NBA All-Star Weekend: 5 Observations and a Plea for More Barkley

In the spirit of full disclosure, I feel like I should tell you that I chose not to stick around Houston for the NBA All Star Game and it's peripheral festivities (up to and including the transformation of the Galleria into some kind of three-story clown car on Saturday) this past weekend.

As a broadcaster/media member, I was "off duty" for the weekend, and as a human being I didn't really feel the need to gravy train my way into a bunch of parties and tweet pictures of myself with celebrities acting like I actually hung out with them for longer than the four seconds it took to snap the picture.

I did enough of that at the Super Bowl two weeks ago.

However, I did watch all of the events that mattered on television over the weekend, and have a few observations:

5. The biggest celebrity in the Celebrity Game on Friday was Ryen Russillo's bald spot The first event of the weekend involving a basketball took place on Friday evening at the George R. Brown Convention Center, as a couple dozen of the most obscure names to qualify under the banner of "celebrity" went to battle in what always qualifies as two of the most awkward hours of television all year. And after forty minutes of B-level hip hop artists destroying (or attempting to destroy) the kid from The Hunger Games with Queen Latifah looking on (read that again, and then imagine my self-loathing after watching the whole fucking game), all anyone wanted to talk about was ESPN radio host Ryen Russillo's ample bald spot:

Just to be clear, I've actually met Russillo before (at the Oklahoma-Notre Dame game in Norman this past October) and he couldn't have been a nicer guy, but I dredge up these tweets because (a) every talk radio host who was jealous that Russillo was playing in that game was ecstatic to see that he's been hiding that wide-open space on his scalp for the handful of years he's been on television (His radio show is simulcast on TV on ESPN2.), revealing a seeming level of denial that we all have about something, and because (b) Russillo, as it turns out, is physically an amalgam for about 98 percent of us in sports talk radio -- a little pudgy, a little bald, a little awkward, and very white. It was like we were watching ourselves. (To be clear, if that was me, I'm not sure I liked what I saw; I hope Russillo doesn't ever make a sex tape, my confidence will be shot.)   4. Kenneth Faried won the Rising Stars game MVP because he actually tried In a Friday "none of the players gives a shit" appetizer to the "none of the players gives a shit" main course on Sunday, the various rookies and sophomores on Team Charles and Team Shaq put on such a wretched display of laziness and an utter lack of defense that the last two minutes, no joke, actually saw all of the players on both teams clear out and let the big time dunkers stage a de facto dunk contest with the actual game clock running.

Look, we all accept that the defensive effort level in these games will be practically nothing, but I think most of us want the framework of the event to resemble an actual game. The fans -- well, the 100 or so who stuck around to the end -- didn't seem nearly as entertained as the players themselves were. It was basketball masturbation of the highest form. Kudos to Denver forward Kenneth Faried for taking home MVP honors in the game with 40 points. Of course, Faried was the one player who was playing at regular-game speed the whole game, so giving him the MVP of that game was like giving Yi Jianlian the MVP of the workout video where he just dribbled around a bunch of chairs.

One serious suggestion to amp the effort level from "nonexistent" to "semi-consistent sweat broken": Right now the teams are selected from a pool of rookies and sophomores by TNT studio fixtures and NBA legends Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal. It's an effort to cross promote TNT's top-notch studio show, and have Kenny Smith break both of their balls for horrific selections, I get it.

But I think if they actually gave ownership of the selection process to the two best players in the game (This year it would have been Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving), I think the players would feel a little more emotionally invested. At least the leaders of both teams would and maybe that trickles down. Again, it probably doesn't turn it into Game 7 of the NBA Finals, but it probably keeps it from degenerating into what we saw Friday.

3. Shooting Stars and skills contests have the randomness of a game of pop-a-shot I'm sure the tickets for the Saturday-night events cost a pretty penny and the price is largely driven by two events -- the dunk contest and the three-point shooting contest. For some reason, the league feels like they need to pile on a couple of other events, either to market more of their stars or to give us the illusion we are getting our money's worth. The Shooting Stars and skills competition are these events. And here's the thing about each of them: boiled down, each is just a completely random shooting contest:

-- The Shooting Star contest consists of four teams each containing a current NBA star, a WNBA player, and an NBA "legend." The winner is the team that makes a layup, a foul shot, a three-pointer and a half-court shot in the shortest amount of time. Sounds simple, right? Well, it is, however, what happens is that the first three shots are so easy for these teams to make that the winning team is basically the one that can make a half-court shot the fastest. And since a half-court shot is way more luck than skill, what does this contest prove? (Answer: Who cares, I guess.)

-- The skills contest, on the surface, seems like one that is set up to justly reward a player who exhibits the greatest dribbling, passing, and shooting chops, i.e. the most skilled player. However, the dribbling and passing portions are such fifth-grade rudimentary bullshit that the contest just boils down to the person who can make a foul line set shot the fastest. (To be clear, this year, I had no problem with that as my Damian Lillard +300 prop bet hit!)

My suggestion: next season, just cut out the window dressing of actual events and wheel a pop-a-shot machine to center court and let the players play that for fifteen minutes.

2. "As many shots as he's made in this building? Are you kidding me??" TNT announcer and former NBA nuisance Reggie Miller said this after former Rocket Robert Horry couldn't knock down a half-court shot to clinch what should have been an easy Shooting Stars win. (Truth be told, Horry couldn't even hit the backboard. Watch it.) One problem, Horry never played for the Rockets in Toyota Center, so he actually has taken very few shots "in this building." And if it looks like I'm nitpicking, well, it's Reggie Miller. I'll happily nitpick.

1. The dunk contest is the biggest abortion this side of the Charlotte Bobcats I hate, HATE, being "back in my day" guy, but it's not even up for debate -- the dunk contest was a billion times better back in the late `80's. And it's not just because the stars of the game (Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, etc) took part in the contest back then. That's part of it. But the format was far superior to today's dunk contest.

On Saturday, we had to sit through multiple dunkers taking up an entire 90-second shot clock (plus stoppages!) and not converting a single attempt. It was a total crowd killer. In the `80's, if a contestant missed a dunk, that was it for that round. No mulligans. So there was tension and focus with each dunk attempt. (Yes, kids, all of those dunk contest specials that we saw highlights of all weekend of Jordan and Nique and Spud Webb and...yeah, those were all dunks those guys converted on one try.) Seriously, I implore the NBA, try it the old way next season. It'll be a thousand times better.

The one saving grace in the dunk contest, as usual, was Charles Barkley's commentary. Somehow, some way, Chuck manages to make entertaining mundane stretches like James White repeatedly dribbling balls off of his knee for two minutes. I'm convinced if we let All Star Saturday just take on its own natural evolutionary energy that in about twenty years it would just consist of Charles sitting at center court with an open microphone ridiculing mankind.

And after this past weekend, I would be good with that.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at

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