No All-Star tweak can change the fact players don't care anymore

After staging another listless All-Star Game, the NBA’s burning question this week centered around how the league can fix its midseason showcase.

Whether the All-Star Game needs fixing at all is a question in itself. Television ratings were up 20% compared to last year’s record-low, with the NBA claiming record engagement across social media and digital platforms. Further, the issue of competitive integrity in All-Star exhibitions is rarely of concern among North America’s other big four sports leagues.

But as long as commissioner Adam Silver and the league office keep pushing for increased All-Star Game competitiveness, the NBA’s top executives must also come to grips with reality: no formatting tweak can mask the fact players – especially the league’s youngest superstars – don’t seem to care anymore.

“For me, it’s an All-Star Game, so I don’t think I will ever look at it like being super competitive,” Timberwolves phenom Anthony Edwards said following Sunday’s contest, in which a record 397 points were scored and only three fouls were committed. “It’s a break, so I don’t think nobody wants to come here and compete.”

Contrast that with everything we’ve heard from Silver (and even legends like Larry Bird) over the last year and it’s clear the league and its young stars are on drastically different wavelengths. That’s a problem.

Lauren Leigh Bacho / NBA / Getty Images

Ratings and engagement aside, Silver’s call to action is fair. No one’s asking All-Stars to dive five rows deep to keep a possession alive, but there has to be some middle ground.

It’s not exclusively about the scoring totals. Sure, a team cracking 200 points adds to the circus-like feel, but that has almost as much to do with a changing game as it does with Sunday’s pitiful defensive display. The current generation of All-Stars has grown up during basketball’s 3-point and analytics revolution, with players routinely pulling up from the logo and turning long twos into sidestepping and backpedaling threes. The effects of this mathematically sensible revolution are bound to multiply during a low-stakes exhibition contest, with an All-Star Game no stage for the sport’s increasingly sophisticated defenses.

But again, where’s the middle ground? We all understand Anthony Davis’ concern about an All-Star potentially suffering an unnecessary injury, but there’s a big difference between contesting every breathtaking dunk attempt and simply getting into a defensive stance. Can the league’s 24 best players not even be bothered to get a hand up on one out of every two or three possessions?

Where are all the Kyle Lowrys, who took two charges late in the 2020 game, arguably the most memorable moments in recent All-Star history? You can argue no one’s tuning into an All-Star game to see a player taking charges, but the reaction in the Chicago crowd that night – from courtside celebrities to die-hards in the nosebleeds to Hall of Famers on the broadcast – said otherwise. No matter the stakes, that type of energy is infectious, and is exactly what today’s All-Star festivities are missing.

The issues aren’t confined to the defensive end, either, as Luka Doncic’s full-court heave in his second-quarter quest for a 2-for-1 was the perfect embodiment of what All-Star Sunday has devolved into: