Kenny Smith alongside Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller. Photo Credit: TNT

Like many NBA fans, I enjoy watching the Saturday night festivities that the league puts out the Saturday before the All-Star Game every year. But like many NBA fans, I watch those festivities in spite of the fact that the product as a whole is incredibly messy. All-Star Saturday night is nothing if not a rollercoaster. Every year there are parts of it that are wonderful and will have your complete and undivided attention, and every year there are parts of it that will have you groaning and checking your watch and mumbling “Ugh, who the hell thought this was a good idea?”

With that in mind, I’d like to stab at perfecting All-Star Saturday, since many of the meh aspects of it are easily identifiable and even more easily correctable. This showcase doesn’t need to fluctuate in quality as much as it does, and with a few tweaks, it could become a product that’s not only more entertaining but quicker, more jam-packed, and built for a wider audience. (And before anyone asks, I’ve come to believe the Dunk Contest is pretty much as good as it can be outside of needing more marquee people in it. Like it or not, it is what it is. Hence why it doesn’t make the tweak list.)

So with that in mind, here’s my fan’s perspective of how the league and TNT can go about perfecting NBA All-Star Saturday.

Reduce the filler

The amount of fluff that takes place during NBA All-Star Saturday is consistently the very worst thing about it. There is way, WAY too much padding during it. It took a whopping 25 minutes for the first competition of the evening, the Skills Challenge, to even begin – which is a ridiculous amount of waiting just to see something that’s, at best, everyone’s third favorite Saturday night event. The intro segments and interview segments during these events eat up an egregious amount of time; tiebreaker rounds for the events can stretch them out even further, when they could often be bypassed by more players simply being allowed to advance instead; and then there’s the fact that the Skills Challenge goes on far longer than anybody needs it to, meaning that fans sometimes have to wait an hour and a half to get to the Three-Point Contest, which is often seen as the best event of the night.

If all the fat was trimmed and if the first event actually started on time for once, it could legitimately free up an entire hour of air time that the NBA would then be able to play with. Saturday night could easily feature one or even two more competitions every year and not have to go a second longer than it already does, which would make it a much more streamlined and watchable product. In an age when sports leagues are concerned about the pace of play, it feels more than a little counterintuitive for All-Star Saturday night to be this much of a slog to sit through.

Reduce the product placement

Look, I’m not asking for miracles here. I think everyone goes into these events knowing they’re going to be served an onslaught of ads from select sponsors, and I’m not expecting that to change anytime soon. But good lord would it be nice if it could be toned down a little bit. The entire court being turned green to promote Starry was bad enough, but who on Earth needed to see a pair of Starry mascots hanging around the players the entire time?

And likewise, who on Earth needed to see not one but two different shoehorned moments during the events in which the camera suddenly focused on Jake from State Farm, as though he was Taylor Swift and deserved being cut to on a whim without introduction?

Again, I’m not naïve enough to think the Starry and State Farm ads are going to suddenly leave this event, but they were beyond obnoxious this year and viewers deserve the respect of being trusted to retain advertisements without being beaten over the head with them.

Make the WNBA player vs NBA player three-point shoot-off permanent

Without question, the highlight of this year’s festivities was Steph Curry having a personal three-point shooting duel with Sabrina Ionescu – a showdown that was so exciting and so well executed that virtually the entire basketball community came away from it wanting to see more competitions just like it. And I’m 100% with them. There is more than enough room during All-Star Saturday night for two shooting competitions. There can be the classic one between eight NBA players, and there can be a showcase between the best shooter the NBA has to offer and best shooter the WNBA has to offer. This secondary event was way, way, way too good an idea to merely be a one-off and I’ll be beyond shocked if it doesn’t become a Saturday night staple from here on out.

Reduce Kenny Smith

All right, let’s talk about Kenny Smith, whose commentary on TNT during the competitions was not just panned on social media but crushed. And Smith deserved all of that criticism, as he sounded equal parts disengaged and uninformed during every single event he was analyzing – from getting the name of one of the judges wrong to not knowing that Jaime Jaquez Jr. was in the dunk contest to openly questioning how Jaquez Jr. was honoring Mexico during a dunk to not knowing that Jaylen Brown was honoring Terrance Clarke during a dunk to expressing surprise that Tyrese Haliburton was an excellent shooter during the three-point contest to even poo-pooing that contest as a whole by saying it wasn’t hyping fans as much as Vince Carter’s dunks did in 2000 – which is a pretty ridiculous standard to hold an event to, let alone randomly and 24 years later.

But the worst moment by far came after Curry and Ionescu’s delightful, charming, wonderful duel, which Smith promptly pissed on by suggesting that Ionescu should’ve shot closer to the basket because she’s a woman, despite the fact that she had more than held her own with Curry. Smith, who went on to say “She should have shot it from the women’s line, that would have been a fair contest,” was so breathtakingly patronizing and out of touch with his impromptu editorializing that his words are likely to be remembered for years to come as an example of the mainstream sexism that WNBA players receive. Indeed, when a documentary comes out 20 years from now about the lack of respect that women in sports have to navigate through, it’s easy to envision Smith’s words from Saturday night being featured in it – where they will then be enshrined as a historic embarrassment.

Suffice to say, this is not optimal for NBA All-Star Saturday.

Kenny Smith has long been treated as the de facto emcee of these events, and for what it’s worth, he does deserve credit for bringing energy and enthusiasm to them for many years in which they probably didn’t deserve them. There’s a reason it’s hard to remember what these events were like without Kenny Smith commentating on them: it’s because he’s been very good for them for a long time. But those days appear past, because Smith’s performance on Saturday was the kind of dreadful that actively sucks the enjoyment out of the program. Smith didn’t sound energetic or enthusiastic on Saturday; he sounded like a bitter old malcontent who only keeps showing up to these things because it’s his ticket to gladhanding with stars and celebrities. And you know what? Viewers deserve better than that, and if that WNBA shooting showcase is going to be the permanent institution that I suspect it will be, then it’s beyond imperative that TNT makes sure he never interferes with that feel-good event ever again, and probably a few more to boot.

But it’s especially silly for Smith to be this ever-present during the festivities when TNT is loaded with other talent that they can put in his place instead. The number of NBA fans who’d be sad for All-Star Saturday night to no longer double as “The Kenny Smith Show” is essentially zero, so to me, the solution for next year is pretty simple: let Smith announce only as far as the first shooting competition, and the moment that’s done with, swap him out for Charles Barkley or Candance Parker or Shaq or whoever, and keep Smith benched for the entirety of the dunk contest. He’s not so invaluable to these events that his thumbprints need to be on every inch of them anyway, and he’s definitely not so invaluable that it’s worth it for him to potentially imperil yet another WNBA shooting challenge. Fans watch these events because they actually like and respect the product they’re looking at, and the least they deserve is a commentator who’ll actually do the same.