The winter sports world has met its yearly midpoint. That midpoint means one thing—the all-star break, which necessitates a discussion on what it means, how they differ from sport to sport and how they are changing.
The all-star games of the past were different than the large productions they are today. There was no fan voting, no flash and sometimes even no uniforms. They were simply the games’ best players in the sports’ favorite city. Today, all-star games serve a different purpose.
The event that still serves that older and somewhat higher purpose is the Major League Baseball all-star game. The winning league is awarded home field advantage in the World Series. The stat “five-time all-star” is quite a big deal. Pitchers throw their hardest. Fielders make diving plays. Nowadays, “all-star games” should be more aptly named “all-star events.”
In the National Basketball Association, all-star weekend is about entertaining, expanding the game and selling merchandise. There are all-star jerseys available for purchase, there is a dunk contest and a skills competition. No doubt, it helps to grow the NBA, but it is more of a show than a game.
The 1979-80 National Hockey League all-star game was held in Detroit. It was Wayne Gretzky’s first and Detroit legend Gordie Howe had announced that it would be his last. He had come home to the motor city to say his final farewell. Before the puck dropped, when the rosters were being announced, “No. 9, Gordie Howe” came over the speaker and Joe Louis Arena stood. They stood and did not sit for over four minutes.
This is just one magical moment that was made possible by the all-star games of the past. It isn’t just a great moment in hockey history, but a great moment in all-star game history as well.
This simply doesn’t happen anymore. The latest NHL all-star game was held in Los Angeles. Not only do they sell jerseys, but also hats and T-shirts to commemorate the weekend. The highlights seem to be what props Alexander Ovechkin used in the shootout challenge as opposed to what happened in the actual game.
A perfect example of these changing all-star games is the National Football League’s Pro Bowl. Arguably the best players do not participate because the schedule does not break for it. It is held in the middle of the day instead of prime time and the colors used for the uniforms are essentially fashion statements. It is for the fans, not the players.
This transition to a new all-star game, however, is not necessarily all bad. While, yes, they are now less significant to the schedules of the teams, they are also a great way to expand the game and the brand of their respective sports.