The NBA’s Return to Prominence

Chris Dell'Amore

As a little kid, I would look forward to the NBA All-Star game all year long. To me, I couldn’t tell the difference between a meaningless All-Star game and the NBA Finals, because, to me, they were equally exciting. I always played my cousin in NBA Live 1996 with the Eastern Conference All-Stars. For me, it was incomprehensible that player 23 (Michael Jordan), Patrick Ewing, Reggie Miller and the Big Diesel could all possibly set foot on the court without the court exploding. However, basketball endured some hard times caused by the aftermath of the 1998-99 lockout, Kobe and Shaq’s divorce and the lack of young explosive talents.

However, after this half-decade lull of NBA fanaticism, all the ingredients to send the NBA back to its days of prominence are back. The Lakers and Celtics have revamped an age-old rivalry that this league has been waiting for since the Bulls and Jazz. Talents such as LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Amare Stoudamire and Carmelo Anthony are finally maturing to the point where they are not only seen as spectacular talents but incredible team players. With such talented individuals finally able to supplement the guys that were around in the late 1990s and early 2000s such as Kobe Bryant, KG and Paul Pierce, could it be possible that the NBA All-Star Game could be one of the most entertaining sporting events of the year like it used to be? The answer is most definitely yes.

I’m not alone in my claim either.This past NBA All-Star Saturday enjoyed the highest ratings in the day’s 24-year history. TNT enjoyed a 12% growth in the television audience from last year’s telecast.

Of all these events, the most entertaining was definitely the Sprite Slam Dunk competition. The competitors consisted of the 5’9″ Freak, Nate Robinson, as well as Dwight Howard, Rudy Fernandez, J.R. Smith and a cameo-performance from LeBron James. Dwight Howard sought to improve his Superman performance from last year as he changed into his Superman costume in a telephone booth. Howard then went on to throw down an emphatic slam on a 12-foot hoop that riled the crowd. When Nate Robinson disappeared before his performance, everyone wondered what the little man had up his sleeve. He came out wearing a green Knicks uniform with a neon-green arm sleeve holding a neon-green ball, pronouncing himself, “Superman’s Kryptonite,” and announced that he would then dunk over Dwight Howard. Robinson then took the ball and dunked over the 6’11” Howard en route to capturing the dunk crown.

The NBA All-Star Game was kicked off by the Big Shaqtus’s introduction. Shaq came out with the famous dance crew, the Jabbawockeez, and performed one of the most hilarious dances that I’ve ever seen. Shaq took off his warm-up pants and danced to hip-hop music while wearing an undersized white phantom mask. Fittingly, Shaq’s performance mirrored his dance skills as he wooed the crowd with his finesse play as the only 7’1″ point guard in history. In one play, Shaq passed the ball through Dwight Howard’s legs to teammate Chris Paul. Paul then passed it back to Shaq as he skied to the rim and dunked on a perfectly executed give and go play. His play earned him co-MVP honors with Kobe Bryant. One of the best tandems in NBA history reunited for possibly the last time ever, and each player scored 27 and 17 points, respectively, as the West dominated the East 146-119. The two were previously on bad terms last year after Shaq’s freestyle rap video was released. In the video he was quoted as saying, “Last week Kobe couldn’t do without me….Hey Kobe, tell me how my ass tastes?” However, the two have renewed their vows of friendship since then. When asked about their newly revamped friendship, Kobe responded, “We are not going to go back to the room and watch Steel Magnolias or something like that.”

This is great, the All-Star Weekend brings the inner-children out of these professional athletes that are forced to focus on winning all year long and nothing less. Their vibrant personalities wonderfully complement their unparalleled skills on the court, and that’s what the world needs. Rather than Dennis Rodman dressing in wedding gowns, we have Shaq doing urban-techno street dances and modern-day Lex Luther vanquishing Superman. Aside from the non-existent defense in the All-Star game, the stars looked to make the best offensive plays possible as they slammed and shot the lights out in Phoenix.

Are we back? Can kids growing up in 2009 look towards the NBA All-Star Game with the same star-struck eyes that I did over a decade ago? The talent, camaraderie, rivalry and entertainment are all there. A new day in the NBA has come where we no longer have to worry about Isiah Thomas making one of the most prominent franchises worse or questioning if Allen Iverson will show up to “practice.” Instead, we enjoy comedic relief from people such as Shaq who claimed that Bill Walton was in violation of the Big Man Pecking Order Code Ordinance 2257 where his “resume is not good enough to speak on what Shaq has done.”

In essence, the NBA All-Star Weekend has become a moment in time where each side competes, entertains and enjoys the recognition for their athletic prowess. These are some of the variables that have caused the All-Star Game to enjoy the large recognition it’s receiving. Although I no longer get to watch John Stockton maneuver through L.J. and dish to Shawn Kemp, I can grow used to pick-and-rolls with Shaq and Chris Paul. I love this game.