The five major sports leagues in North America showcase what their best athletes have to offer by putting on an all-star game, which allows the players to compete against one-another. While some all-star games are the best at showcasing the ‘best of the best’, others fail to represent the finest their sport has to offer.
But, how would we go about determining what is the greatest all-star game among the MLB, MLS, NBA, NFL, and NHL? We have devised a points system by breaking down the competition into 5 categories: Festivities, Balance, Entertainment, MVP Honours, and HOF Significance. On a scale of 1 (worst) to 5 (first), we have graded each league’s all-star game to evaluate which showcase is worth your time.
MLB: Having only one competition leading up to the MLB All-Star Game limits the fan appeal of the Midsummer Classic. But, quality over quantity, so the Home Run Derby should not count as the sole skill competition in professional baseball, because it is THE skill competition in baseball. After all, hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in athletics. But, having a limited arsenal of festivities doesn’t give the MLB a high placement in this category. 3 points
MLS: Unfortunately, the MLS hasn’t had a traditional skills competition since 2001 and what a shame that is. Even MLS wants one back, as they posted Instagram footage of ‘the good ol’ days’. Who wouldn’t want to see ‘Goalie Wars’ or ‘Air Soccer’? Having lots to offer but providing nothing leaves MLS last in festivities. 1 point
NBA: The NBA does an amazing job appealing to their young fan base with their All-Star Weekend festivities, with events that keep even the most casual NBA fans entertained from Friday to Sunday. The Slam Dunk competition might have the most pop culture reverence out of any skills competition event in any sport, the Three Point competition comes down to the wire every single year, and the NBA Celebrity Game is the only place where you can watch Quavo drop 19 points while absolutely destroying Rachel Demita.
The only real knock on the festivities is the Taco Bowl Skills Challenge, which lacks the star talent required to be a sufficiently entertaining event, considering that the winner last year was Spencer Dinwiddie. All in all, the NBA All-Star weekend is the best of the best when it comes to its festivities. 5 points
NFL: UNDERRATED. The Pro Bowl’s Skills Showdown is the only legitimate part of the entire weekend. From events that demonstrate top athleticism, such as, Best Hands and Precision Passing, to the quirky and entertaining, 40 Yard Splash and Epic Dodgeball, the Pro Bowl has a good combination of serious and silly competitions. The lack of fan support comes from the ever changing event lineup, which coincidentally is also the reason the Skills Showdown remains an innovative and fresh tournament. 4 points
NHL: Although the NHL does a great job in terms of variety when it comes to all-star game festivities, it is plagued by predictability. Connor McDavid is virtually guaranteed to win the Fastest Skater competition every year, and for an entire decade Zdeno Chara and Shea Weber left no room for competition in the Hardest Shot challenge. What they lack in spontaneity, they make up for in consistency, as all of its events, from Accuracy Shooting to the Puck Control Relay are solid, if relatively unspectacular across the board. 2 points
MLB: Watching the best hitters go up against the best pitchers is a simple equation for a balanced game. High powered offence and lights out defence allows for the MLB All-Star Game to be a realistic representation of an actual regular season game. By providing viewers an exact portrayal of its sport, baseball can properly showcase its star talent. The only negative is the pace of play, and the abundance of substitutions. 4 points
MLS: Stereotypically, sports fans poke fun at soccer for its low scoring matches and its penalty ladened conclusions. This isn’t just a stereotype, this is an accurate summary of MLS All-Star Games. The last two all-star games ended in a 1-1 score before MLS lost in penalty shots; the three games before that ended in 2-1 scores (with MLS winning in 2014 and 2015). This gives MLS full points for successfully reconstructing realistic play in the all-star game. 5 points
NBA: ISO BALL! The NBA’s All-Star Game features hero-ball at its finest, where players feel compelled to assert why they are the best in the league, resulting in some iconic isolation showdowns.The game structure remains the same, four quarters, 5 v 5 play, however what distinguishes this from any other regular season game is a problem that is pervasive throughout any sport’s all star game competition: complete defensive apathy. Although this lack of commitment to defense does result in lopsided scores, the game doesn’t feel like it’s a complete departure from regular season gameplay, and relative to other all star games, it is one of the more compelling games to watch. 3 points.
