There are many people who think that the NBA's All-Star Weekend is a little tired at this point. The dunk contest has trouble drawing big-name stars, the three-point contest continues to be nothing but players shooting jumpers, and the other events are typically ignored so that viewers can order food or make progress in their NBA 2K13 dynasties.
The NBA knows that it has to jazz things up. So, with that in mind, the league has announced a new format for All-Star Saturday Night in Houston this February. From the press release:
For the first time, State Farm All-Star Saturday Night will feature a new format that pits the Eastern Conference against the Western Conference in a night of competition that will raise money for charity, the NBA and State Farm announced Thursday.
As part of the new format, points earned by each conference throughout the four All-Star Skills Competitions will determine the conference that earns the title of 2013 State Farm All-Star Saturday Night Champion. Also, each conference will have an All-Star Saturday Night captain who will lead his team during the event.
In addition, NBA Cares and State Farm will make a joint donation of $500,000 as part of the event, with $350,000 going to the winning conference's charities and $150,000 to the runner-up conference's charities. All of the charities will be selected by the conference captains, the NBA, and State Farm. The State Farm All-Star Saturday Night captains and the charities receiving donations will be selected and announced at a later date.
It is difficult not to support something that gives money to charity, so good on the NBA for introducing that aspect into Saturday's festivities. It will be a nice thing to think about throughout the night. However, it's also necessary to note that this decision was primarily motivated by the league's desire to ramp up interest in what happens on Saturday.
On that level, it may not be very successful. Fans obviously identify with their teams, but conferences are a more nebulous situation, particularly because all NBA teams play each other twice a year. This isn't similar to baseball, where the American League and National League play each other rarely and literally play by different rules. The NBA is considerably more uniform, and if the conferences aren't in direct competition — like, say, they are when they play in the All-Star Game itself — it's hard to get too worked up about their relative performance in Taco Bell-sponsored events.
Still, the donations to charity will be meaningful. But it's worth wondering why the NBA can't just give each designated cause its own $350,000 check.