Now that it’s mid-February we are right in between two of basketball’s biggest events. With the NBA All-Star Weekend having just taken place and March Madness coming up shortly, February is a great month to be a basketball fan. Aside from their proximity on the calendar and the fact that they both feature an abundance of talent – the two events actually have little in common. This statement might sound crazy given that they are two of basketball’s premiere events but dig deeper and you’ll understand.
The NBA All-Star Weekend is one of the most stylish events in all of sports. The Slam Dunk Contest, the Celebrity Game, the Skills Challenge, the Three-Point Contest, the Fergie concert anthem singing – it’s all very polished and dramatic. In contrast, March Madness is anything but stylish. A bunch of teenagers and stressed-out coaches sweating on national television. This isn’t to say there is no glamour within the tournament, it just has a more authentic tone of athleticism and competition.
On top of this, if you look at the actual talent between the two there isn’t actually much overlay. It would be a fair assumption to think that the top NBA players also did well in March Madness. However, one’s March Madness eliteness doesn’t always translate to the NBA, and vice versa, one’s NBA prowess doesn’t necessarily mean the player also did well in the tournament.
There are a number of reasons for this. For starters, basketball is a team sport plain and simple. There are some instances where a single player can carry his team to greatness. But that’s hard to do in March Madness. There’s just too many rounds. For example, Stephen Curry played on an underwhelming Davidson team and he simply couldn’t carry his team. They didn’t even qualify one year. If you’re not on a top-ranked team, you don’t always have the same opportunity to shine. Curry and fellow All-Star Jimmy Butler can relate to the qualms of being snubbed by recruiters. They represent a variety of talents that didn’t end up in one of college’s bigger basketball programs.
You also have to take into account that some NBA All-Stars never played a game in the NCAA. Some (like Lebron) make the move straight from high school to the NBA. Others such as Giannis Antetokounmpo come internationally.
Lastly, the lifespan of a really good NCAA player isn’t very long, as they declare their intentions to enter the NBA draft early. For many, their window to win an NCAA tournament is one year, some a bit longer at two or three years. Even if someone stays all four years in college, the tournament is a one-and-done affair. You lose, you’re out – not much room for error even with four kicks at the can.
Furthermore, you have to take into account injuries and other factors. Taking all of the above into consideration, you can see that the odds are actually pretty low for NBA All-Stars to dominate and win at the March Madness level. Al Horford is of course one of the biggest exceptions to this rule. Of the 10 starters in the 2018 All-Star Game, only Anthony Davis won the NCAA tournament.
Here’s a look at the complete starting line-ups…
Lebron James – never played in the NCAA
DeMarcus Cousins – reached the Elite Eight with Kentucky in his only March Madness appearance
Anthony Davis – won the NCAA Championship in his only season at Kentucky
Kevin Durant – lost in the 2nd round in his only March Madness appearance
Kyrie Irving – made it to the Sweet Sixteen in his only season at Duke
Stephen Curry – in his 3 seasons at Davidson, he lost in the first round, made it to the Elite Eight (losing to the eventual champions, Kansas) and failed to qualify for the tournament, respectively
Giannis Antetokounmpo – grew up in Greece, never played in the NCAA
DeMar DeRozan – lost in the 2nd round in his only March Madness appearance with USC
Joel Embiid – never played in a March Madness tournament, suffering a stress fracture in his back just before the tournament in his only year at Kansas
James Harden – in his first year at Arizona State, the Sun Devils did not qualify for the NCAA D1 tournament. In his sophomore year, they lost to Syracuse in the 2nd round
This isn’t a knock on March Madness – of course not. Both the NBA All-Star Weekend and March Madness are fantastic sporting events. They just don’t always cross-over, as some may have thought. Talent has the potential of being both fleeting and untapped. That’s the beauty of sports. You simultaneously always have the chance to fall from grace or become a Legend – and that is something that should never be taken for granted.