Page 2 columnist
What's the statute of limitations for a column about All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles? Four days? Seven days? Two weeks? Twenty-four hours? Does anyone even care anymore?
Well, we're about to find out. After attending just about every event and taking a few days to reflect, I came up with 10 things that I would definitely change about the NBA's showcase event. And just to be clear -- I love the NBA. I will defend it to the death. I just feel like the weekend could be better, that's all. Every aspect should work as well as the All-Star Jam Session does.
Anyway, my 10 changes, in no particular order ...
1. Pull a Steinbrenner with the prize money
Would LeBron pass up the Dunk Contest if the winner earned $500,000? Would everyone in the Rookie-Sophomore Game play defense if the winners received $100,000 per player? Would Stevie Francis be throwing up those ghastly alley-oops on Sunday if the winners received $250,000 each?
Here's the point: Money talks. These guys aren't risking embarrassment or injury for what they could make playing poker on a four-hour flight. None of them wants to look bad, and most of them value the parties over the actual events. Fine. So let's bribe them.
For instance, Fred Jones earned a whopping $25,000 for winning the Dunk Contest, which turned out to be nine times less than Dennis Rodman won for "Celebrity Mole" four days later. To recap, Freddie submitted one Pantheon Dunk (the one where he stretched back for the one-bouncer near the rim) and outlasted Jason Richardson -- one of the three or four best dunkers of all-time -- while Rodman outwitted Corbin Bernsen and Angie Everhart with a blood-alcohol level that was higher than my freshman-year GPA. And Fred gets stiffed with 25 G's? How does this make sense?
With more Benoit Benjamins on the line, we wouldn't see so many players going through the motions every year. Take Saturday's 989 Skills Challenge, the NBA's latest attempt to emulate the runaway success of NHL All-Star Weekend. Oh, wait, nobody cares about NHL All-Star Weekend.
Anyway, they ran point guards -- including Baron Davis and Stephon Marbury, who had a "Does anyone know when the first party starts tonight?" intensity about him -- through an obstacle course that looked vaguely reminscent of the ones they use in dog shows when the border collies cruise around at warp speed. Everyone looked bummed out -- players, announcers, even the groupies. Watching Marbury dribble around cones at half-speed, my buddy Joe House and I ended up having the following exchange:
Me: "This would be much better if these guys were stoned."
House: "Who says they aren't?"
Is this REALLY good for the NBA? Why not open the vaults? Like the sponsors wouldn't line up? Please. And imagine the drama as Peja Stojakovic lines up for that game-winning money ball on the final rack ... and there's $200,000 at stake instead of what the average second-year player shells out in monthly child support payments.
2. Change the Slam Dunk Contest (again)
Forget about the prize money for a second. Four contestants aren't nearly enough. You need at least six, preferably eight. You need 10 judges, not five. There should never be a player over 6-foot-9, because they never win -- not even my man Chris Andersen (who's like a mutant Christopher Walken). Guys should be trading dunks on both sides of the court, so there's less standing around between attempts. And there should be an inset camera focused on Dikembe Mutombo at all times.
The biggest problem: How the current system penalizes players for attempting difficult dunks -- like when Jones nearly blew the title with those ill-fated alley-oops from the stands, making him look like he was being consulted by Grady Little. Shouldn't you be rewarded for trying to entertain the fans, not penalized? Why not have blown dunks count as a minus-three for your next score? Miss three dunks, you can still get a high score of 41 for your next one. Problem solved.
(Or we could keep the old system, and fans can leave muttering stuff like, "That couldn't have sucked anymore, it's not possible" and "I can't believe I just wasted four hours of my life" -- actual quotes overheard in one of the men's rooms in the Staples Center after All-Star Saturday.)
3. Put me in charge of restructuring the weekend
Nobody in the NBA ever listens to me. It's really frustrating. I'm about two more crappy All-Star Weekends away from getting into NASCAR or something. And you think I'm kidding.
