So what can we take away from All-Star Weekend?

The battle between Kevin Durant (left) and LeBron James became the story of the 2012 All-Star Game

Kevin Durant and LeBron James going head-to-head in the All-Star Game itself was the highlight of my weekend. Each scored 36 points and anchored their teams’ offense. The athleticism on show by both men, surely the two leading contenders (along with ‘Bron’s East teammate, Derrick Rose) for MVP honours come post-season, was just as incredible as their ability to get to the rack with ease – even if the All-Star Game isn’t exactly a defensive Mecca. James’ careless late-game turnover shouldn’t blemish his performance over 48 minutes, in my opinion.

The All-Star Game is a tradition as old as organised sport itself in the major leagues of North America. The first NBA season ran through the winter of 1947-8, and the first All-Star Game arrived in 1951. Ever since, it’s been the ultimate individual honour for a player to be named to the All-Star teams, representing their teammates, their cities, and their conferences.

I’m a fan of the All-Star Game. I got a huge kick out of seeing Gerald Wallace represent my Bobcats (first all-star in franchise history) in 2010, even if he hardly played and didn’t do much. It’s a great measure of not just the players, but also the teams, whose stocks are rising among league coaches and, for the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge and Luol Deng this year, gives deserved recognition to players who all too often get overlooked.

Unfortunately, 21st-century America is torturing the All-Star Game, forcing it to drag behind it the ever-greater burden of more new crappy events and sponsorship opportunities. Yes, the All-Star Game (hereafter ASG) is an unmovable institution – but All-Star Weekend (ASW), as far as I’m concerned, can go to hell.

For whatever reason, it only dawned on me late on Saturday night that I had missed the Rookie Chall- sorry, the BBVA Rising Stars game, and was in the process of missing the likes of the Haier Shooting Stars, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Sprite Slame Dunk and Foot Looker 3-Point Shootout contests. Of these four, there’s maybe one I’m bothered about and I’ve only watched highlights of the 3-point event.

The dunk contest is dead. It has been since the night back in 2008 that Dwight Howard put that Superman cape on. Ever since, the Dunk Contest – once-upon-a-time purely a test of a player’s creativity and athleticism, has been all about who has the best novelty factor. Nothing else. Think of recent winning dunks. Nate Robinson taking some 20-odd attempts to land a dunk, and beating Andre Iguodala’s incredible off-the-side-of-the-backboard finish because he’s 5’9″? Howard and the cape? Blake Griffin dunking over a car? He just jumped forwards!!

The Rookie Challenge will never be the same now that it is no longer a rookie challenge. The whole point was that it assembled old college rivals together for a what-if game to find out how they would fare against the previous year’s intake. The Rising Stars game will probably still catch my attention next year, just because these young bucks are fun to watch, but there’s even less defence played than in the ASG and just watching endless dunks and layups gets boring eventually.

The rest of ASW is utterly unnecessary. Mercifully All-Star H-O-R-S-E appears to have died, but still, what are we left with? How much interest does the Skills Challenge actually entice, when the competitors aren’t even going full-pace in the final round and the whole thing takes ten minutes? The Shooting Stars game is quite a nice idea – but again, it’s too short to build up interest and watching people demonstrate set-shots seems a bit too similar to the 3-Point Shootout.

Kevin Love took the Foot Locker 3-Point Shootout crown (Getty)

The 3-point contest used to be my next favourite part of ASW, after the ASG itself, but now I’m not even sure about that. These guys are basically shooting on a darkened practise court. I figure scores in the 20s should be the norm, not low-to-mid teens. Kevin Love is now officially the NBA’s best 3-shooter, at least for this year, and he didn’t shoot 50% in either round. As for the Celebrity All-Star Game, I’m not even talking about that. What a horrible idea.

It’s not even that ASW is not that entertaining. I find, now that it’s Thursday and I’m getting ready to watch my first Bobcats game in a week, that I’m kinda angry at ASW for getting in the way. It’s been four days (the League had Monday off) of trade talks, angry-Dwight interviews, happy-Dwight crowd announcements, and basketball-based distractions that have seriously detracted from what was turning into a fascinating lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. Games the rest of this week will not be played at the same pace and with the same cohesiveness that they were last week, purely because there seems now to be a concerted effort to get everyone in the NBA involved in some sort of event at ASW.

And that’s my final gripe. Involvement. Not players – fans. I’ll give you a couple real quick reasons – Allen Iverson making the All-Star starting five in a season he played 3 games; Yao Ming making an All-Star starting five in a season where he played no games at all; Blake Griffin beating Love and Aldridge to the PF start for the West this year; fan voting in Dunk Contest vote-ins and the final results. I am convinced that in the next 2-3 years Commissioner David Stern will let fans vote for the ASG MVP, and then LeBron or Kobe will win it every single year until Jeremy Lin gets in.

How do we make ASW loveable again? Trim it. Radically. Get it down to two days, with a bumper Saturday featuring the dunk contest, 3-point shootout (no-one will be bold enough to ditch those) and the rookie/rising stars game. Sunday, have the ASG, and maybe move the D-League All-Star Game into the bill as the warm-up act.

No more Shooting Stars or Skills, no more celebrities. Cool off the entertainment – we don’t need that much. Ditch the sponsors. Ban fans from voting for anything, ever again – they’ll only screw it up. Keep Kenny Smith’s party out of the TNT coverage… somehow. Make the whole thing about the players again, like it used to be. Then, maybe, this distraction can still be entertaining.

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