NBA All-Star Game will ditch the gimmicks and return to classic East versus West format

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Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James drives to the basket past Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic and forward Aaron Gordon, right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

INDIANAPOLIS – The NBA All-Star Game is going back to its roots, with the best of the East playing the best of the West.

Commissioner Adam Silver made the announcement Wednesday, revealing this season’s All-Star Game on Feb. 18 in Indianapolis will pit the top vote-getters from the two conferences against one another. The decision means captains will no longer draft teams, though the players with the most votes in each conference will serve as captains.

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The reason: Silver wants the All-Star Game to look more like traditional basketball.

“It felt like it was time,” Silver said. “I said earlier, keeping with this overall theme, it's back to basketball this season. We heard it from our fans, I think the players recognize it, too, that last year's All-Star Game was something no one was proud of, and I don't think it was anyone's fault in particular. I think, though, that we need to refocus on what this league is really about and that's about the best basketball in the world.”

Another change — the game will be 48 minutes. Since 2020, the league added 24 points to the leading team's score after three quarters and played the fourth quarter with only a shot clock but no game clock. The first team to hit the target score won.

And it's no coincidence the changes are taking place in Indiana, where basketball is treated like royalty. The Pacers are hosting their first All-Star Game since 1985 — three years later than initially scheduled because the 2021 game was moved to Atlanta and played in mostly empty arena during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If there ever was a place to restore the NBA to something that seemed more classic it was an All-Star Game at Indianapolis,” Silver said. “Let's just make it a pure 48-minute basketball game, the team that scores the most point in 48 minutes.”

The first 66 All-Star Games all featured East-West matchups. The last six have seen the leading vote-getters from each conference serving as captains and drafting teams.

LeBron James served as one captains all six years, with Giannis Antetokounmpo the other captain three times. Kevin Durant had the honor twice, with Stephen Curry doing it once. Some drafts were televised, with last year’s taking place live in Salt Lake City less than an hour before the start of the game.

Not enough people watched. Ratings plummeted for last season’s game, which wasn’t competitive. Some of the top stars, including Curry, Durant, James and Antetokounmpo either missed the game entirely or played very briefly because of injuries.

The 2023 matchup was entertaining in other ways – Boston’s Jayson Tatum scored an All-Star record 55 points. His 27 third-quarter points also were a record, but the lack of viewers and lack of buzz evidently forced the NBA into making this change.

“This last year was a travesty in terms of the effort, in terms of how it looked. It looked horrible,” NBA Players Association President CJ McCollum of the New Orleans Pelicans said last week, after Silver revealed changes were likely. “So, figuring out how to make it more competitive … maybe it’s incentives, maybe it’s the type of game style that we’re having, maybe it’s the teams that are being put together, I’m not sure. We’re working towards that. But we know it can’t go on the way it has because it’s obviously not working.”

It wasn't just players who found it unsatisfactory.

Indiana coach Rick Carlisle, president of the NBA's coaching association, also was consulted about the changes. Shortly before the Pacers opened the season against Washington on Wednesday, he offered his support.

“It seems like pure East-West competition makes a lot of sense,” Carlisle said. “Certainly not a surprising announcement, but none the less, I think a very good adjustment.”

Carlisle even had a suggestion for making the game more competitive: “Is there any way to increase the money for winning? That's the obvious one.”

League officials are also considering options to possibly honor the ABA during All-Star weekend, such as using a red, white and blue ball. Indiana won three championships and was one of four teams from the now-defunct league to move to the NBA. No decisions have been made on that front.

To Silver, though, the biggest change is to bring back the elements that made the NBA All-Star Game a huge draw — pure basketball.

“I think the live draft was interesting, but I think it was a reminder to everybody at the league office that it's ultimately about the game,” Silver said. “If the game is in order, you can do all those fun things, but they have to be ancillary to the game. It was a reminder we don't lose focus on what's most important and that is the game itself.”

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AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami and AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.

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