There was a time when all-star games seemed like a good idea.

So did lead paint, eight-track tapes and Blockbuster.

Let’s face it, all-star games no longer work. Whether it’s the ridiculous NBA version of the game, the latest NFL iteration, or the variations on the same theme in the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball, they’re simply a bad form of entertainment. Which is why …

Nobody cares.

Almost nobody watches.

Some 5.5 million viewers tuned into Sunday’s night’s NBA All-Star Game. It was the second-least-watched all-star game in league history, topped only by last year’s game in Salt Lake City, which drew just 4.6 million viewers. The NBA All-Star game has been in a steep decline since it peaked in 2003 with 10.3 million viewers (for what it’s worth, it was also the last time Michael Jordan suited up for the game).

Like the NFL, NHL and MLB, the NBA has tried lots of gimmicks to make the game more appealing. For a time, the fans selected the all-stars, and then the league tried another approach: the two players who received the most votes also selected the teams. Last year LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo were designated to pick an all-star team as their supporting casts (egads, isn’t that what James has been doing his entire career for the regular season?).

Team Giannis won last year’s snoozefest 184-175, a game in which the players played defense as if their opponents had a raging case of the flu. Denver coach Michael Malone called it, “the worst basketball game ever played.”

And it was still better than this year’s game.

The league tried another trick this season by returning to its roots: East All-Stars vs. West All-Stars, with fans, coaches and players selecting the teams. NBA commissioner Adam Silver was so determined to fix the game that he asked Joe Dumars, a former player turned NBA executive, to urge players to give a good effort.

That didn’t pan out.

The final score was 211-186 (the East beat the West, but who cares). If this game were a horse, they would have taken it out back and shot it to put it out of its misery. It was unwatchable. If you think defense in the NBA is bad during the regular season (it is), you should’ve seen this game (you didn’t).

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It made an art form out of loafing, with uncontested paths to the basket and undefended 3-point shots. That’s how they scored 397 points. Many of the top players chose to play only sparingly — including James and Antetokounmpo, the “captains” — and some didn’t play at all. Not even the players are interested in the game.

Headline in USA Today: “NBA All-Star Game needs fixing.”

ESPN: “NBA again left seeking solutions after uncompetitive All-Star Game.”

Long-time NBA writer David Aldridge summed up things perfectly on Twitter: “That was dreadful. Again. I am beginning to think this game is irredeemable. I am not sure why even minimal defense effort is beyond this generation of All-Stars. But it may be time to end this game if they can’t give more of a damn than that.” 

The game is beyond repair. What can the league do, fine players for not playing defense? Turn it into a skills competition? On second thought, scrap the whole thing. The dunking and shooting contests have lost fan interest, too, not to mention that most name players refuse to participate in the former.

It’s not just the NBA All-Star game that has lost its way and its audience. The NFL Pro Bowl (all-star) game, which has been played annually since 1938, devolved into a farce. Players refused to tackle or even pretend to play defense and dozens of other players turned down invitations to participate in the game.

With fan interest and TV ratings declining steadily since 2011, the NFL replaced real football in 2023 with “The Pro Bowl games,” which consists of a flag game and skill contests. This year’s game attracted about 6 million viewers — still better than the NBA All-Star Game, but the second worst in NFL history.

TV ratings for Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game have been in free fall since 1992, dropping from about 22 million to 7 million last summer.

This year’s National Hockey League All-Star game attracted less than 1.4 million viewers, down 7% from a year ago.

One of the biggest obstacles of course is the threat of injury, which is why players refuse to play honest defense or to play at all. There isn’t much that can be done to fix the injury risk. Meanwhile, fans are smart enough to realize when the players aren’t making a good effort and that the resulting high scores are meaningless.

League execs can (and do) tweak the way players are selected and invent all sorts of skill contests and incentives for players to take the competition seriously, but all have failed. No matter the sport, all-star games are dying. Let them go.

Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen (13) celebrates with Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) after a score during a flag football game at the NFL Pro Bowl Games on Sunday, February 4, 2024, in Orlando, Fla. | AP Images for NFL/Peter Joneleit, Associated Press