The actual basketball sucked, and so did the musical entertainment.
The unfortunate truth of the NBA All-Star Game—the one sportswriters take pains, as a general rule, to avoid mentioning—is that it is almost always a showcase of terrible basketball. Nobody plays defence (because hard defence is the cause of most player injuries, and nobody wants to get injured during what’s essentially their mid-season vacation). The result is always a massively inflated score with a few exciting dunks (like this one from DeMar DeRozan) to keep fans from falling asleep while players run up scores that are like a six-year-old’s idea of what basketball scores are like. In fact, the Western Conference team this year set the record for points in a half in the first half—and then broke it in the second.
The real action in All-Star Weekend is, paradoxically, everything that is not the All-Star Game. So let’s talk about the music.
First off, after a perfectly gorgeous and artful rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Ne-yo, for some reason the NBA brought out Nelly Furtado to sing “O Canada.” Nelly Furtado has not had a major North American hit in almost a decade, and was never known as a powerful singer in the first place—which probably contributed to her disastrous performance of the national anthem. Furtado’s arrangement of the song altered numerous parts of it, making it impossible for the crowd to sing along (which possibly could have covered up that even by altering the song to presumably suit her own vocal range, Furtado was frequently off-key). It was dreadfully bad, all the more so considering why Nelly Furtado? Was The Weeknd—or any of a half dozen other vital and important and popular Canadian singers—not available?
Compared to Furtado, headliner Sting (looking a lot like Davos Seaworth from Game of Thrones) was at least passable, in that he sang the medley to all of his old hits capably and seemed to have memorized all the words and notes. But—and this is not the first time we have said this, and if we hadn’t, everybody else said it for us—Sting? Really? Sting? Look. I’m 40 years old and when I was a kid, Sting was what my dad listened to. That is the Sting demographic, not the young people the NBA trucked in to appear to rock out to “De Doo Doo Doo.” (Maybe there was a want ad placed: “Do you like the boring music your parents—or possibly grandparents—loved? Do you want to go to the All-Star Game for free?”)
To be clear, the half of the audience that was affluent old people really loved watching Sting, and sang along to “I’ll Be Watching You” and “Message In A Bottle” and all of the other songs Sting released before the Berlin Wall fell. But for everybody in the audience under the age of 50, Sting was a pee break, and it seems like the musical halftime show at the biggest weekend of the entire basketball season should… not be that? And you can’t even solely blame this on NBA owners and executives being a bunch of old white dudes who are the type of guys who really like to rock out to Sting. When NFL owners and executives who are just as old and just as white (or even whiter), they got Beyonce, Bruno Mars, and Coldplay for the Super Bowl. They did book Chris Martin—who, arguably, might be the next Sting 30 years in the future—he’s currently headlining a band that had actual hit singles in the last five years.
And finally: where was Drake? Drake’s contribution to All-Star Weekend was to coach a celebrity basketball team and then spend 30 seconds last night talking about how great basketball and Toronto are. Drake is literally famous because of his songs (and maybe Degrassi a little bit), so is it crazy for us to think that maybe this internationally successful rapper and singer could, you know, rap or sing at All-Star Weekend? He could have jammed with Sting! Who wouldn’t want that? Just imagine all the tantric yoga stories Sting could tell you in between jams.