Only four events should be salvaged: the Dunk Contest (revamped, as described above), the Three-Point Contest (always enjoyable), the Celebrity Game (ditto), and the wildly-flawed Rookie-Sophomore Game. (We'll tackle that later.) That's it. Then you need to inject some new blood into the proceedings.
Sure, we couldn't use all of my ideas. Maybe the "Head Case Legends Game" is too obscure. The "Posse Game" (Shaq's posse against Iverson's posse) could get someone shot. Nobody would play if we changed the Celeb All-Star Game so every player had to be under 5-foot-7. An All-Rehab Game (rehabilitating players take on players who are actually in rehab) is a pipe dream. Same with a Groupie All-Star Game where the winner gets to sleep with LeBron James.
But these four could work:
H-O-R-S-E: I wrote an entire column on this subject two years ago. Nobody listened. Nobody ever listens. You think "Dream Job" would have unfolded like that if anyone at ESPN had consulted with me? Poor Tony Kornheiser almost slit his wrists on the air Sunday night.
(I give up. I should just move to Alaska or something.)
The High Dunk: Another idea I've been pushing for years ... this one plays like the high jump, only we keep raising the rim higher and higher for the participants. Whoever successfully dunks at the highest height wins the prize money.
(Oh, and you wouldn't be riveted by this? More importantly, who would even win such a contest? I honestly have no idea. Kevin Garnett? I don't know. This really needs to happen.)
The Half-Court Challenge: Two teammates (Mobley and Francis, Nowitzki and Nash, etc.) have two minutes to make as many half-court shots as possible. None of them can launch one until the previous shot has hit the rim. Highest total wins.
(Again, you wouldn't be riveted by this? More importantly, have you ever watched NBA players screwing around at practice and stuff? They love launching these things. They would be clotheslining one another to be involved.)
The Poison Pill Showcase: Watch the players with the most ludicrous contracts in each conference going head-to-head, with honorary coaches Rick Pitino and Scott Layden manning the sidelines. If they don't want to play, we reserve the right to void your contract!
(Imagine the introductions, as the announcer says things like, "In the final year of a seven-year deal that pays him $45.5 million ... from the Atlanta Hawks, Alan Henderson!" and "Unable to play tonight because of a bum knee, he's making $69 million over six years ... from the Boston Celtics, Raef LaFrentz!")
4. Create and enforce "Bad Pass Penalties"
Know how certain All-Stars decide that fans prefer crazy no-looks and dangerous alley-oops to a competitive game ... even if those passes have a 20-percent chance of being successfully converted? We end up enduring games like this year's contest, where some guys are playing hard -- Iverson, Duncan, Kidd, Kobe and KG, to name five -- and it doesn't matter because everyone else plays like an ass.
Of course, with bigger money purses, maybe Stevie Francis wouldn't bounce 15 no-looks off the basket support. But just in case, let's make a rule -- anyone who throws a gawd-awful pass in traffic that has a 0.005-percent chance of being completed is immediately benched. I mean, immediately. Like that alley-oop Brad Miller threw in the first half that landed 20 feet away from his nearest teammate? He's banished until halftime.
One other note here: Watch a tape of one of the games from the '80s some time. In the classic from '87, there's one stretch where Isiah and Magic go coast-to-coast on four consecutive possessions. Rolando Blackmon ended up sending the game into OT with two free throws at 0:00, arguably the most underrated free throws in history if Doug Collins hadn't nailed those two against the Russians in '72. Tom Chambers ended up winning the MVP. Unbelievable game.
Anyway, watch that tape. Watch how competitive that game was, then compare it to what we're seeing now. Because there are many things to love about All-Star Games. Like, who gets the ball during the biggest possession? (This year it was Duncan.) Which 10 guys are playing at crunch-time? (No surprises this year, save for Ray Allen.) Who's playing the hardest? (Always Kidd, Kobe and Iverson.) Did anything interesting happen down the stretch? (Yes -- with the East needing a three to tie, Flip Saunders inserted Andrei Kirilenko, who promptly shut down T-Mac and didn't even let him get off a shot.)
