The Best Part Of The All-Star Break Is The Break
11:24 AM EST on February 17, 2023
The NBA began its week-long spring break this morning, a time for everyone to reflect upon the central fact that the All-Star Game gets in the way of everyone's good time. No, not because this year's game is in Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City is perfectly fine. Every team goes there at least once a year to eat and drink and play and, barring the curse of back-to-backs with Denver the night before or after, find ways to unwind. It’s fine.
It's the game itself, obviously, and the skills competition that precedes it, a two-day drag so profoundly gray and tedious that by comparison your stereotyped vision of Salt Lake City is the Dalmatian coast by comparison. Even the picking of the teams by captains LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo as though this was schoolyard game may not come off as intended since Giannis sprained his wrist last night in Chicago and likely won't play. Hell, he might not even come now, meaning the league would have to find a replacement captain, and please let it be Kyrie Irving, please please please please please.
It is now a given that the only valuable highlight of the weekend is Adam Silver explaining yet again that none of the problems the league has have simple or all-encompassing fixes, and that those solutions that do exist are not always consistently applied. At least he still bothers to answer questions semi-directly as opposed to the oatmeal holograms employed by the NFL and Major League Baseball. Maybe Silver should wear a jaunty hat to spice up his appearance, but low bar that this is, at least he gives it a go.
The All-Star Game indeed gives a chance to reflect upon the fact that five of the 10 starters are either on different teams than they were when the voting ended, out with injury, or both. In addition to Irving moved from Brooklyn to Dallas, and Giannis (status as yet undetermined), Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Zion Williamson are out, and reserve Joel Embiid just announced how he's been playing injured for a month or so and probably could use some shutdown time. When 20 percent of the cast is missing when you're trying to celebrate the traditional 71.8 percent-point of the season, you're going to have a bit of a letdown.
But that's the All-Star Game, too. The fun begins and ends in learning who got invitations and bleating about those who didn't. They're called snubs by the traditional/do-it-because-we-always-do-it editor class even though in most cases the people doing the complaining rarely can identify the player who should be replaced to make room for their particular favorite.
Frankly, this is all going to be a celebration not of basketball but of LeBron, who has been a captain in all five of the All-Star Games using this format, and his team has won all five. Based on this alone, it is hard to understand why the Vegas books make James's team only a two-point favorite, since if there is a fix to engineer, it can only go this way. Besides, only lunatics bet the money line on this game, and only true gambling heroes (read: car-crash rubberneckers and degenerates) bet the total, which is more fun and according to covers.com is 323. Only three regular-season games in NBA history have hit that particular over and they went four, three, and three overtimes, so you're talking about waning levels of resemblance to the sports you're used to watching.
So yes, the game's a drag, the skills competition is largely a place for people in witness protection, and a bunch of guys you'd want to see will be wearing civvies. So what's in it for you?
Well, there's this. With barely a quarter of the games still to play and all but the four most devoted tankers (listed by proximity to hell) Houston, San Antonio, Detroit, and Charlotte still with things to play for, the load-management stretch of the year is nearly at an end. The games are finally important enough for teams and coaches to take a slightly shorter view on health maintenance. While this seems cavalier to the point of being inhuman, all sports are largely based on the disregard of the limits of the human bodies of our most physically gifted young people in search of an arbitrary goal (the amusement and enrichment of not very amusing billionaires). When the games matter, the players play even if the best they have is 80 percent of normal. The NBA could do all a service by lengthening the season so that there will never be a need for back-to-backs again, but while it persists with this scheduling, load management is a necessary way to preserve the asset (we're speaking to the owners in the only language they comprehend here).
Load management, and this week off. Because while it comes late in the regular season, the All-Star break actually comes at near the direct midpoint of the actual season, which starts in mid-October and ends in mid-June. This week off is a great idea. It's a pity that there is a big bloated bag of nonsense at the center of it.
And no, that's not a shot at Salt Lake City either.