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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

What Does Star Really Mean?

Or, put differently, who would you rather have playing in your town -- these guys or these guys?

The former are household names; the latter just win games.

And keep winning.

One of the former played about 40 minutes last night and no assists. Another is past his prime, and yet another is hurt. Of course, the other two guys are two of the best young players in the game, and, yes, I suppose if you got this five to play together enough they'd probably win 62+ games with the right supporting cast off the bench. But how many times have their been assemblages of great talent in the contemporary NBA that haven't won? How well are the highest-paid teams faring? (See the Knicks and the 76ers for examples that your payroll doesn't guarantee victories).

As for the latter, well, they just win games. Relatively anonymously, too.

No Super Bowl ads, no shoes named after them, not much publicity, really, when you come to think of it.

Except when you view these.

And then they're the true all-Stars.

Prince, R. Wallace, B. Wallace, Hamilton and Billups. A finer five you could not find. Each knows his role, each can step up and be the guy in a certain way when he has to. A 6'11" player who can drain threes, a shooting guard who can complement, a point guard who can take over, and a center who doesn't have to be the center of attention, not to mention a small forward who can play big. All of these players are guys who realize that the grueling NBA schedule is at its most rewarding when team comes before individual stats, shoe contracts and endorsements.

That's not, by the way, a knock on any of the guys who were voted in as all-stars. Some of the all-stars do have their limits, but the knock is really on the fans (and the NBA for the way it promotes the game). They're voting for the marquis names, which, perhaps, is what the NBA's outstanding marketing organization wants them to do. After all, what would an all-star game be without LeBron in the starting lineup. Ditto "The Answer", Shaq Diesel and the rest.

The Pistons aren't as jazzy. There are no players who are known around the league by their first names, although there is only one Chauncey, Tayshaun and Rip in the NBA. (Come to think of it, are there any other Rasheeds?). They don't get the national endorsements.

But that statement is what makes the NBA's product schizophrenic. Is the NBA about entertainment, or is it about basketball? I think that the NBA is more about entertainment now than basketball. Otherwise, how can you explain the exorbitant ticket prices for a product that more often than not is mediocre? Are people going to see a rivalry, or are they going to see the stars?

Way back when, it was about the competition. Way back when, there weren't too many teams and therefore there wasn't a dilution of talent. Way back when, it wasn't about selling jerseys or merchandise. It was about selling tickets and having your town's team (in my case, Philadelphia's) beat the dreaded Celtics and the classy Knicks. Most of the time, it couldn't do it.

But when it did, well, it was something special.

Today, though, selling is the name of the game. When selling coalesces with a team that plays together, all the better, but in Detroit you have some throwback players who subordinate their own talents for the good of an outstanding team, a team that I'd pay to watch and that is fun to watch on television. Not a team where you have four guys standing around on offense and your star going one on four and neglecting to find the open man.

So, when we watch the NBA all-star game, we're watching a tribute to marketing and to individual talent.

What we're not so sure we're watching is a tribute to team basketball in the purest sense of the term. Naturally, the NBA all-star game is one big garbage time, but it doesn't reward all the guys who make the best teams the best teams.

And therein lies the NBA's and the fan's dilemma. Are they ever to dare to put teamwork and fundamentals again before entertainment value? (Forget about the all-star game; I'm talking about the regular season).

If they were to be so bold (in their own eyes, not mine), they might surprise themselves.

More people might start watching the games again.

Because, after all, it should be about the competition on the floor.

And not the packaging that envelops it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a native Detroiter and remeber well the "Bad Boys" who were mostly no-name guys, too, except for Zeke. (It was before Dennis Rodman went completely over the cliff.)

The classiest of them all, Joe Dumars, has now created a team in the hard-working mold of those guys, without the thuggery.

I rarely watch NBA games these days for the reasons you mention -- it seems more about the highlights on ESPN than the result of the game. The exception is when the Pistons are on.


5:48 PM  
Blogger Mr. Spriggs said...

The Pistons do clearly have a team that is great and the best starting 5 so I agree with everything your writing about stars and what not so good stuff there.

But you need to get a Big East Basketball link on your page too.

6:27 PM  
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