The NBA has been trying to learn from pro wrestling for years with little success. Letting players duke it out on the floor with little or no repercussions conveyed the animosity between teams, which was good, but eventually got a few fans punched in the face – which wasn’t so good. Corrupt and incompetent officiating worked for a while but has since turned some fans against the league. Pretty much the only thing that did work was co-opting the ideas of entrance music, smoke and lights during pregame introductions.
I think basketball has a little bit left to learn. What happened Monday night provided the most convenient example imaginable of why people keep coming back to wrestling – because at any time, something can happen that turns everything on its ear, something that from a storytelling perspective is totally logical yet utterly unexpected. It’s the feeling that, as a fan, you can’t afford to miss this because anything can happen. Obviously, in basketball we can’t have a team simply steal the Larry O’Brien trophy – the Heat tried that in 2006 (the “corrupt refereeing angle” again) but it didn’t take, and only five years later would take their rightful place as the most hated villains in basketball. Luckily, there’s an event coming up this weekend that’s ripe for an “anything can happen” makeover. All-Star Saturday Night, come get your facelift.
The first thing we’re going to do is get rid of the Shooting Stars and the Skills Challenge. It doesn’t matter if the show is wrestling, comedy, music, whatever – your worst acts don’t ever go on first. It kills the crowd for the good parts of the show, and then you don’t get the kind of live reaction you want in the main event. So they’re gone.
Replacing them is easy: people have been calling this event the “Black Super Bowl” for years, so why not make it a showcase for hip-hop’s best and brightest? There’s already a half-assed, one-song deal – my memories include Destiny’s Child getting booed and a nearly career-ending performance from Kevin Rudolph – so let’s blow it out with an ensemble concert and make it one of hip-hop’s more prestigious stages.
(Aside: if you want something basketball-related as a warmup, well, I’ve always been partial to a one-on-one tournament. Eight guys, three rounds, first to 5 and win by two, threes count for two, shoot for ball, winner’s possession, sponsorship money to the winner’s charity. And maybe a height limit, to keep things evenly matched. The winner is out of there barely breaking a sweat. Stars wouldn’t do it, but don’t you think someone like Aaron Brooks would like to remind the rest of the league how good he is?)
Now that we actually have a crowd that’s awake, let’s get to the meat and potatoes. This year’s dunk contest figures to be the official coming-out party for Blake Griffin. He’s going to show the world what a genetic freak by making JaVale McGee, DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka. At least, that’s the public perception. The buzz around Griffin is electric, and many people will watch just for that, but this dunk contest in wrestling and storytelling terms is the Undertaker vs. the Brooklyn Brawler: the outcome is not in question, and I can see the dunks every day on YouTube for the rest of my life, so why stay in on a Saturday night to watch this?
Imagine, if you will: in the weeks leading up to the event, ESPN and TNT promote a “special appearance from LeBron James during the dunk contest that you won’t want to miss,” or some such. Maybe they even run a teaser video similar to the one WWE recently ran for the Undertaker. It’s not a journalistic conflict of interest; the network simply says, “This is all the NBA has told us, and they’ve released only this video.”
The event begins with LeBron in his ostensible role as the contest’s “emcee;” he gives a little speech, wishes everyone luck, and leaves. The contest goes however it goes – Griffin (or whoever) wins, accepts the trophy, does his interview, and holds up the trophy to the applause of the fans. Suddenly, lights out. Smoke. Pyro. Music. And, wearing his all-black Heat uniform (because villains wear black, you see), out comes the man who promised he’d be in the 2010 contest and then welched, the man who guaranteed Cleveland a title and then welched, the most hated man in sports, LeBron James. And of course, because this is wrestling basketball, he has a live microphone. “You think you’re the best dunker in the game? Well, I got one more challenge for you.” Dunk-off. The champ vs. LeBron.
And America’s collective basketball face melts. Look, there are a million ways you could do this: tease the LeBron appearance to build some hype, make it a surprise so everyone is absolutely staggered when LeBron walks out, change it to Dwight Howard and have him challenge Griffin to a “high-dunk” (an event Bill Simmons proposed in a column some years back). Whatever. The point is, this is one of the events outside of pro wrestling where the term “sports entertainment” actually applies; we should be making the most of it with rule-bending, outside-the box notions like this one. And if it happened, All-Star Saturday Night becomes appointment viewing nationwide for the next decade, simply because you never know when something like that might happen again.
The one leftover question, of course: would LeBron do it? I think for a price, he just might; he seems to be accepting his role as a villain in our national conscience, and if anything people might like him more after a stunt like this.
That leaves one part of the evening we haven’t covered: the Three-Point Contest. And since this is a Knicks blog, after all, I think we can give this a little New York flavor. This idea is best done at an All-Star weekend in Indiana or at MSG – the latter of which appears somewhat likely in 2013 or 2014 – but indulge me once again and dig this scenario:
The field has been narrowed to just four competitors – honestly, do we really need eight anyway? The camera focuses just a little too long on TNT analyst Reggie Miller as the PA announcer introduces the four competitors, all whom have some relation to Reggie: Kyle Korver and Danilo Gallinari of the rival Bulls and Knicks, Danny Granger of the Pacers, and Ray Allen, who recently passed Miller as the league’s all-time three-point marksman. The contest ends, the winner accepts his trophy, and Miller interviews him, and just as you think he’s about to wrap it up, well, no one would expect Reggie to be wearing his old number 31 under his suit…and you know he can still shoot the rock…
Like I said, there are a million ways you could do this.