Weekly Dose: Elam Ending, Schmelam Ending — the NBA All-Star Game is still broken

Photo by Brynn Anderson/AP

By @RyanGrosman
Laced
March 10, 2021

Each week, I’ll be writing about one thing that’s on my mind.

A year ago, we were treated to the most competitive, intense and entertaining NBA All-Star Game in the last 20 years. Maybe ever.

Coming out of that game, fans and media members, perhaps still experiencing the high from what they had just witnessed, heaped tons of praise towards the NBA and Adam Silver for doing what no one thought could be done — fixing the All-Star Game. The addition of the “Elam Ending” and charity donation incentives worked like a charm.

This proclamation, however, was predictably premature. I even said as much at the time. This year’s very lackluster mid-season classic proved it.

Now, I’ll admit, there were other factors at play here. Namely the global pandemic, player exhaustion and the fact that many of them did not want to be there. And with good reason.

But to say that the NBA had fixed the All-Star Game entirely was short-sighted and ill-conceived. Frankly, it was alarming. The success of last year’s game was nothing more than a cluster of stars aligning at just the right time.

In other words, a complete fluke.

Here’s an excerpt from what I wrote a year ago, including a possible fix to the format:

Can the magic of this year’s All-Star Game be replicated next year? Did the new format and “Elam Ending” actually contribute to the increased intensity? Or was it purely dumb luck?

I believe it was the latter rather than the former. How this game played out was the by-product of a perfect storm. The absolute perfect confluence of events.

First off, the death and legacy of Kobe Bryant hung over everything.

New rules aside, the players were already extremely motivated heading into this game. They wanted to honour Kobe the best way they could — by playing hard. And the news that the first ever Kobe Bryant MVP Award was on the line made it that much more appealing to go all out.

Second, because the 3rd quarter happened to end in a tie, the $100,000 donation rolled over to the 4th quarter, making winning the 4th worth $300,000 instead of $200,000. So there was much more at stake for the players. Again, it helped that the very kids who’d be benefiting most from the players’ hard play were only metres away, cheering relentlessly.

Finally, the new format only works if the cumulative scores are relatively close going into the 4th quarter.

If Team Giannis is blowing out Team LeBron or vice versa, the play on the court would be nothing like what we saw. More than likely, we would’ve seen a repeat of the first 3 quarters. And adding 24 to the higher score to set the target score would’ve put the game even further out of reach.

But as it so happened, the score was close going into the 4th with Team Giannis leading Team LeBron by just 9 points.

It’s possible that this notion was on the minds of NBA executives or Team LeBron after the 1st quarter. Team LeBron, which was clearly the more stacked team, absolutely manhandled Team Giannis, beating them 53–41.

It appeared as though Team LeBron would continue to throttle Team Giannis and run away with this thing. But they seemed to take their foot off the gas in the 2nd quarter to let Team Giannis back in it.

I know this sounds very conspiracy theory-ist, but there were 2 huge benefits to letting Team Giannis win the second game — keeping the cumulative score close and assuring both charities would get at least $100,000.

Maybe the league whispered this to Team LeBron or maybe the players took it upon themselves. Or maybe I’m just reading too much into it. But the whole new format thing could’ve been rendered moot if Team Giannis didn’t run up the score in quarter 2.

Luckily, there’s an easy solution to ensure that no matter what happens in the first 3 quarters, the 4th will always be a close game. At least to start the quarter.

Forget about the cumulative score from quarters 1–3. Forget about adding a number to the higher score to set the target score. Instead, both teams start at zero and play to a set number, just like you would in a pickup game. Whichever team gets to that number first wins. And the number could be 24 to continue to honour Kobe.

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