This weekend, the NBA will descend upon Salt Lake City, Utah. It’s the biggest weekend of the regular season, as the NBA All-Star Game and everything that comes along with it is finally here. It gives players and coaches a break from the grind of the 82-game sprint to the postseason, and it gives fans a number of events that they look forward to watching on a yearly basis.
Ahead of this year’s weekend, we decided to look at the six events — Friday’s Celebrity Game and Rising Stars Challenge; Saturday’s Skills Challenge, Three Point Contest, and Slam Dunk Contest; Sunday’s All-Star Game — and rank them from best to worst. The worst one, by design, is the Celebrity Game. As for the best? We’ll get to that shortly, but for now…
6. Celebrity Game
I do not need to explain why the Celebrity Game is bad, in large part because the NBA (or ESPN, my memory is a bit fuzzy) has already done this for me. In 2019, the All-Star weekend took place in lovely Charlotte, North Carolina. This remains the only time I went to the see that, as dril once so eloquently put it, the celebs were at it again. Before the game, there was a video package that made fun of how bad the whole thing is. Just a lot of misses, a lot of turnovers, a lot of watching failed U.S. Senate candidates from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania dribbling a basketball off of their foot. Having said all this, it does seem like everyone is in on the joke, and there is something to be said from that (this is also why I love the event with my whole heart). NBA, if you ever want me to do the Celebrity Game despite the fact that I am decidedly not a celebrity, DM me.
5. Skills Challenge
It’s fine? I guess the problem with the Skills Challenge is it’s pretty boring, because it’s not like we’re watching NBA players do anything that’s especially difficult for them. Every now and then you get a not great shooter bricking some threes, or a big fella who’s not quite as tidy dribbling the ball as Chris Paul, but on the whole, the event is just kind of a thing that exists, even if it’ll occasionally add some fun twists like whatever the heck they did with the course last year. Ultimately, the Skills Challenge is an appetizer to what comes later in the evening on Saturday, so it is does its job.
4. Rising Stars Challenge
Does the Rising Stars game suck 99 percent of the time? Yes. Did last year’s version of the event absolutely rock and lead me to believe there is something potentially really, really fun here? Also yes. Adding the Elam Ending and G League Ignite players combine to add some drama to the whole thing, which seems impossible, because it’s the Rising Stars game. I’m putting it here based on potential, but two things: 1. It can fall down to 5 very easily (not 6, because the Celebrity Game exists), 2. The gap between the top-3 and this is considerably large.
3. Slam Dunk Contest
Alright, hear me out. When the Dunk Contest is good, it is the best thing. For my money, there has never been a thing at an All-Star weekend better than Vince Carter’s Dunk Contest performance in 2000. But the issue is the Dunk Contest can be really, really, really bad at its worst. The fact that last year’s Contest was most notable for Cole Anthony taking six hours to throw on some Timbs and Jalen Green doing an NFT dunk(?) is a good example of this — here’s a very upset Stephen A. Smith saying all the things that everyone said in the arena and on social media while they watched the whole thing.
There’s also the fact that we’re seeing less star power than ever in the event. This year: Mac McClung, Trey Murphy, Kenyon Martin III, Jericho Sims. Last year: Anthony, Green, Obi Toppin, Juan Toscano-Anderson. At the 2021 All-Star weekend which was impacted by COVID: Anfernee Simons, Cassius Stanley, Toppin. You have to go back to the famous 2020 contest where Aaron Gordon and Derrick Jones Jr. dueled (and sparked a judging controversy) for a really memorable one that had names that drew fans in (beyond those two, Pat Connaughton and Dwight Howard participated). It feels like the event is losing some of its luster, which knocks it down a bit, especially compared to…
2. Three Point Contest
The Three Point Contest is the best thing on All-Star Saturday night. For years, the Dunk Contest held this crown, but as the years have gone on, this event on the undercard tends to be much better at delivering big names and drama. As the NBA (and the sport of basketball, really) has become more and more defined by the ability to hit threes, the Three Point Contest has become a showcase of the single most valuable skill in the game right now. And because the title of “best shooter in the world” is so coveted, the guys who participate legitimately care about putting on a show.
It also does a wonderful job mixing the people who are the best at that skill with some of the biggest names in the game — prior to Anfernee Simons getting hurt, four of the six players with the most made threes in the league this season (Buddy Hield, Simons, Damian Lillard, Jayson Tatum) were in the field. The last two winners, Karl-Anthony Towns and Steph Curry, are All-NBA caliber players. The whole event is just fantastic, keeps finding ways to get more and more entertaining, and has become the best part of Saturday night.
1. The All-Star Game
Two additions, the Elam Ending in the fourth quarter and teams that are picked by captains, have brought the game to a new level. There’s even an added twist on that second thing this year, as the captains will pick their teams live and in the arena prior to the game. That rocks! I am glad they’re doing this, it absolutely takes an already fun thing and makes it even more fun. I am saying this in part because I am a contentsman and this, potentially, helps us with the whole traffic thing.
Anyway, the All-Star Game hits on every note. It’s a celebration of the game and its best players, obviously, and the league has done a good job turning it into a spectacle that goes beyond basketball. People like Common and (this year) Vin Diesel have introduced players before the game, there’s a halftime show that has increasingly involved more and more artists, etc. And every now and then, you get something like last year’s NBA 75 celebration, which is one of the very best things the league has ever done. It’s the weekend’s main event for a very, very good reason.