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…and that’s a good thing!

The National Basketball Association and the City of Las Vegas’ tourism bureau went prime-time on TNT on Sunday night, and we found out that these players are clearly gifted for high levels of competition, but far less gifted at show business. It’s actually a compliment to them that, well, they don’t know how to fake it. The NBA is among the best reality shows in television, with real people competing against motivated opponents at the heights of their skills according to the rules of the game. However, the All-Start game–while good for tourism–looks a lot like the rest of what passes for “reality TV”: it’s over-produced and less than authentic. I’m glad the “real” season still lies ahead on TNT.

First, the players had to stand still and look comfortable during introductions amidst fireworks, cabaret bands, and Wayne Newton singing “Dankeshane” while keeping a straight face. The players looked as natural in that setting as Rocky doing commercials in “Rocky II.”

As the beautiful blimp shots of the lighted city faded and the cameras went indoors to the start of the game, things got more awkward. The NBA All-Star game, you see, is designed to showcase the NBA’s biggest talent in prime time, and there’s an unwritten rule that no defense is played in the first three quarters. It doesn’t look anything like a real NBA game, but more like a show. I think these guys are better at competing than acting, and that’s a good thing.

Not even all of the cut-away shots of Ahnold, Maria Shriver, P. Diddy, Barry Bonds, Prince, Dave Chapelle, and the Mayor of Las Vegas could hide the fact that these guys just aren’t used to going half-speed and trying to make each other look good. More shots of Beyonce, Chris Tucker, Jayzee, Adam Sandler, Gabrielle Union, Eva Longoria, and Mary J. Blige were also nice, but it was interesting that the entertainers were in the audience while the stage-players were uncomfortable in their roles.

Shaquille O’Neal missed three dunks with nobody guarding him. Lebron James tried to pass and set-up his teammates but they thought it was his cue to show off. Several players threw wonderful and ballet-like behind-the-back passes to… the other team! At one point, five defensive players stood motionless while Shaq fumbled the ball out of bounds, got it back from the refs, got it again on a rebound and dunked it home while five defenders watched. In returning the favor at the other end, five opponents watched superstar Kevin Garrett miss two uncontested lay-ups before taking the ball and heading the other way, where O’Neal missed another lay-up and then followed up with a dunk against the red carpet non-defense. The West players were feeding Kobe Bryant as if the script said he was supposed to be the MVP, but he missed three easy early shots with no one guarding him and dropped two passes.

Thankfully, professional entertainers like Christina Aguilera, Toni Braxton, and the Cirque de Soleil team were ready to perform a real show at halftime. (I still can’t believe that they actually showed “instant replay” of Wayne Newton’s lip-sync!)

By the time it was over, the West beat the East, 153-132, and Kobe Bryant was the game’s MVP. Las Vegas tourism won big and the rumors of a potential NBA team in Las Vegas were fueled. And the fourth quarter was the best, because show cues were over and all that was left was basketball.

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