NFL: Some of the NFL’s beauty lies in its meticulous attention to detail. Each player on the field has a specific role in every play call, and failing to complete that task can lead to a team’s failure. However, that mindset in the Pro Bowl is lost. You have teams throwing passes to their cornerbacks instead of their wide receivers; running backs playing defence; and WR Adam Thielen throwing an intended pass that would end up being an interception. The game also features little-to-no physicality, matching the intensity of most adult rec flag-football leagues. If you’re a fan of players being out of position and two-hand touch football, then this is the all-star game for you. If you’re like the authors of this article, then you give the Pro Bowl the lost score possible. 1 point.
NHL: Although 3 v. 3 play is a function of regular season gameplay, the NHL All-Star Game completely sacrificed realism for entertainment value when the league adopted the 3 v. 3, single elimination tournament format in 2016. The complete lack of any defensive effort results in teams essentially trading odd-man rushes for the duration of the game, as well as there being a severe lack of physicality between players (albeit a microcosm of the downward trend of violence in the NHL), both factors ultimately resulting in cartoonishly high final scores. If you enjoyed the firewagon style of hockey epitomized by the 1980s Edmonton Oilers, or if you consistently choose the Arcade gameplay setting while playing NHL 19, you will love the NHL All-Star game, however when compared to any regular season game, it might seem as if you’re watching two different sports. 2 points.
MLB: This might be the most important category for the casual fan or the friend you convinced to watch the game with you. Baseball has long been known as a sport that’s “not for everyone”. The anatomically correction recreation of baseball in the Midsummer Classic stunts the entertainment value for even the biggest of fans. The excitement for the MLB All-Star Game is more exciting than a regular season baseball game, but not by much. Average. 3 points
MLS: The MLS All-Star Game is the only competition that involves all players to play against an outside team. In the 2018 MLS All-Star Game the team faced off against Juventus, in 2017 against Real Madrid, and in 2016 against Arsenal. In theory, the game should provide MLS fans with the opportunity to watch their favourite players compete against some of the greatest European teams in the world. However, in many cases, star players decide to pull out of the friendly, such as Cristiano Ronaldo in 2017 and 2018. Otherwise, players that do come to compete are given short 20-40 minutes to play before they are substituted off the field. On a lighter note, MLS has been improving and it’s exciting to see what the future of the MLS All-Star Weekend. But for now it remains a lower tier showcase. 1 point
NBA: Without question, the NBA’s All-Star Game has the most entertainment value of any of the five major sports leagues’ showcases. The gossip and drama that follows the biggest stars in the NBA manifests itself in the game’s most recent addition: the televised draft, in which two team captains draft their teams live, most recently causing claims of tampering to be levied against Lebron James. Unlike other showcases, there is no requirement for every NBA team to be represented in the game, which truly allows for the best of the best to compete. This has amazing consequences, as the NBA All-Star Game is a high offence, fast-paced showdown between the NBA’s biggest superstars, featuring an abundance of deep threes, lobs and dunks. 5 points.
NFL: Enough can’t be said about the quality of play that occurs in the Pro Bowl. Not only is it a waste of time for fans, but it degregates the state of the sport. America’s sport deserves a better fate than the Pro Bowl, with its effortless attempts, unorganized gameplans, and late season schedule, more fans are focused on the upcoming Super Bowl than the present Pro Bowl. Watching the NFL’s all-star game is about as thrilling as watching two above-average high school teams play. 2 points
NHL: The change from the traditional East v. West, 5 on 5 game, to a 3 v. 3 tournament between the four NHL divisions has drastically increased the entertainment value of this showcase. The game has become conducive to high speed, wide open action, where young players in particular, such as Elias Pettersson and Mikko Rantanen are able to thrive, thus making for an enthralling viewing experience. Even the fan voting system has resulted in humourous outcomes, particularly in 2016 when John Scott received the most votes and became captain of the Pacific All-Star team. 4 points.
