Real sports fans appreciate excellent defense. Nonetheless, commissioners of professional sports leagues seem to think that fans are bored by defense. David Stern of the NBA typifies this mindset. The NBA All-Star Weekend is a showcase for its stars and it’s all about offense. I understand that the All-Star game is an exhibition not a competition, but whatever they played last night in Orlando looked nothing like professional basketball.
David Stern, who became Commissioner in 1984, has used the All-Star weekend to market the NBA. A big change was the introduction of the slam dunk contest in 1984. The dunk contest used to feature basketball’s biggest stars making shots that could conceivably occur in game situations. The contest no longer attracts stars and now features dunks over props such as cars and motorcycles.
All-Stars in the exhibition game play as much defense as the props in the slam dunk contest, but that wasn’t always the case. Before 1984 the average score in an All-Star game was about 20 points or just 9 percent higher than in an average regular season game. Since 1984 the total point differential between the All-Star game and the regular season has steadily increased by 1.6 points per year. Over the past 6 years the average All-Star score was 83 points higher (42 percent) than in the regular season. Last night’s game produced 111 more points (58 percent) than we have seen this season.
The dunk contest and the All-Star game have become caricatures of the sport of basketball. I wish the NBA would give basketball fans more credit and recognize that we appreciate all aspects of the game – including defense.