For years, the MLB All-Star Game lived up to its label, the Mid-Summer Classic. It afforded both American and National League fans an opportunity to watch baseball greats from the opposing league, something they could otherwise rarely do. Interleague play, introduced in 1997, might have dulled the novelty and the July game turned into no more than an exhibition. Hoping for a panacea, baseball began awarding home field advantage in the World Series to the team representing the winning league in the ASG. It didn’t work. Baseball ended the practice in 2017.
The NFL is still trying to find the right answer to the Pro Bowl, which gets less than top-billing. The NHL’s Winter Classic gets more play than the league’s All-Star Game whose format seems to change year-to-year.
For decades now, using the word gripping to describe almost any All-Star Game is a misnomer, a misapplication of the word.
Last night, the NBA might have discovered a cure for ASG malaise.
The confluence of two emotional missions, memorializing the late Kobe Bryant and raising money for the preferred charities of the team captains, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo, simulated viewers and attendees. Television ratings picked up late as the game’s result was being determined. (see below)
The night’s success was framed creatively by a freshly structured game format, one that cleverly facilitated a transformation of what historically has been a ho-hum exhibition into a competitive and riveting battle of pride. Players to some degree came across as noble, playing hard for something material. The beneficiaries, the kids, were right there in the arena, engaged and rooting. It was quite a show.
TNT had the telecast with veteran Marv Albert on the play-by-play call, Reggie Miller and Grant Hill, who was sitting in for Chris Webber who we were told was out with a back ailment.
Here’s how the trio did.
- At first, the fresh ASG rules struck many as somewhat confusing. The game was made up of four independent quarters. Marv Albert did a good job explaining the rules and format in uncomplicated terms. He smartly did so repeatedly to accommodate late viewers. His early explanation was supported by graphics.
- Usually the play-by-player sets up topics for his analysts to discuss. Albert posed few specific questions to either Miller or Hill. Marv’s usual partner is Webber. When Ben Simmons was fouled in the third quarter, Albert raised the issue of whether the Sixers’ Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid can be at their best playing with each other. It triggered Miller to chime in with information on the topic.
- Albert struggled a bit to consistently identify the right players. It would be a challenge for many, given the fact that everyone was wearing either numbers 2 or 24, for Kobe’s daughter Gianna or Kobe, respectively. There were occasions when Albert misreported what took place. For instance, late in the game there was an obvious foul in the post, but Albert thought the player slipped and traveled. Replay showed no evidence of the player slipping. Marv took some hits on Twitter which has turned into a nemesis for him in recent years.
- Otherwise, Albert was typically well prepared with player nuggets. He gave acrobatic and circus-like shots his patented vocal treatment.
- There were a few times when Miller and Hill broke down players’ strengths and weaknesses nicely. As an example, toward the end of the game, 7’0″ Joel Embiid grabbed a rebound and lowered the position of the ball sufficiently where it was almost stolen by an opponent. Miller pointed out that big men like Embiid should maintain possession of the ball high in the air after grabbing rebounds. Lowering the ball makes them susceptible to having it stripped by a shorter opponent.
- Grant Hill had strong opinions most memorably about reigning MVP and team captain Giannis Antetokounmpo. The former Duke star said that Giannis reminds him of a 7′ Russell Westbrook because of how hard he plays. It was an interesting comparison. Both players give it their all and Giannis is almost unstoppable. Hill in essence suggested that Westbrook would be another Antetokounmpo if he were 7′. Giannis, Hill said, is unguardable when he drives down the lane. He can zip past a defender and score or find the open shooter.
- Through the first three quarters, Miller and Hill lamented the lack of defense, typical of All-Star Games. The game, they said, was either a three-point shooting contest or an ally-opp display. Both Miller and Hill agreed that defenses would intensity later in the game. They did.
- Marv Albert said this might be the best fourth quarter in an All-Star Game in 25 years. When Giannis’ coach Nick Nurse called a timeout to draw up a play and advance the ball. Miller said it was rare to see such time-outs used in All-Star Games. He credited it to the new format. During another late time-out with the outcome potentially hinging on the ensuing play, Hill and Miller kidded, “Do you think they have some options in the huddle?” one said.
- When Giannis picked up his third foul, Miller asked whether anyone had ever fouled out of an All-Star Game. Albert later answered the question saying that “fairly recently,” Houston’s Hakeem Olajuwon fouled out in 1987 and Rick Barry in 1978. The “fairly recently” spew was fodder for those who bellow on Twitter. Let’s not get carried away. We’re all human.
Albert, Miller and Hill did a decent job. I’m giving the trio a B+
In his press conference during ASG weekend, Commissioner Adam Silver addressed the double-digit drop in ratings for league games on both TNT and ESPN.
Short-term, he blamed injuries. Think Steph Curry and Klay Thompson of the Warriors and the delayed start of rookie sensation Zion Williamson of the Pelicans.
There’s also the ongoing challenge that the league faces, given the fact that so many of its regular season telecasts are on Turner and ESPN. There are two words that are an anathema in the cable world, “cord cutting.”
Turner announced late Monday that its exclusive coverage of the All Star Game produced an average of 7.3 million viewers across TNT and TBS (simulcast), up 8% over last year. Last night’s thrilling finish – with Team LeBron defeating Team Giannis, 157-155, peaked during the commercial-free fourth quarter with an average of eight million total viewers from 11:15-11:30 p.m. ET.
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