The 2020 NBA All Star game was a bigger success than ever. The event has always been a spectacle, but the actual basketball is often overshadowed by the dunk contest, three point contest and the other events of the weekend.
It was an opportunity for the game’s best to strut their stuff. But the game is usually only played at half speed, and ‘real’ basketball is replaced with increasingly absurd tricks and dunks. There are only so many blown alley-oops and half assed defensive plays that I can sit through in one sitting.
But this year it was different. The players were battling in the fourth quarter like it was the final minutes of a playoff game. Kyle Lowry was drawing charges, Giannis Antetokounmpo was handing out chasedown blocks to the king of chasedown blocks himself, Lebron James. It mattered.
As I sat there, breathless, watching the best players in the world duke it out, my mind drifted. I imagined a world in which Trent Alexander-Arnold pings a crossfield pass to a streaking Raheem Sterling, who takes the ball down deftly, burns past a helpless Cesar Azpilicueta, before setting up Aubameyang for a powerful rising header at the back post.
It’s a move that could only take place on EA Sport’s FIFA Ultimate Team. But Premier League fans around the world would be itching for such a marriage of the league’s best talent.
The Premier League could use a bit of American showmanship at the halfway point in the season. It would be the perfect event to insert into this new winter break.
This year, after years of complaints from foreign managers, there was a ‘winter break’, although the Premier League games didn’t fully stop due to television rights. The fixtures were split across two weekends, and the teams without fixtures were able to get their break.
Why not have the winter break over one weekend. A handful of the top talent get a weekend in either London or Manchester, and the rest of the players get their coveted rest. Television coverage wouldn’t be an issue, and the weekend would have greater coverage than the average Premier League fixture.
Unfortunately, I can already hear the outcry from the managers against yet another needless opportunity for their top players to get injured. Luckily I have a solution for that as well.
Have the all star game played in the O2, or another similar arena, and play 8v8 instead of a full 11 a side game. This limits the wear and tear on the players legs, and is a more intimate experience for those in attendance.
And while the NBA all star game has big skills challenges in the 3 point contest and the dunk contest, you could do the same with the premier league players. Imagine a top bins ‘soccer AM’ esque challenge, pitting Sadio Mane against the likes of James Maddison.
My point is, the Premier League builds its brand off of the biggest stars. It also desperately needs a break from fixtures after the busy holiday fixtures. The all star weekend allows for this break to occur while also satisfying the television and media’s need for coverage.
Premier League lets make it happen.