For 40 minutes Sunday, NBA fans were forced to sit through what can be described only as a tone-deaf circus.
I’m not talking about the weekend’s main-event All-Star Game, which was, surprisingly, more entertaining than expected. I’m talking about everything before that.
If viewers tuned in to TNT between 8 and 8:40 p.m. Eastern time, before the game actually started, they probably assumed that they had stumbled upon a low-budget awards show. There was no indication that this was a celebration of the NBA’s most elite players, much less anything that had to do with basketball.
Philadelphia’s own Kevin Hart led the show, which included pre-recorded skits, cameos by Adam Devine and Rob Riggle, and performances by Jamie Foxx, Queen Latifah, and Ludacris. There were dancers, welding masks, and bad one-liners.
Fans, professional athletes, reporters, and everyone in between took to social media during the mish-mash of comedy and concert to share their displeasure and confusion with a scene that seemed as if it would never end.
What is this? #NBAAllStar2018
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) February 19, 2018
— Tristan Thompson (@RealTristan13) February 19, 2018
ALL TIME NBA DEBACLES, UPDATED RANKINGS:
1- Tim Donaghy
2- 2018 All Star Pre Game/Intros
3- Malice at the Palace
4- LAL-SAC Gm 6 Officiating
— nick wright (@getnickwright) February 19, 2018
The NBA took major steps this year to make sure that the All-Star Game would be more competitive. The league got rid of the conference restrictions to the teams, and top vote-getters LeBron James and Stephen Curry were made captains and drafted teams to face off against each other. Larger monetary incentives were also put in place for the winning team.
The whole point of changing the all-star format was to bring things back to basketball, to give the fans what they want. The fans did not want to see Hart acting as if he was going to be an all-star for the 100th time.
Over the years, the overarching sentiment has been that the All-Star Game is not a real game, that there’s no defense, that it’s just a glorified pick-up game. The truth is there’s no amount of reformatting that will make the All-Star Game truly competitive. But, the players were sick of the narrative and pleased with the changes made.
That’s why the pregame introduction circus seemed so out of place. If the NBA is trying to make all-star weekend about basketball, then it really missed the mark with the cringe-worthy show that was put on. Every year, all-star weekend becomes more and more of a spectacle, and this year it was just too much.
After what felt like a lifetime of watching Hart make jokes — if you can call them that — during player introductions, the whole thing was capped by one of the worst versions of the national anthem ever performed, thanks to Fergie.
I didn’t think the pregame nightmare could get any worse, but somehow, Fergie’s mangling of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was the most confusing part of the night.
If you’re brave and you want to listen to terrible caterwauling, here’s video of Fergie’s performance. If you aren’t interested in listening to the whole thing, just skip to the 1:55 mark to see Draymond Green’s reaction. He truly was all of us in that moment.
NBA fans are always clamoring for better competition and more basketball when it comes to everything during the all-star break. The league has tried to oblige by returning to a more basic dunk contest – which is still lacking in star power.
But there seems to be a disconnect: Saturday, there wasn’t time for a third attempt by the dunk-contest finalists, but Sunday, there was plenty of time to turn the pregame and player introductions into a dumpster-fire version of musical theater.
The small saving grace was that the fourth quarter of the All-Star Game was the most competitive we’ve seen in a long time and the game was won by team LeBron because of a defensive possession. But it didn’t erase the memory of maybe the worst 40 minutes associated with the NBA.
Let’s hope the league can learn from this and get back to the basics — a well-produced video with highlights, simple player introductions, and basketball. That’s what the fans want.