Sports Opinion & Analysis

NBA All-Star Weekend: Why I Watch

In NBA on February 15, 2013 at 10:30 am

By Jeff Weyant

“At least I’m playing, Dwight!”

Basketball has always been about intimacy. Nowhere else among the Big Four sports will you see this. Or this. Or this. It’s because in basketball the fans are literally and metaphorically closer to the players. The players, on their side, wear less clothing, their faces are readable for the slightest emotional changes, and there are less of them to pay attention to. The fans, likewise, receive high-fives, tackles, punches, spittle, and racial slurs from the players on a nightly basis. This doesn’t happen in the NFL, the MLB, or the NHL, mainly because it’s impossible. The players are either too far away or bundled up under pads and helmets (like people in fat suits) such that they’re basically invisible. There are moments of fan interaction in these other sports, naturally, like when a wide-receiver scores a touchdown and jumps into the stands to receive ritual and congratulatory punishment from people wearing his team’s jerseys or when an outfielder flips a third-out fly ball to a kid with an outstretched glove. But in the NBA, every possession has the potential for this sort of experience, and often it delivers.

Public image is (seen by David Stern to be) a problem in the NBA – corn rows and tattoos and the aftermath of the Malice at the Palace – and for this same reason February’s annual All-Star celebration is often wildly successful. Because basketball players are closer to fans than in any other sport and so what they do and say and look like matters a great deal. Thus All-Star Weekend every year is like a regular season game in which the intimacy and the importance of that intimacy is augmented a hundredfold. And since All-Star Weekend, in any sport, is an attempt, among other things, to heighten intimacy, and the NBA already has a leg up in the destruction of barriers between fans and players, their annual All-Star festivities are naturally the most enjoyable and the most popular.

Not only is it a celebration of the game’s best players and talents but it’s also an opportunity to actually see those players more often and from a closer perspective. You get to see them in interviews for three straight days, you get to see them in events that involve activities not always available in a regular season game (or at least with the same frequency), and you get to see them hanging out with each other for a weekend, just like you and your friends watching at home on the couch. In basketball, much more so than football, baseball, and hockey, you get to see them in the arena where the fans sit, doing fan things, reacting to what’s happening on the court like fans would, yelling and screaming and high-fiving and basically carrying on like anyone would given the opportunity to sit courtside at a game featuring the best players doing the best things.

“If I make this I get free milkshakes. If I make this I get free milkshakes. If I make this. . .”

In what other sport could you see Deron Williams marveling at Dwyane Wade in the skills competition? Where else would Kobe Bryant hold up giant cards emblazoned with “10” across the front when Gerald Green does something amazing in the dunk contest? And in what other universe would Justin Bieber crossover the US Secretary of Education only to get blocked by Michael Rapaport?

Of course, there are needling problems with the enterprise, such as the reality that NBA All-Stars are, in a lot of other more practical ways, far removed from everyday fans at home on the couch watching with friends. They’re rich, tall, beautiful, healthy, and popular, and most of us are not even two of those. We’re just the residual effects of our parents copulating years ago. We’re not world-conquering behemoths who influence fashion, sport, and finance all in the same weekend. In fact we actually have a vested interest in not caring about All-Star Weekend because we’re basically supporting the very people who have a political motivation to make our day-t0-day lives worse. We’re probably worse off in the long-run by feeding any money at all into the NBA’s inevitably corrupt upper-echelon of Stern and his lackeys, the owners.

But human beings have a long history of shooting themselves in the feet in order to get some sort of short-term benefit. All-Star Weekend is one of those short-term benefits. Because it’s just a shitload of fun to see these weird, famous millionaires do everyday stuff that you and I assume weird, famous millionaires don’t do because they’re weird and famous and possess millions of the same thing, even if there are lot of reasons to be reflexively suspicious about spending time and money in the endeavor.

So with the trade deadline looming, All Star Weekend will be filled, as usual, with lots of speculation and rumors about any number of teams and players. There will be forced hilarity between Stuart Scott and the majority of other human beings. But there will also be that wonderful mixture of everything that’s great about sports: seemingly inhuman creatures forced, for at least a few moments, to be human after all (for an example of which, see below). Which is why I’ll be watching.

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