Did NBA commissioner David Stern take some time to watch the NHL All-Star festivities this past weekend? I sure hope so.
It may sound like I've taken one too many pucks to the head, but I think the NBA could learn a thing or two from the NHL.
I can already see all you hoop heads puffing out your chests. "Learn from hockey? I guarantee you the NBA All-Star Game gets better ratings than the NHL's!"
You are 100 percent correct. Last year's NBA All-Star Game drew a 6.2 rating, while this year's NHL game earned 1.1. The NBA has a larger fan base and basketball is a sport perfectly suited to an All-Star format, so it's no surprise that Stern's midseason fiesta outdraws that of NHL commish Gary Bettman. But the ratings reflect the sport's popularity more than the quality of the product.
Look at the Pro Bowl. The NFL may be the undisputed heavyweight champion of American sports, but the league's annual flag football match is an absolute joke. The most entertaining part of Sunday's broadcast was Drew Brees' attempt to drop-kick an extra point. While I don't know a single person who enjoys watching the Pro Bowl, it still drew 12.5 million viewers. That's a testament to the strength of the NFL, not the entertainment value of the game played at Aloha Stadium on Sunday.
The NBA's annual celebration of alley-oops and matador defense is without a doubt the most entertaining of the All-Star Games, but there's still plenty of room for improvement. Which brings me to the NHL's festivities this past weekend in Ottawa.
The NBA, whose All-Star starters will be announced Thursday, should take a page from the NHL playbook and adopt the All-Star Game fantasy draft.
Sayonara, East & West
Quick, tell me whether the NBA East or West All-Stars have more wins all-time.
(Silence more silence.)
Time's up. It's the East, with 36 wins to the West's 24. I can't blame you for not knowing. Who really cares which half of the league is historically better in an all-offense, no-defense pickup game?
It's time to get rid of the tired East-versus-West setup and make things a little more interesting. How'd you like to watch LeBron James and Dwyane Wade face off? What about a little Kevin Durant versus Russell Westbrook? How about seeing Chris Paul send a perfect alley-oop pass to old friend Tyson Chandler? Or Joakim Noah and Al Horford running the floor together again like they did back in Gainesville?
These matchups would be possible if the NBA adopted the NHL's All-Star Game fantasy draft.
Hockey has spiced up its past two All-Star weekends by allowing team captains to pick the rosters, just like on the playground back in the day. Players elect two captains (last weekend it was Zdeno Chara and Daniel Alfredsson) and the league selects an assistant captain for each team (Joffrey Lupul for Team Chara and Henrik Lundqvist for Team Alfredsson).
On Thursday night, the All-Stars loaded up on hair gel, got decked out in their finest suits and tried to look pretty for the cameras and the captains. Fans got to see players' reactions and hear their comments as they waited to be selected in the lounge backstage. One by one, jerseys were handed out -- hockey's version of "The Bachelor." Finally, one man remained: the Sharks' Logan Couture. He got a new car for being the last guy picked, but he also earned the well-intentioned ridicule of teammates and fans.
Just imagine the same setup in the NBA
A red-sweatsuit-clad Blake Griffin picking against a taking-it-way-too-seriously Kobe Bryant (who no doubt used cash deliveries and/or threats to earn his fellow All-Stars' votes). Wade and Chris Bosh backstage, colluding, er, hanging out with old friends from other teams. Kevin Garnett in the corner talking smack to a wall, Lamar Odom recording a confessional for "Khloe & Lamar" and Kris Humphries slumped in a chair, trying to figure out how zippers work. And, of course, the gloriously awkward shots of basketball's biggest divas (ahem, LeBron) left backstage to simmer as lesser-known players are selected before them.
The fantasy draft is a fantastic way to show off player personalities, set up never-before-seen matchups and add another level of behind-the-scenes access to the game's superstars. It's time for the NBA to follow the NHL's lead and step into the future.
After 61 years, it's time to make a change. Here's hoping Stern is listening.