The NBA showcase known as the All-Star Weekend unfolded in Philadelphia this past Saturday and Sunday. If you happened to have missed it, consider yourself fortunate.

Modeled after Major League Baseball’s All-Star events, with its home run contest and celebrity/old-timer’s game, the NBA leads into its All-Star game with a slam-dunk contest, a three-point shootout and a new event called the “Hoop-It-Up Challenge.” While there were some eye-catching moments, the real challenge was sitting through the entire series of preliminaries.

All-Star Saturday

The slam-dunk contest has enjoyed a rich history that includes former champions such as Julius Erving, Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins and Spud Webb. But the event has become virtually obsolete over the years, and it can no longer survive on its past glories.

Nowadays, almost everybody can jump out of the gym, and there is hardly anything new about the once-spectacular windmill, reverse or alley-oop jams. Being so ordinary, the contest no longer attracts the prime-time players it once did. Instead, unheralded bench players are offered brief shots at stardom.

But what’s really wrong with the contest is that it does not remotely resemble any type of action that a fan would see in an actual game. The “run-ups” to the dunks are so exaggerated that they would not only invite a whistle for traveling but should tally “frequent-flyer miles” as well. Add to that the use of blindfolds and folding metal chairs and you get a picture closer to backyard wrestling than pro basketball.

Finally, the reliance on subjective judges is simply not basketball. In real games there are no style points. Commissioner David Stern should collect the videotapes of great dunk contests from the past and lock them in the NBA archives vault, next to the grainy black and white films of the two-handed set shot from the ’50s. It’s over.

A new event added to this year’s weekend was the Hoop-It-Up Challenge. Current and former NBA players were teamed up with WNBA players and celebrities for a 3-on-3 tournament. It was less than spectacular to watch an event which current Laker point guard Derek Fisher and former Laker great Magic Johnson did not even feel worthy of taking their warm-ups off for.

While at some point this event may have seemed like a good idea, in the end watching Justin Timberlake dribble down the lane was about as pleasurable as listening to Dikembe Mutombo rap. Again, this event had no air of reality about it. A better idea would be for the NBA to keep the same format, but invite true “street-ball” legends from the neighborhoods of the host city. That type of action would produce real basketball, as well as draw major interest from the home crowd.

The one preliminary event that still holds up is the three-point shootout. It is an old-fashioned, winner-take-all shooting contest. It resembles what every kid has experienced in his/her own school gym or rec center. The rules of the competition remain simple ? the player who can hit the most shots in a limited amount of time is the champion.

It is real basketball because the three-point shot is just that. While they don’t have to deal with pesky defenders or a hand in their face, shooters do race the clock, mirroring actual game conditions. This year Peja Stojakovic won, needing overtime to defeat Wesley Person. The only downside to the contest was listening to TNT analyst and former NBA star Charles Barkley’s outlandish, outrageous and downright bizarre commentary on the air.

As pleasing as Sir Charles was to the eye during his playing days, he can be just as repulsive to the ear in the broadcast booth. He rarely provided any insight and repeated himself more than George Foreman calling his sons to the dinner table.

Boring game

The game itself, which rarely looked anything like regular season action, had few highlights. Aside from a notable pair of Tracy McGrady dunks ? which, by the way, would have won the dunk contest ? the game was chock full of matador defense and over-passing.

In the end, the most disappointing image left from the weekend was the utter disrespect the fans of Philadelphia displayed toward their native son, Kobe Bryant. A local high school legend, Bryant is the son of former Philly fan-favorite Joe “Jellybean” Bryant.

Fans embarrassed the city of Philadelphia, the NBA and themselves by booing the Laker guard throughout the game.

Sure, Kobe came into the First Union Center last June and crushed the 76ers in the NBA Finals. At that moment, he abdicated his hometown boy status and became a temporary villain. But in a setting like the All-Star game, all bets are off and every player should be given the respect he has earned by being chosen as a member of the NBA’s elite.

The booing lasted from pre-game warm-ups to his acceptance of the game’s MVP award. After the game, a visibly disheartened Bryant admitted that the crowd’s response upset him. This is not the first time that obnoxious Philadelphia fans have brought dishonor to the city and its sports teams.

These same fans booed baseball Hall-of-Famer Mike Schmidt, and the first round selection of Eagles starting quarterback Donovan McNabb. They threw batteries at J.D. Drew as the former Phillies top draft pick took his position in the outfield for the St. Louis Cardinals and cheered a serious injury to former Dallas Cowboy receiver Michael Irvin. These fools even booed Santa Claus.

After some ridiculously conceived events and absurd behavior from the Philadelphia fans, this year’s NBA All-Star Weekend left much to be desired. Perhaps the league should take a look at what went wrong and make sure nothing like this happens again.

Gerton can be reached at mgerton@campustimes.org.



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