The 2014 NBA All-Star Game was a microcosm of a huge shift in professional basketball over the past couple of seasons. The Eastern Conference rode a late rally to a 163-155 victory over the Western Conference in the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, LA.
The season’s most extravagant showcase of the league’s best talents left fans watching a never-ending barrage of three-pointers and dunks.
The most notable area where the game was lacking was in the big-man department. For the first time ever, no centers were in the starting lineup. In fact, the three centers who made the team – Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls, Roy Hibbert of the Indiana Pacers and the Houston Rockets’ Dwight Howard – logged a combined 46 minutes of playing time.
LeBron James and his two-time defending champion Miami Heat have gotten by without a center, for the most part. The blueprint back in the day was to build a team by finding a dominant center first, then filling in the slots around him.
Howard, Noah and Hibbert were mostly afterthoughts in the contest, getting lost in the shuffle of fancy ball-handling and three-point shooting.
Miami Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade told Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times, in reference to Noah, “In the locker room we talked about having fun and enjoying it, but he was serious. He wanted to win. You could see it in his face.”
Ironically, the league has seen an influx of centers in recent years, which is threatening to become the best crop in decades. The fact that the center position was left off the All-Star ballot entirely is a tell-all sign of which direction the league is heading: towards quickness and athleticism.
While the All-Star game is just an exhibition, what took place this year is likely not a simple fluke. Records were shattered left and right including total points (318), combined field goals made (135), and total assists. The East and West also combined to shoot a staggering 100 threes, up 29 from last year’s all-time record of 71.
Many young up-and-comers were on display this year, none more so than Cleveland Cavaliers’ point guard Kyrie Irving. The 21-year-old took home MVP honors after racking up 31 points and 14 assists. His flashy style of play directly opposes that of the typical NBA center and just so happens to be tailor-made for an All-Star game.
“I feel like that’s what all the fans want to see us do is just compete at the highest level,” Irving said, according to Sporting News. “I just wanted to give the fans what they wanted.”
If dazzling passing and outside shooting was what fans wanted, then that is indeed what they got. Traditional basketball fans of the old school fundamental type likely found themselves pulling out hairs over the lack of defense in the game.
The center may not be extinct in the NBA, but his role is much different now. Those are not the types of players basketball fans are clamoring to see anymore. The All-Star game simply gave a glimpse into the future, erasing memories of former great centers Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell with each launched three-pointer.
By Justin Hussong