See, I love finding out these things. And it's hard to concentrate on them when half the players think they're playing for the Harlem Globetrotters. I can't be alone here.
(Along those same lines ... )
5. Let's save the Rookie-Sophomore Game from itself
Does this even resemble basketball? What sport is this? Nobody plays defense, everyone's looking to convert alley-oops, players are jogging back and forth ... at this point, they should just play on the nine-foot rims from "Above The Rim." This event offends nearly every reason I ever liked basketball in the first place. I always imagine Red Auerbach flipping channels, stumbling across the game and watching for 15 minutes, eventually clutching his chest and keeling over into a heap.
So here's how we fix it:
A.) Increase the prize money, as we mentioned already. Also, the losers are immediately sent home and don't get to attend any parties all weekend.
(Note: I think we just made the game competitive.)
B.) BPP's (bad pass penalties) are in full effect -- any gawd-awful, alley-oop pass in traffic results in an immediate benching, plus you don't get to meet Jay-Z after the game.
C.) Anyone who dogs it on defense gets benched and has a spotlight placed on them for the rest of the half, like Steve Martin eating by himself in "The Lonely Guy."
D.) To avoid any more blowouts like the one this year, we have Danny Ainge sitting courtside. Any time one of the teams goes up by more than 15 points, Danny immediately starts trading its best players for LaFrentz, Jiri Welsch, Chris Mihm, Michael Stewart and Chucky Atkins (all sitting courtside, with Raef on crutches, of course).
6. Only allow a capella versions of the National Anthem
Really, who wants to hear Christina Aguilera singing with a drummer? It's our National Anthem! Find someone with a set of pipes, have them belt that baby out, and tell the pilot to turn off the "No Goosebumps" sign. It's that easy.
Some other quickie rules I would suggest:
7. Make some merchandise that fans may actually want to buy
Know how some actors protest about politics or animal rights? This could become my cause. Whether it's the Super Bowl, the Final Four, any All-Star Game or whatever, you can never find nice-looking T-shirts. You can rarely find decent hats. It's like every sport goes out of its way to make the crummiest merchandise possible.
Well, I've had it. Is anyone in charge of this stuff? Can we fire the guy who keeps greenlighting giant letters on the back of T-shirts? What about the guy who talks everyone else out of simple, unassuming logos for hats? Or the woman who pushes for ski caps, yet only in colors nobody would ever wear? Or the guy who okays the long-sleeved T-shirt with letters on the sleeves? Or the woman who wasted thousands of man-hours designing the hideous $2,000 All-Star leather jacket that always ends up being worn by a strip club manager?
You know what? Let's fire them all. When it comes right down to it, if there isn't one simple, understated T-shirt available that fans can wear without feeling like a tourist on a cruise ship, then everyone involved has failed. Miserably.
8. Have NBA TV simulcast the All-Star Game
So when TNT is showing commercials, NBA TV could air the live Jumbotron footage that fans are watching. Believe me, if you didn't attend Sunday's game, you missed a ton of good stuff. For instance ...
A.) Governor Schwarzenegger's cameo, when he spoke to the crowd and heroically attempted to shatter the Unintentional Comedy Scale as we know it. The mere sound of Arnold's voice provoked scattered giggles throughout the stadium, especially when he urged out-of-towners, "Welcome to Coddy-fornia!" and "We vant you to come hee-ah ober and ober ag-ane!" People were in various states of shock as they watched the latest episode of California's ongoing sitcom, "My God, I Can't Believe He's Our Governor."
B.) Jack Nicholson getting the loudest ovation -- wearing sunglasses, holding a drink and looking like there was a 40-percent chance he had no idea where he was.
C.) They stayed on Nick Carter and Paris Hilton for about five seconds too long -- it's like the cameraman was trying to decide who was more in the bag. By the way, I can't imagine what those two would talk about other than "Where are we going tonight?" and "Are you ready to leave yet?" and "Did you remember to buy condoms?"
