- The Washington Times - Friday, January 9, 2009

It is difficult to determine which event is worse, the NBA All-Star Game or the NFL Pro Bowl.

It possibly depends on the number of lob passes gone awry in the NBA showcase exhibition or the number of NFL stars who come down with mysterious ailments to avoid getting their hair messed up in the glorified touch football game in Honolulu.

Bad is bad, just as creepy is creepy in the case of Michael Jackson and Marilyn Manson, either one deserving of being voted the creepiest-looking celebrity in the nation.

While it is an all-star tossup between the NBA and NFL, the NHL is closing fast. The unworthiness of that league’s All-Star Game increased significantly this year because of Alex Ovechkin’s omission from the starting lineup.

That unthinkable slight is the burden of the NHL fans, who somehow neglected to remember that Ovechkin was the league MVP last season and has shown no drop in play this season.

We could blame the Canadians or demand a revote, but it probably would not change a thing. This, after all, is the NHL, which sometimes lacks common sense while functioning like a rumor. There is the occasional sighting of a game on television, though usually on one of those obscure cable channels that only a couple of households carry.

The dwindling relevance of the all-star game undoubtedly received a nudge from Bud Selig, the baseball commissioner who once ruled the erstwhile Midsummer Classic a tie.

That underlined the pointlessness of the all-star game.

The NBA All-Star Game has deteriorated into a silly mess of bad passing, poor shot selection and giggles all around. David Stern, being the savvy marketer that he is, could reverse the apathy by staging an Us vs. Them Game each February.

That would mean putting LeBron on a team of Americans and Yao and Dirk on the opposing team of Internationals. Such a move undoubtedly would increase the game’s sense of purpose and save a weekend mostly devoid of entertainment - not counting the gunfire in strip clubs.

The baseball All-Star Game actually used to mean something, believe it or not, and never mind the World Series home-field advantage that now goes to the winner of the game.

Pete Rose barreled into Ray Fosse at home plate in the 1970 game, and no one thought it was an inappropriate maneuver, even if it did hasten the end of Fosse’s career. Carl Hubbell struck out five future Hall of Famers in a row in the 1934 All-Star Game: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin. And Ted Williams hit a home run off the “eephus” pitch of Rip Sewell in the 1946 All-Star Game.

That was a time in the game when athletes played for the love of the game. They certainly did not play for the love of the paycheck, modest as it was before athletes came up with the brilliant idea that they were no different from factory workers and needed to unionize.

Now the best of the best in all the professional sports, excluding those in Major League Soccer, are two-legged corporations intent on not getting hurt in a meaningless exhibition game.

Their logic is understandable, though hard to watch on display. The sports lords should not be surprised by America’s growing indifference to these exercises in fantasy. The fantasy is always better than the reality anyway.

That goes double for the NHL All-Star Game. If Ovechkin is not in the starting lineup of the NHL All-Star Game, is it really an all-star game?

Of Ovechkin’s snub, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau says, “It’s dumb.”

It also is all-star business as usual.

None of these would-be classics amount to much these days.

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