The NBA delivers the best fake game of them all.
Every all-star game is a throwaway, even Major League Baseball with its ludicrous idea of deciding the World Series home-field advantage with some players who'll only see the playoffs on TBS.
But the NBA All-Star Game is easily the most fun to watch before discarding.
The only thing keeping the NBA's showcase this weekend from being perfect is the fact its biggest names are too corporate to join the slam dunk contest. LeBron James won't dunk. Why? Because he could finish second and that might hurt his brand, I presume.
Instead, we have a dunk lineup of Gerald Green, Terrence Ross, James White, Eric Bledsoe, Jeremy Evans and Kenneth Faried. Casual fans might not even be able to tell you what sport those guys play. On the plus side, the winner should pick up some new Twitter followers.
Other than that quibble, the NBA All-Star Game brings the goods better than any other pro showcase.
The NBA's peripheral challenges are mindless fun, from the three-point contest to the skills challenge to the no-name dunk contest. The shooting stars competition even brings back some fun “old-timers” to join with NBA and WNBA stars. Sam Cassell and Robert “Big Shot Bob” Horry are in, along with Muggsy Bogues and Dominique Wilkins.
But the game itself is where the NBA has the edge on baseball and football.
There are several problems with baseball's all-star game. First, it's not realistic in the sense that a pitcher throws at most three innings, every team has at least one player and the strategic nature of baseball can't be replicated.
Most of all, the experiment that allows the league winner to determine the World Series home field makes no sense. It was installed to ostensibly have the game mean something. Yet trying to get all the players into the game keeps the managers from being able to strive for a win.
The best players – the starters – aren't even around for late-game heroics. I'd be in favor of free substitution, allowing a slugger to return in late innings, but that's compromising the style of the game, too.
The NFL Pro Bowl is a joke. Players don't want to risk injury, so they can't play at full speed. It's fun to watch for about five minutes to see some of the mixing of stars, but the game drags on. If you enjoy sideline shots of Peyton Manning and his son, Marshall (and who doesn't?), you might be able to last past halftime.
Basketball naturally lends itself to the all-star format better, with a limited number of players, and the asset of the NBA remaining a star-driven league.
James and the other stars, such as Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Blake Griffin and Kobe Bryant, can demonstrate their phenomenal skills in an atmosphere closely resembling a real game.
It's not a real game. There is sometimes only cursory defense, at least until the final few minutes. But the fun is there. Players who don't usually play on the same team can push the transition into spectacular alley-oop dunks. They can feed the hot hand (maybe Pacers' Paul George?) as he extends his three-point shot a few more feet on each attempt.
It's always interesting to see how much the scorers share the ball with similar-minded teammates.
Some younger player, such as George or Kyrie Irving, will prove to be equal to the established superstars. When the game's on the line at the end, it's possible for the big names to be on the court, in the middle of the action, which is something neither baseball or football can match.
The NBA also knows how to stage a party, appealing to the video-game young people who make up a good chunk of the NBA's core audience. And, the league also knows how to embrace its history. Hey, I want to see if Big Shot Bob can still shoot the rock, even in a contrived contest.
Despite some public cries, LeBron won't be in the dunk contest. But he'll be dunking game time, probably more than once. Watching the stars fly is what makes the NBA's All-Star Game rise above the rest.