Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Mad Skillz

And now, for my next trick, I'm going to make mention of things that show off some "mad skills, yo." One of which had disappeared many years ago, but due to the magic of writing, I'm bringing it back. You're welcome.

Hey now, you're an All-Star.

As that right hook from the 90's sent you flying, I took the time to do a little bit of research.

We all know how All-Star Games function. There's one for each of the Big Four (and one for MLS, but some people don't think it counts), and they're often made to be a huge weekend spectacle--unless you're Major League Baseball, when you think Tuesday is the most brilliant day of the week to broadcast a game like this. In any case, there are usually events that precede each All-Star game, and there is a load of pomp and circumstance flying all around the area for them. Some of them involve sporting legends and celebrities (even veterans of the American military), and some involve conventions and meet and greets. However, I'm not going to be getting into that crazy business. I'm going to talk about the realm of talent. That's right--I'm talking about skills competitions.

The first instance of a skills competition occurred in the American Basketball Association (ABA) in 1976 with the Slam Dunk Contest, which was won by "Dr. J" Julius Erving. Other skills competitions came about much later on; the NBA began a Three-Point Contest in their 1985 season (won by Larry Bird), with Major League Baseball beginning their annual Home Run Derby in the same year (won by Cal Ripken Jr.). Each league has grown in hosting celebrity events and other assorted skills competitions except for the NFL, which had stopped their Pro Bowl Skills Competition after 2007. That said, I guess you could really call them the No Fun League, eh?
(Fun Fact: The ABA merged into the NBA after the 1976 season.)

[Side Note: I just named three legends in the paragraph above. I'm pretty sure this means that these events aren't a load of garbage. But let's move forward, shall we?]

During my Valentine's evening of eating pizza, playing Injustice: Ultimate Edition, and watching Alfred Hitchcock, I got to thinking... Why do these events even exist? What in the world are they proving? These guys make enough money as it is--why do they have to show off?

If you peel away at the concept like an onion, these skill competitions actually break the sport down even further. Simply put, these events are even more difficult variations of practice drills or endurance sessions. For example, during the skills competition before the NHL All-Star Game, a lot of it relies on speed, agility, and handling. For many, the grace of ice skating does not come easy at all. To see these men display their speed while handling their stick and a puck speaks volumes on how skillful these athletes are. In basketball, focus is key, especially in the area of shooting. In baseball, it is about timing and efficient movement (strength is a gimme).

Skill competitions add more dimensions to a player who can only show just a limited amount of skill in-game. For example, you're not going to be able to see Steph Curry nailing three-pointer after three-pointer due to the fact that he's going to have really tall guys attempting to block him. Shooting from the arc isn't the easiest thing in the world to begin with, and to be consistent and accurate at that is a talent whether you like it or not. Also, you wouldn't be able to see a guy like Josh Hamilton hammer 28 home runs in a short amount of time [and later blow it to Justin Morneau in the end] in a regular game, because it would break the rules of the game. You have a time and a place to express yourself.

Is it really showing off? It comes down to perception. It shows that abilities of athletes may know no bounds, that is for certain; however, it could be seen as an "I'm better than you, and I'm going to rub it in your face for the next two hours plus advertising space." Events like this are entertaining spectacles, sure, and some of these guys are extremely humble in these competitions. They're seen as events where "rookies and sophomores" can look ahead to veterans and pick their brains if they aren't on the same team. It's an effective brain-stew convention of sorts, don't you see? It isn't about the showing-off, it's the humility and the learning experiences that one can gain from watching athletes display their talent in a particular spot of the sport.


I'd like to bring up an interesting question: Do the skills competitions help or hinder the All-Star Game that succeeds it on the following day?

I hate to do this, but in my own opinion, the answer is yes and no. Yes, because when the skills competition actually existed for the NFL, people tended to watch (and frankly, care more about) the Pro Bowl the following day. No, because sometimes people don't truly care about who is playing in the game, and might just care about the competitions themselves. An example of this is the Home Run Derby; people might pay more attention to who is in the competition, and totally not care about the other guys playing in the game the following night. The gray area falls upon the NBA and NHL, where fans are more likely to watch both. Then again, it also helps that these events take place on weekends, where Major League Baseball chooses the middle of the mother-flipping week to do this stuff. I digress.


In conclusion, skill competitions are a good breakdown of the sport, and you get to see the very best surgically dissect each aspect of a trait and add more passion and flair to it. Those who are bound for greatness should be able to set a high bar, and that bar will empower boys, girls, men, and women to kick that bar off of the rungs and place it even higher. Sure, it could be a bit much at times, but this could also be a way for them to unwind and have even more fun outside of the game itself.

If you're playing a professional sport, you already have "mad skills" to begin with. Share it.