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Dunking into Failure

Flickr/mvongrue

The NBA has drastically lost publicity and buzz over the past couple of years. Not only when it comes to their games, but the All-Star weekend, which is supposed to be dedicated to the fans.

On the 2012 list of the 50 most watched sporting events, the NBA has 13 entries, of which the highest was placed at No. 17. NASCAR, a sport consisting of driving around in circles is catching up in popularity as it held five of the top 50 spots.

If this does not show you that the NBA is falling off, I don’t know what will.

However, there is a chance to remedy the situation: The NBA All-Star weekend. Players participate in events such as the 3-point contest, the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest and the All-Star Game itself.

Despite all of the potential the weekend has, it’s become something that people turn on when there are no good movies on television. The event, which covets some of the world’s top athletes all playing simultaneously, does not even show up on the 50 most viewed sporting events of 2012.

For a sport which is so easy to play and has so many fans within inner-cities, this is an embarrassment to the sport but more importantly to David Stern, the NBA commissioner.

My take on the disappointing viewership and publicity is the lack of star power and talent. For example, if you ask any random individual who does not watch sports to name three basketball players, they would most likely say Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James maybe Kobe Bryant. Of those four, two of them, James and Bryant are still the faces of the NBA.

It is clear to me now that despite the prowess of Bryant on the basketball court, including his many comparisons to Jordan, he has officially passed the torch to James as “the man” when it comes to the NBA and its publicity.

The NBA should take full advantage; James has just won a championship and is becoming a pretty likable guy with his commercials for Samsung phones and excitingly tackling the Miami Heat fan who sunk a half-court $75,000 shot.

This sounds like a guy who people genuinely like to watch, not counting how he is one of the best dunkers in the NBA, which is the most exciting play in basketball.

But James only participates in one event: the All-Star Game, which has become a total joke. You have the man who has hit game-winning 3-pointers, and is touted as one of the most ferocious dunkers in the league, except he is not participating in the 3-point or the Dunk Contest.

The NBA is slowly dropping off the pedestal on which Jordan had placed it, and it is solely because stars and faces of the NBA do not want to participate in the events created for the enjoyment of the fans.

In the 1980’s, Jordan, Dominique Wilkins and Clyde Drexler, all considered to be Hall-of-Fame caliber athletes, participated in the Dunk Contest and they all drew gigantic crowds and publicity for the sport.

As opposed to this year where players like Gerald Green, who played so poorly that he took two years off from playing professionally from 2009-2011, Terrance Ross, who won this year’s  Dunk Contest and is a relatively unknown rookie, and of course James White, who has recorded just two dunks this season.

Nothing about these players will bring new fans out of the woodworks to watch an NBA game. Any contest with James, Bryant or even Kevin Durant, the leading NBA scorer, would bring buzz and people would tune in.

What we saw over the weekend was that the Dunk Contest and 3-point contest was a waste of time. And I am sure you were not even aware the event happened this past weekend. Therefore, I have one solution for the NBA: Get your stars into the contests!

The events are for the fans and the fans want to see the best players.

It starts with James stepping up to the court and creating good publicity for the sport. As Stephen A. Smith, an ESPN analyst, once said, “LeBron I know you’re listening.” And James should be.

Denis Topakov is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at dtopakov@student.umass.edu.

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