Trouble on the Playground: Why the NBA All-Star Draft Won't Be Televised

Last week it was reported that Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, has decided to not televise the NBA All-Star Draft. This wouldn’t normally be an issue of public concern except for the fact that this year the NBA has decided to draft All-Star teams based on “playground rules.” The fans, media, and players all had a say as to who would  be a part of the All-Star player pool. From that pool, the player with the highest vote total from both the Eastern and Western Conferences would be the captain, much like on a high school playground. Finally, those captains would build teams from the rest of the players left in the pool.

This is unlike any other All-Star selection system in professional sports and sounds like it would be bring excitement to an otherwise meaningless game. However,  despite agreeing that televising the draft would be fun, NBA commissioner Adam Silver believed that the pressures of drafting a team to play an exhibition game would be too much for the players.

“On the other hand, I recognize that in picking a team to perform in the here and now, it’s a little different than drafting. There was a sense from the players that it put them in an impossible position, where they’re picking one player over another – in part, not because they necessarily think that player is better than another player, maybe because they have a personal relationship with the player ... Invariably, if they just did it as a pure draft, guys would say, 'Oh, I can't believe such and such was selected before that player'...”

In short, the NBA doesn’t want anyone’s feelings to get hurt. If the draft were televised, LeBron James and Stephen Curry would have to make the heart-wrenching decision to pick teams between their friends and teammates. Additionally, one of the multi-millionaire basketball all-stars would be in the unfortunate position of being the last pick.

This situation shows the folly of a culture where feelings are the primary basis of reality. The NBA, which is an entertainment business, is making itself less entertaining in order to protect its players from the emotional trauma of being the last picked for a team. This is bad for both the league and its fans.

The excessive concern for its players feelings will be impossible to maintain in a league based on athletic competition. The game of basketball is filled with naturally inequalities. Taller, quicker, more skilled players will always have an advantage over smaller, slower, less skilled players. This is what makes the game interesting. Fans watch the NBA because they love the sport of basketball and want to see it performed at the highest level. We want to see Lebron James use his superior athleticism to dunk on two defenders and we want to see Steph Curry make shots from impossibly long distances. This is only possible in a league that cultivates and celebrates athletic greatness. However, greatness is necessarily exclusive. There can only be one best player in the league and there can be only one best team. This is not a problem unless, like Silver, you prioritize feelings over excellence.  The NBA’s refusal to televise the All-Star draft is not a crises by itself; however, it is indicative of a philosophy that is incompatible with athletic competition. If this philosophy is allow to pervade the NBA they will trade championship rings for participation trophies and the league will lose any popularity it once had.