D.) The only celebrity who was booed? Poor Dr. Phil, who was sitting with his son. Ouch. The booing would have been worse, but half the crowd couldn't decide whether it was him or Jeffrey Tambor.
E.) Star Jones's boyfriend proposed to her after the third quarter. It was the perfect match ... I'm talking about her and the Jumbotron.
F.) They showed Elliott Gould and identified him, but refused to acknowledge the guy sitting next to him: Chris Noth. That has to be the lowest point in Mr. Big's career, right? Not only does he get snubbed, he gets snubbed for Elliott Gould. I would have started drinking. Heavily.
9. Ban WNBA players from any and all events
Hey, here's a newsflash: Something involving the WNBA isn't working! Jeez, I can't believe it! You're kidding me?!?!?! This league has the Midas touch!
Here's the thing: They had every right to start a women's hoops league. It's a free country. After six years, TV ratings have been microscopic, roughly 250 teams have either folded or relocated, and nobody gives a crap. That's just the way it is. The people have spoken. But since the NBA owns the league, they keep shoving the product down our throats -- endless commercials during games, a staggering amount of promotion, millions of dollars down the tubes. And still, nobody gives a crap. This is a whole other column.
Anyway, to keep subjecting us to WNBA players on All-Star Weekend, tossing them into contrived events that invariably end up embarrassing everyone involved ... how does this make sense? What am I missing here? Instead of promoting the league, it makes fans want to dislike it even more. How does this help anyone? Do we need to stage a massive intervention? Should I start organizing one? Just say the word.
(Speaking of interventions ...)
9a. Ban Magic Johnson from any and all events
I don't know him, but here's what I would say:
"Magic, you're one of the 10 greatest players in the history of the sport. We love you. We want to look back fondly on the good old days -- no-look passes to Worthy, coast-to-coast drives, baby sky hooks, Showtime fast breaks. Unfortunately, it's tough when you're participating in events like "The Radio Shack Shooting Stars," and you're easily pushing three bills, and fans are saying things like, 'Boy, they should have let Magic wear jogging pants.'
"Look, Larry doesn't play in these games. Neither does Doc or MJ. This should tell you something. During that Shooting Stars event, the other NBA 'Legends' involved were Terry Cummings, Steve Kerr and John Salley. Apparently Paul Mokeski was caught in traffic. Again, this should tell you something. Walk off into the sunset. Please. We're begging you."
On the bright side, Magic's participation led to three moments of inspired comedy:
(Wow, clear off the mantle in Magic's house! Put those three MVP's in the closet -- the 2004 Radio Shack Shooting Stars trophy has found a home!)
(On second thought, maybe Magic needs to keep showing up to these things.)
10. Change the voting process for Sunday's game
Anyone arguing that the East needed a second center over LeBron, or that Carmelo wasn't having a good enough season ... well, you're missing the point. Stick LeBron and Carmelo in the game and here's what happens: Ratings go up, ticket prices go up, everyone watches, the entire game becomes about them. Last time I checked, these are all good things.
Five years from now, nobody will remember who played in the game, just that LeBron and Carmelo were left out. Isn't this game for the fans?
So here's an easy solution: Fans still pick the starters, only coaches choose six reserves instead of seven. For the 12th players, the Commish gets a "Hammer Pick" for each conference, doesn't have to explain his selections, and that's that. This would give the league flexibility to pay homage to retiring stars -- like Stockton and MJ last year -- or any rookies who simply need to be involved. And if nobody fits those qualifications, then just pick the best two players and move on.
Easy solution, right? How could anyone be against this? And who would love swinging two Hammer Picks every year more than Dar Kommissar Stern? Maybe the unexpected rush of power would even encourage him to grow his cheesy mustache back. We can only hope.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine, as well as one of the writers for "Jimmy Kimmel Live" on ABC