Improving NBA All-Star Saturday Night
NBA experts offer modifications to the dunk contest, three-point shootout and other events.
Dunk contest rules
Players have met their physical limitations in the contest, so they’ve resorted to props. In the Hall of Great Slam Dunk Contest Moments, few will care to remember players spinning a wheel to choose their dunk or guys blowing the candle on a cupcake nestled on the back of the rim. Fans need tangible improvements to the event.
The NBA tried a dunk-in last year by having the Clippers’ Eric Gordon and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan dunk for the right to participate in the real thing. From there, the four players had to each complete two dunks in the first round, with a two-minute time limit affording them as many misses as they could handle. That’s not how it should work, according to Clarence Gaines, a former NBA executive. “Forget the multiple chances to pull off a great dunk,” Gaines wrote in an e-mail message. “I say one and done.”
Beadle agreed. “It’s almost like you need to have a moat with alligators waiting [around the basket], and if you can’t pull it off, you’re done.”
Jaymes Harris, CEO of The League, a basketball shoe and apparel company, also thinks players get too many chances to miss a dunk. “You should get only one miss,” said Harris, who played basketball for the University of Texas-Arlington. “It should be best two out of your three dunks that should be scored at the highest. And I think it should go back to the old layup line look. When I used to dunk, this guy in front of me did a dunk and it was like ‘Whoa’ and you start getting pumped up. There’s too much time in the middle, in the sense players sit down and get cold. It’s kind of anti-climatic when the next person goes.”
The fact only four players are included was also met with criticism. Harris said more players should be included in the dunk contest. Sacramento’s Francisco Garcia said having four dunk contestants is “too boring.” Warrick, while conceding each player should get only two or three dunks for the entire contest, said there should be six contestants.
Warrick’s teammate, Jared Dudley, recommended that players pick the contestants. “You can always decline and move forward,” Dudley said. “It’s a little different when your peers pick you to dunk.”
Harris added that the scoring system could be revamped. He said more suspense could be introduced by showing each contestant’s score only at the end of each round. That way, players might have less incentive to go for a “safe” dunk in order to advance to the next round. “One person dunks, the next person comes up and they do their dunk,” Harris said. “They get one miss and then they get to do it again. But they don’t show the scores until the end of the third dunk and they go to the next round.”
The scoring scale should also be widened, particularly at the low end, according to Ceballos. “You still get a 5 for missing a dunk,” he said. “You got to have a full range of the numbers.” It’s hard to argue that point when merely good dunks receive a 10 from the judges, most of whom are former dunk contest participants.
Beadle can solve that latter issue. “Bring in some Hollywood actresses to be judges,” she said. Olivia Wilde and Blake Lively raising the scoring cards? Who’s opposed to that?
Another idea from Warrick was to have non-NBA basketball players compete in the dunk contest. “There are some dunkers out there not in the NBA,” Warrick said. In fact, the dunks performed by players at the Sprite Slam Dunk Showdown Friday night were arguably more impressive than anything the Saturday dunk contest has seen in years. “Put them in the contest,” Warrick added. “I think fans would love it.”
One last thought for dunk contest improvement was that players should be able to modify the environment around them. That was the recommendation from Ed O’Hara, a senior partner at SME, a branding firm based in New York City. He pointed out the NBA’s issue with Howard dunking on a 12-foot basket during the 2009 dunk contest. “It’s the slam dunk contest — it doesn’t have to be so operationally oriented to the real game.”
Washington’s Javale McGee, who will throw down in Saturday’s dunk contest, claimed no rules are inhibiting the players this year. McGee explained he’s worked with Chris Webber, his dunk contest coach, to “show my length, show my athletic ability and really excite the crowd.”
McGee also had something to reveal about what dunks you won’t see him perform on Saturday. “I don’t want to do a windmill or a 360 or anything like that,” McGee. “No Statue of Liberty. I’m trying to do stuff people haven’t seen in the dunk contest. There are some stuff people don’t think I can do.”
There exists the possibility that all this talk of the dunk contest and All-Star Saturday Night needing improvement can be overblown.
“For all the people who complain the dunk contest has become tired and mundane, every year that seems to get the people to talk the most, that still draws excitement,” said Richard Deitsch, a writer and sports media analyst for Sports Illustrated. “This year, Blake Griffin is in, so you have some buzz from that. When a small guy wins, like Nate Robinson, people seem to get excited.”
Last year’s All-Star Saturday Night, broadcast on TNT, drew a 3.1 rating, according to Nielsen data. That’s about 5.5 million viewers. That was a step down from the 3.9 rating TNT drew for 2009′s Saturday Night show, but on par with the 3.1 rating drawn in 2008. Those aren’t great numbers, but the night of events has an inherent problem with the fact it’s played on a Saturday.