I'll readily admit that I'm not huge on the All Star Game. Still, I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that the rewind button on my remote got a much bigger workout during the player introductions than at any other time in the game. Sure I went back and watched a couple of Chris Paul to Blake Griffin lob dunks, but frankly the ones we saw in the All Star Game were rather pedestrian compared to those we see in pretty much every Clippers game. But those warmup jackets during the player intros! Those were endlessly fascinating.
Why? Because this year Adidas and the NBA decided to included little icons, not unlike a boy scout's merit badges or a solider's medals, on the left breast of the warmups. With the East reserves being the first to be introduced, it took awhile to notice anything peculiar. After all, the seven Eastern Conference reserves were an amazingly inexperienced group, with eight total All Star games between them (six ASG rookies and Luol Deng in his second game).
Since the various patches represent career accomplishments, and since most of those guys didn't have any, the uniforms all looked the same -- there was a star on the left breast, and Deng's star had a number 2 in the middle of it while all the others had a 1. But hang on a second... what was that on Kyrie Irving's warm up? There were some extra bits. Then when the 12 year veteran Tyson Chandler was announced, there were a couple other items, different than Irving's, and one of them was clearly shaped like the Larry O'Brien trophy.
Now, I'll admit that I'm a tad obsessive compulsive about these sorts of design elements, and I am particularly fascinated by iconography. So while I realized that the various patches represented various career accomplishments, that wasn't enough for me. I had to know EXACTLY what each one meant.
At which point it became a puzzle to solve. The Star (one patch each, with the number representing the number of All Star selections) was a no-brainer, and the O'Brien trophy for the former Dallas Maverick Chandler was obviously for being part of an NBA championship team. But then so many more started popping up, on players like Kevin Garnett and Dwyane Wade and LeBron James and Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant. But what was the full list of available honors? Like a good Pokemon collector, I had to catch 'em all.
One of the biggest clues in the process came from the players who DIDN'T have much on their jacket. Carmelo Anthony, befitting his rather well-earned reputation as a player who is considered elite but hasn't actually accomplished a lot, didn't have any more decorations on his jacket than first time All Star Jrue Holiday -- he just had a bigger number on his Star. Chris Bosh had his Star and a title Trophy. So All-NBA selections weren't included, at least not anything beyond first team. What else was there?
The full list was difficult to devise, partly because it didn't make a whole lot of sense. End of season individual awards such as MVP (Bryant, Garnett, James, Duncan), Defensive Player of the Year (which explained Chandler's other one and also showed up for Garnett and Dwight Howard) and Rookie of the Year (hello Kyrie Irving, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, LeBron James, Kevin Durant) all warranted an icon, but neither the Sixth Man Award (James Harden's relatively bare chest) nor the Most Improved Player (poor Zach Randolph was mostly undecorated) made the cut.
Aside from the All Star patch, the others were all one-to-one -- that is, if you had won multiple championships, you got multiple O'Brien trophy patches. That helped in the detective work. For instance, even if the O'Brien trophy hadn't been so obvious to begin with, it would have still been easy to figure out from the fact that Kobe had five of them and Duncan had four. Likewise LeBron's three MVPs,Kobe's four ASG MVPs and Kevin Durant's three scoring championships helped crack the code for those honors (though I had completely forgotten that Dwyane Wade had ever won a scoring crown so the fact that he had the Scoring Champ patch along with Durant, James and Bryant stumped me for a bit -- I finally just decided he must have won one, which indeed he did in 2009.)
But what the heck was that third icon for Irving? And what other honor had Blake Griffin ever won? Let's face it, I've followed Griffin's career with some interest, I should be able to figure this out. At first I wondered if it had something to do with being the first overall pick in the draft -- Irving and Griffin both had one unaccounted for patch, so maybe that was it. But the patches weren't the same, so that didn't explain it. It finally occurred to me that this being an All Star Game, the patches were heavily skewed towards honoring All Star accomplishments. So there were patches honoring winners of the Slam Dunk, Three Point and Skills Challenge contests (though presumably not for the H-O-R-S-E or Shooting Stars events). So that explained the mystery backboard icon for Griffin, Bryant and Howard, and Irving's additional honor for winning the Three Point contest this weekend.
In the end, I thought these merit badges were a nice additional touch in the uniforms, something to help give some context to these player's career. The exclusion of the Most Improved and Sixth Man Awards seems more than a little sad and arbitrary -- why not throw a bone to Harden and Randolph? Does anyone really believe that winning a All Star Weekend Skills competition is more deserving recognition than a Sixth Man Award? Besides, talk about context -- it's cool to recognize a player who went from Sixth Man to All Star, or who had such a rise at one point in his career that he won the MIP award on his way to the very top of the game. I'm also confused as to why they didn't include All NBA selections the same way they did All Star Games, with a single patch embedded with a number. Ten of the 24 players introduced yesterday had one lonely patch on their chest -- LaMarcus Aldridge, Randolph, Anthony and Westbrook have certainly had more distinguished NBA career's than Brook Lopez, and you could easily represent that with just one more patch. Maybe they'll get it right next year if they continue this.
If indeed they do continue the tradition, Chris Paul will have at least one more patch on his All Star warmup -- an All Star MVP award. And there's a chance that he could have an NBA MVP and/or that he and Griffin will have an O'Brien trophy, but we'll just have to wait and see about those.