The NBA Is Making A Huge Mistake Not Airing Its All-Star Draft On TV

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When the NBA pauses for its All-Star celebration in Los Angeles next month, the main event will have a very different look and feel than in past years. They might wear highly questionable practice jerseys, for one, and the matchup won’t be the East/West showdown we’re used to.

Instead, the top vote getters will act as team captains, who will then draft their teammates playground-style. If that sounds exciting, and like something you’d enjoy watching, it’s because you’re a rational basketball fan, or maybe a messy hater who loves drama. But either way, you’re on the right side of the aisle here.

Unfortunately for all of us, however, the NBA will not let us in on the decision-making when it comes to picking those teams. NBA commissioner Adam Silver tried to explain why this won’t be a televised event, calling a draft an “impossible position” for players.

Check out the full quote if you’d like the entire load of bunk all at once.

“There was a sense from the players that it put them in an impossible position where they’re picking one player over another, in part not because they necessarily think that player is better than another player,” Silver continued. “Maybe because they have a personal relationship with a player or they think that player will be a better compliment to the players, and that invariably, if they just did it as a pure draft, guys would say ‘I can’t believe that such and such was selected before that player.’”

This is not an impossible situation where egos will be bruised and feelings hurt. This is supposed to be fun! Pick guys for whatever reason you think makes sense. Pick guys to make them angry, or because it’s funny. Pick players because you’ve always wanted to play with them. All-Star games are the Whose Line Is It Anyway? of sporting events: the points don’t matter, everyone is just here to have a good time.

And besides, the results of this will inevitably leak out, only creating more rumors and drama. Let us watch it all unfold, have a few laughs, and get people truly exited to see the game itself. Dreaming up potential teams is half the fun of this format, but actually seeing who players want to play with and the draft process is a huge part of the appeal here. Not letting the public in on the fun seems downright irresponsible.

Perhaps this can put it a bit more elegantly than I can.

The concern here is clearly that the draft process could damage relationships or bruise egos, and that logic makes sense. But so, too, does the logic that everyone involved here should just get over themselves. This is not a serious issue, and the collective group of Franceses that made it a big deal need to seriously lighten up.

The NHL is worlds behind the NBA in its ability to market players as interesting and complex human beings. The difference between the leagues is clear: Sidney Crosby is the most talented hockey player in decades and says nothing of interest, while LeBron James will speak about basically any socially valuable topic you can mention. They’re very different entities, but one thing they now share is an All-Star format.

I don’t want to belabor this point, but it’s insane that the NBA is actually going to let the NHL execute something better than the Association. Since 2011, the league has had a similar All-Star format to the one the NBA will use next month. A player pool is created, team captains are decided upon and a draft is held to make teams.

When league went schoolyard rules for the first time, and a sport that often struggles to get players to show off their personalities stumbled into something truly great. One of the best moments of the initial draft is that Phil Kessel, a perennial All-Star their the Toronto Maple Leafs, got picked last. It wasn’t because he was the least talented person in the pool, either. Somewhere along the way, players decided to gang up on Kessel and leave him stranded on the podium.

Carolina Hurricanes forward and team captain Eric Staal, making the penultimate pick, cracked a joke about how Toronto is “not a hockey market” and picked Paul Stastny of the Colorado Avelanche. By then everyone was in on the joke, leaving Kessel alone on stage with nearly two full teams staring at him. Alexander Ovechkin giggled while taking a picture of Kessel, the last kid picked on the playground.

It could have been a truly embarrassing moment, and maybe it was, but Kessel took it all in stride, laughing with other players while he was finally picked and given a jersey. After all, he’s still one of 36 players picked for the All-Star Game in a league with more than 600 on active rosters. It’s elite company, and All-Star Weekend is a break from the grind of the NHL season. And the league knew this kind of thing might get awkward, so they rewarded the last pick with some bonuses. Kessel got to donate $20,000 of the league’s money to his favorite charity. Oh, and he won a car from All-Star sponsor Honda for his trouble.

So what’s the deal here? Can the NBA not get a car sponsor to make this happen? Where’s Hyundai or maybe Kia when you need them? Or are they really that concerned about the personality clashes that are sure to happen with a draft? In a league where subtweeting happens nightly, but friendships span across teams and even rivalries, are we really supposed to think teams passing on Kyrie Irving for a laugh would really be that big of a deal?

The opportunity missed here is huge. Not only would the endless speculation about potential picks be stupid fun, actually watching the drama unfold would be entertaining as hell. It would be a ratings hit and get fans talking about a pointless exhibition game that pales in importance to the skills challenge that happens the night before. The NBA is correct in wanting to do right by its players, but at a certain point you have to realize how silly all this is, and how much fans are missing out on just because someone might get slighted.

Back in 2011, Kessel was interviewed after he got picked last by Team Lidstrom in Carolina. Asked if he was nervous waiting on stage that long, he demurred.

“It was nerve-wracking,” Kessel said. “But what does it matter?”

It doesn’t, Phil. In fact, that’s what’s supposed to make it fun in the first place.