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by John Cardullo, sports writer
It may be time to reevaluate these useless exhibitions and end them. These events happen in most cases in the middle of each season, and in one case it takes place as a buffer between the last playoff game going into the sports championship game. It also has been scheduled after the big game. What am I referring to? Professional All-Star games.
“Made for television events” are to appeal to advertisers and to promote the industry to a sports-crazed public, but as of late the sports crazed public has appeared to grow tired of these events and stopped tuning in to watch. So, the question now is, are these games/events relevant and necessary?
Let us begin with the sport called the Mid-Summer Classic, Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game. For the players selected or “voted” in by the fans, there was a monetary reward for making it on to the team, but there was a time when the American leagues played against the National leagues for pride while bringing the sports biggest names together to break up an endless ongoing season.
Cobb, Ruth, Gehrig and Williams were mainstays, and the actual game marked the halfway point of the season. The first baseball All-Star game took place on July 6, 1933 at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, the home of the Chicago White Sox. What has evolved is a “stuff the voters’ box” popularity contest that not even the big market teams care about anymore.
Having the game played in a major hub in the middle of the country made travel easier for the players who were named to play in the game (there were two All Star games played from 1959 to 1962). As interest in the game began to fade, Major League Baseball began reinventing the game into a three-day event featuring a home run hitting contest and a skills competition. The game was getting so boring and irrelevant the Commissioner of baseball came up with the idea that the winner of the All-Star game will determining the home team for the World Series, with the American League or National League. The Home Run hitting contest began as a popular event but fizzled when it was discovered the bats and balls that were used for the event where altered and that the pitchers were throwing basic fastballs right down the middle. During the age of players using performance enhancing drugs the game and event itself became a side show and what was a primetime major network must see TV, turned into a back-cable TV channel find-it-if-you-can nonevent. As far as the game itself the coaching staff were hesitant to use pitchers for fear of injury, so the pitchers were throwing basic fastballs over the center of the plate and big named players chose not to play in the game or event attend the event altogether, opting to take the days off as a mini vacation from the game.
The NFL’s Pro Bowl game could not decide when they wanted the game played, the week leading up to the Super Bowl or the week after the Super Bowl. Originally the first “All-Star” game was held in 1939 when an All-Star team was created to take on the defending NLF Champion, the New York Giants. It then evolved to where a College All-American team would play the past year’s champion. As the years went on the game was altered to its current format.
Having it take place in the middle of the season would not be an option for the fear of a play-off contending team losing a key player to injury. The biggest problem with the event is that the two teams involved with the Super Bowl have no players playing in the Pro Bowl game. They were either involved in the Super Bowl prep or wanting to take much needed rest and recovery time. By not having those players participating in the All-Star game, the game stood out like a beacon.
The NFL being the money machine that they are, they came up with a brilliant draw for the event by holding the game in Hawaii every year. The idea was who could resist a free trip to Hawaii? But the game itself was a no defense, no action, snooze-fest for the average fan. Offenses became basic and defenses were restricted to non-factors, by not allowing blitzing and special defensive plays to be incorporated and as in baseball the Pro Bowl is televised on hard-to-find networks at different times. Making it a fan-friendly exhibition is the NFL experience where the average fan gets to do some of the drills the NLF player does. But the NFL tries to gain interest by having their own skills competition which nothing more than the players just doing their jobs.
The National Hockey League had their first All-Star game ironically on October 13, 1947, which is when the season begins now. Hockey players play a rough and tumble style, and it is not in their nature to pull back, but over the years when they realized that in the business of the sport the bigger picture is getting into the playoffs, so the event was moved to the middle of the season, giving the players a mid season break as well. Over the years the game itself was modified with checking and physical play discouraged.
As with the other All-Star events in the forementioned sports, a weekend event was created which included skill competitions including the “hardest shot”. The NHL has always been the “throw in” when it came to the major professional sports scene. The sport is a non-stop roller coaster, players physically throwing themselves at one another with disregard to their own well being and a sport where players would drop their gloves and square off in a fist fight, to the delight of the fans in the stands.
The sport of hockey has always been a hard sell to those non-hockey fans and always have been perceived as a cold weather geographical sport that belonged to Canada. But hockey has experienced a huge growth as the sport migrated to the southern states and across to the west and now even has a team in Las Vegas. Thanks to the fact the NBC has joined forces with the NHL, the sport has never been as popular as it is now, and this is the All-Star event where interest has grown for the average fan.
So, let us move on to the All-Star sport that has tried to gain interest, only to fail, the NBA. In 1951 the NBA held their first All Star game, the team selected by the coaches and owners sent the best players from each team annually, and played in dark, dirty gyms and arenas, not the glamorous basketball epicenters of today.
The NBA went through a major growth spurt in the 1980’s when Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan transformed the sport to a prime time must see event. The All-Star event was again held in the middle of the season to break up the rut that the players would get into, but it was during the Bird vs Magic era where the players transformed the event into an extension of the rivalries that began in college. As much as Michael Jordan affected the game, it was Bird and Magic or Magic and Bird that dominated the sport. Weather it be the NBA finals or the All-Star game or even the regular season games, when they played each other the fans watched.
The NBA recognizing this and decided to parlay this popular rivalry by creating a 3-point shooting contest, when the 3-point line was new to the sport, and then the slam dunk contest which brough the fans to their feet while watching the dunks get more and more creative and thunderous. As the game changed, primarily (because of the 3-point line) from a creative sport to a run and gun shoot from the hip style, where players that stand over 7 feet tall take shots from beyond the 3-point line (where have you gone Wilt, Kareem and Bill?), the NBA’s 3-point competition became uninteresting to watch and the slam dunk competition was as equally as bad. Really what is being done that hasn’t been done repeatedly for years?
The NBA had a problem on their hands. Nobody was interested in watching their product and the lack of ratings were showing. To pump up the faltering ratings of the sport, the NBA brain trust decided to scrap the East vs West All Star game and reinvent it to a glorified pick-up game. They had the sports two biggest names choose their own teams. LeBron James and Kevin Durant selected players to be on their teams. Like what these two stars have done with their regular teams, LeBron James has assembled his merry band of All-Stars at every stop that he has made in the NBA. Recently with the defending NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers, Kevin Durant has done the same with the teams that he has been on. To no one’s surprise there was no defense played in the game, virtually no passing and basic basketball skills which was evident in the 170-150 final score in LeBron’s favor.
Out of all the professional sports, it seems they have lost fans’ interest but none as much as the NBA. The interest in this sport is at an all-time low and for the “All-Star game” it seemed that no one tuned in. It is time for each of the professional sports to take a hard look at themselves and ask if it is worth having these All-Star events. As the years pass by, the “if you have it, the fans will watch” mentality has been proven wrong. The fans have been drifting away and not returning and that should be a red flag to all these sports.
Perhaps the time has come to stop these All-Star games and give the players and fans alike a break because they have become boring and most have become Must NOT See Events.