it unique and that's what makes it great -- it never changes. [A 1-on-1 event?] I don't think that would be very interesting. H.O.R.S.E was enough."

Former All-Star Otis Birdsong, who remains active for the NBA's retired-player association: "It would be kind of hard because All-Star Weekend has been so successful. But if there was one thing, I would try to do something for people who are less fortunate and who can't really afford tickets to the All-Star Game. I think they did that this year -- they sold some tickets at $100 and some others were $150. I would do more of that.''

Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, a regular All-Star attendee: "Maybe I'm the wrong person to ask, because we always enjoy it. Over a 10-year span, we've made about eight of these. We always have a real good time, and I can't tell you where they come up short. The friends, the camaraderie, the events, the pomp and circumstance. ... I would really not change a thing. What I like is the veterans, where they honor them and integrate the legends into today. There's continuity.''

• Music producer Jimmy (Jam) Harris, who also is Kevin Garnett's brother-in-law: "I think they need to go to 15-man rosters, because it's really not fair. The league has grown but they still have just 12 men on the All-Star teams. Then you have people complaining about who gets voted in, who the coaches pick and who gets left out. If people want to see Allen Iverson, they should be able to. Whether it's a farewell [appearance] or whatever.''

CNN newsman Wolf Blitzer, another hardcore NBA fan: "I've been coming for years and I like everything. I like the serious lecture on Saturday. [This year, there was a tribute to Spencer Haywood, a pioneer of pro basketball's early-entry rules]. I like the tech summit. I like the rookie-sophomore game. I like the Slam Dunk competition and the Three-Point shootout. Love this Legends brunch -- it's very emotional. I like the Game. The bottom line is, I wouldn't change anything.''

Former Dallas Mavericks guard Derek Harper, one of the weekend's honored Legends: "You know, this is going to sound clichéd and corny, but just the traffic in general. [Recent All-Star Games in Atlanta, Houston, Las Vegas and even Los Angeles were notorious for their gridlock in the blocks around venues and hotels.] It's very difficult and I don't think there is any way around it because everyone wants to be a part of it. But sitting in lines for hours and hours is not fun. I don't mean to knock it, I think it's been tremendous [having it] here. But in Atlanta, you had to just get off the buses and walk.''

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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