Oversized All-Star Game misses the point

By Jonathan Feigen, The Sports Xchange

This had to happen. Some marriages are inevitable, as if destiny would never allow anything to interfere.

In the celebration of excess that is the NBA’s All-Star weekend, the league and all that descend each year on its annual midseason bacchanalia, the NBA kept pushing itself toward this mind-blowing height.

To that, it finally added Mark Cuban. And along with Cuban came Jerry Jones. Limits had to be squashed.

No amount of stretch limousines the length of school busses or diamond-studded medallions the size of hubcaps could live up to what was possible when Cuban brought the All-Star game to Jones’ Death Star of a stadium in Arlington.

Dwyane Wade’s MVP performance Sunday night —28 points, 11 assists — in the East’s 141-139 over the West just wasn’t enough for the NBA.

This time, the NBA wanted extremes to reach record levels, and better still to do it with something somewhat related to basketball.

So they moved the show — along with Usher, Alicia Keys and even Shakira swiveling in a cage — out to Cowboys Stadium and brought in 108,713 people to set a record for attendance at a basketball game, as if the mix of Jones, Cuban, the All-Star weekend and even Dallas itself needed such previously unfathomable extremes.

That’s fine. The NBA got its record. Cuban and Jones got to do something bigger and grander than had ever been done before. The NBA got everything it wanted out of an event in which everything had never seemed to be enough.

Now, never do this again.

This is not to say it was not spectacular. You cannot help but stare at the scene. But it is like one of those All-Star weekend parties where people squeeze in next to one another, unable to move, but scream "This is great" while VIPs relax in a special room somewhere nearby.

It was the place to be, without any doubt, and nothing else really mattered.

"It was unbelievable to be in front of 108,000," LeBron James said. "That was actually what it was. That was not a false number. You could look up in the stands, and there was not a seat open. To be part of history is something that you always wish and dream for."

Before the game, players came out early to shoot, not only to get a feel for playing in a covered Grand Canyon, but to begin looking around. They stared at the incredible 180-foot long video screen. Even during the game they kept looking away from the court and toward the crowd.

"Some of the guys came up to me before the game and said, ‘This is unbelievable,’" Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki said. "It was amazing how many people came out to support us and see this game and be part of history. We needed a win at the end kind of to top the whole thing off. But other than that, I had an amazing weekend and I will always remember this."

Now that the league has set its record and enjoyed its show, however, it needs to get back to basketball.

This was not a place for basketball. The stadium is a sight even when it is empty. The crowd was amazing, but so is just walking around the place. You never felt the crowd. You could hear the cheering but never feel it. It was like being locked in the men’s room at a rock concert. You can still hear the music, but it cannot move you.

Basketball is not football. It is not about fans filling a stadium and watching from afar.

The NCAA tournament’s Final Four works better in domed stadiums. They allow the NCAA to get fans into the building among all the coaches and sponsors. And the games then are, like football, about the rooting interests, the result.

NBA basketball is more intimate, about the individual greatness, especially in an All-Star Game. And fans are a part of basketball. They see the athletes as they cannot in other team sports, and the athletes are affected by them.

In Cowboys Stadium, it felt like watching on television, which might explain why most people were.

The All-Star weekend, for all its festivities, is still at its best when it is about the basketball and the basketball is its best. We can get the highlights every year. They do like to put on a show and rarely fail. But the games are best when they turn back to basketball, driven by the competition and not the spectacle.

The players did their part, but this was all about the spectacle.

No one seemed to mind. They were part of something big and all had a hand in setting a record. That’s fine, just this once.

Next year, they need to get back to the real thing. It might not be as big, but it’s better.