MLB: While most don’t consider the importance of an MVP award, we decided to include it in our discussion as many leagues are now providing thousands of dollars in rewards. That being said, the MLB All-Star Game MVP is usually awarded to a player with an average stat line. The combined statistics of each of the last four MLB All-Star Game MVPs is 5 hits, 4 HRs, 5RBIs, and 3 strikeouts. This doesn’t include Carl Crawford’s 2009 MVP honours coming after going 1 for 3 with a strikeout, albeit he did come up with a big catch in the seventh inning. In terms of deserving an award and a new Chevrolet “Whatchamacallit”, this MVP honour ranks last among the five leagues. 1 point
MLS: Though the game includes over two dozen combined substitutions, the MVP award is given to the player who contributed the most in their short appearance. In the usual case of the low scoring soccer games, the award is given to the player scoring the most important goal, like Chuba Akpom in 2016 scoring the game deciding goal in the 87th minute. The significance of the play is well-deserving of an MVP Award. 3 points
NBA: The NBA hands out one MVP award after the All-Star Game, selected by members of the media. The media members who hand out this award do a great job at rewarding players who actually contribute the most to their team’s success, while resisting the urge to use the award as a means to congratulate veterans participating in their final All-Star Game, most notably in 2016 when Russell Westbrook was rightfully given the award after putting up a 31/5/8 stat line as a starter, over Kobe Bryant who was playing in his final All-Star Game and only scored 10 points. 5 points
NFL: Unlike the other leagues, the NFL gives out two MVP awards after the Pro Bowl, one to a defensive player and one to an offensive player. On paper this isn’t a bad idea, but in practice you can start to notice the issues of handing out awards at the Pro Bowl. On the defensive side, the Pro Bowl showcases small tackles and limited pressure that makes it very hard to represent a good defense. On the other hand, offensive players are swapped quite frequently giving players a small window of time to play. This results in players like Patrick Mahomes winning the MVP award for 156 passing yards and one touchdown. Then to top it all off, you have the Pro Bowl MVP Award breaking at the ceremony. 2 points
NHL: The MVP award in the NHL All-Star game is decided via fan vote, and is often the player who had the biggest contribution of their team’s success in the tournament, with the exception of 2016 when John Scott received the award. The most interesting part of the ASG’s MVP award is that the recipient also gets a car, which they literally drive onto the ice for some reason. 4 points
MLB: On the road to Cooperstown, an all-star game selection (or 24 if you’re Hank Aaron) can go a long way to secure a final spot in MLB’s Hall of Fame. Playing in multiple all-star games can boost an nominees chances of being immortalized as one of the best. Not only is it a demonstration of a good year, but multiple selections show off consistent excellence. Given the importance of the Midsummer Classic for the hall of fame, we have decided to give baseball full points for its resume significance. 5 points
MLS: Given that the MLS doesn’t have a traditional hall of fame (yet), it’s hard to gauge the significance of playing in the all-star game. 1 point
NBA: Due to the nature of the selection process of the NBA All-Star game (fans, players and media vote for starters, bench players chosen by coaches), truly the best in basketball is represented in this game. As a result, numerous All-Star Game appearances throughout an NBA player’s career demonstrates that they were capable of being one of the game’s elite players for stretches of their career. Therefore multiple appearances serve as a base requirement for induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. 4 points
NFL: Getting to a the Super Bowl is every team’s goal, but if the pieces aren’t in place it becomes challenging for even the greatest of players to carry the team. For the best players, failing to make it to the biggest game results in a consolation prize in the shape of the Pro Bowl. While being a Super Bowl champion is a reward in itself, it can also strengthen a player’s hall of fame resume. The next option is the Pro Bowl, which can be a good indication of a player’s hall of fame worth. Ask Hall of Fame Quarterback Dan Marino who has no Super Bowl rings, but nine Pro Bowl selections. 3 points
NHL: Appearances in multiple NHL All-Star games can absolutely bolster the Hockey Hall of Fame candidacy of any player, however a severe lack of appearances does not necessarily hinder their chances of induction either. There is a greater emphasis on statistical benchmarks (i.e forwards scoring 500 or more goals in their career), individual awards (i.e number of Vezina Trophy wins for a goalie), and team success when it comes to admission into the Hall. Knowing that missing an All-Star game will not be detrimental to their legacy, every year some players skip the festivities, most recently Alexander Ovechkin and Carey Price, and are willing to face a one game suspension for doing so. 2 points
The final tally for each league is as follows:
MLS: 11 Points
NFL: 12 Points
NHL: 14 Points
MLB: 16 Points
NBA: 22 Points
To our collective surprise the NBA won as the best all-star game weekend, but it makes sense. The NBA has been consistently at the forefront of pop-culture, being a large motivator of song lyrics, fashion, and player personalities. What the NBA has been able to do at time when other leagues have faced diminishing fan bases is quite spectacular. By continuing to reinvision itself, the NBA has created a platform for entertainment for diehard and casual fans alike. It remains a question to see what the NBA has next, and if other leagues will follow its path.