TORONTO — The 2016 Rising Stars Challenge was a bit of a challenge to sit through if you were a member of the media, or just a fan crazy enough to travel north of the 42nd parallel in February. Don’t get us wrong, it was an experience, sure, but the actual game wasn’t a game at all. Neither is the All-Star Game for that matter, but at least with the adult exhibition on Sunday there’s not that adolescent shroud of insecurity that advocates indolence as protection against embarrassment.
The same thing happened Friday night when Zach LaVine won the MVP of the Rising Stars Challenge, after his USA team beat the World squad, 157-154. Our insolence about the game shouldn’t take away from LaVine’s 30-point performance, or his Minnesota teammate’s dunk-heavy win the year before. Oddly, LaVine wasn’t even as efficient from the field as Andrew Wiggins this year, or Kristaps Porzingis (who dropped 30), but his USA Team got the win — we thought Devin Booker, who also shot better than LaVine and actually had a positive on/off number, got jobbed a little bit on the MVP vote — and so he held the MVP trophy aloft and we all pretended for a few minutes this mattered.
Of course none of these guys played defense. And taking a charge is almost heresy over the entirety of All-Star weekend; someone ran into us coming out of an elevator on Thursday and got pretty heated because we didn’t do enough to avoid the collision (we must’ve been in the restricted area). The point of All-Star weekends is to entertain and avoid injury, but the defensive loafing on display in the
Rookie – Sophomore Rising Stars Challenge just isn’t basketball, and it’s turned the whole Friday affair into simply another event in a weekend packed with them.
If this sounds like a tired refrain, that’s because it is. It’s been happening since the Rookie Challenge was changed to the Rookie-Sophomore game after the lockout in 1999. It continued to happen when it changed again to the USA vs. World format in 2012, which is the iteration we saw on Friday night at the Air Canada Centre. But, in the last four years there have been a couple of moments when we lifted our head and took note; sequences that got fans buzzing on Saturday and Sunday and even populated “best of “All-Star roundups that predominate your Twitter timeline on the Monday after.
The Rising Stars Challenge seemed to really entertain in those cases, but it also might be the reason the last two years of the game have been so hard for basketball fans to watch.
The two brief in-game moments we’re talking about saw guys giving a crap on the defensive end, but they resulted only after team-oriented basketball — which we worship at DIME (it’s not a coincidence we’re named after an assist) — disintegrated completely. It was those mano a mano battles that stimulated the most talked-about moments of the Rising Stars Challenge, and may have precipitated the game’s fall over the last two years.