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Chris Bosh's Shooting Stars Legacy and the Heart of All-Star Saturday Night

The Shooting Stars Competition was the dorkiest, least-loved part of the NBA's All-Star Weekend, and Chris Bosh turned it into art. It's gone, but he's still at it.
10 February 2016, 9:37pm
Photo by Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Bosh doesn't really belong in the three-point contest. He knows it, and he would probably tell you as much. Bosh told the Palm Beach Post a few months back that if he were to be included in the contest, he would be thinking, "What am I doing here? I don't fit here."

He went on to explain that his ideal scenario would involve him spending his remaining years discussing how he might fare in the contest without ever having to actually participate: "I want to be the dude to be like, 'I could've made it in the three-point contest, but I really don't want to do it. But I would have been amazing.'"

That line of thinking is why Bosh doesn't really belong. It's not because he isn't a great three-point shooter. He is, and, at seven feet tall, he's currently the best one on the Miami Heat. It's not that he isn't a star worthy of Saturday night's hoopla, either; he's more famous than the majority of the other participants.

Read More: A Year After Nearly Losing It All, Chris Bosh Is All the Way Back

It's really just that Chris Bosh has the self-awareness to understand how silly All-Star Saturday Night really is. If he's going to show up, he'd probably rather compete in a contest that never took itself seriously in the first place. That competition existed until it was put to rest this year. It was called the Shooting Stars competition, and Bosh was its undisputed master.

From 2004 to 2015, the Degree Shooting Stars competition was the first event of Saturday night, meaning it started about three hours before the Slam Dunk Contest. It was simple: teams consisting of one NBA player, one WNBA player, and one "NBA legend" have to make shots from four designated spots on the court, culminating with a half-court shot. The team with the fastest time wins. All the teams shoot from the same places, and at no point in the contest do those places change. It's essentially like a game of H.O.R.S.E., minus the creativity.

One happy Bosh. Photo by Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Given the options available to most people in possession of a television or any semblance of a social life, a certain next-level NBA fandom is required to watch the entirety of All-Star Saturday Night. But let's be honest: investing the accumulative hours an avid fan spends watching basketball from November through June, or actually caring who wins the Dunk Contest, is probably just as silly in the grand scheme of things. It takes a lot to care this much about the NBA, and for some of us, it's hard to turn off. When there's no other professional basketball on and TNT convinces Kenny and Chuck to pretend something's important, people will tune in.

I might as well admit that I'd been one of those people for most of those 11 years, a fact that never fails to bring about some unwanted self-reflection. I've actually bet on the Shooting Stars challenge; Chris Bosh has won me money in this event. Twice. I watched him compete in it last year. On Valentine's Day. All of this says some pretty specific things about both Chris Bosh and myself.

And yet, Bosh's participation really made me feel OK about it. I guess the best analogy would be if your parents threw a really bad birthday party for you when you were young, but instead of a clown or a juggler or something, Chris Bosh showed up to hang out. All your friends would start having fun. If LeBron made an appearance, no one would actually believe he wanted to be there. It would mainly just spark a conversation between your friends about how much he was paid to show up. Bosh would really liven up the party. You have to think that he'd give an honest assessment of the cake.

His participation makes the whole NBA Legend thing feel OK, too. The notion that 50-year-old former athletes are willing to put on a jersey to compete in a silly contest in front of a crowd that mostly hasn't arrived yet could be pretty heartbreaking. This photo of Penny Hardaway seeming legitimately frustrated about the outcome of last year's Shooting Stars challenge makes me a little sad about Penny Hardaway, for instance:

penny hardaway

If any athletic contest actually asked Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, or Chris Paul to unleash their full competitiveness on middle-aged men, it would be really uncomfortable to watch, and probably pretty brutal. But Bosh is the rare professional athlete who knows how to simultaneously have fun and try to win. The contest was sort of a joke, a halfhearted way to include the WNBA in All-Star Weekend that never evolved beyond that.

But Bosh was having so much fun that everyone else wound up enjoying themselves, too. You got the feeling that all the other WNBA players and Legends participating were jealous of Swin Cash and Dominique Wilkins for getting to play with Bosh, who jumped on Nique's back to celebrate their victory last year. We don't know that being part of Team Bosh's Shooting Stars dynasty eased the pain of Wilkins never winning an NBA championship—but we don't know that it didn't.

Of course, there's the nature of Bosh being inexplicably good at such a simple contest. It's believable in the same way that if you told me Bosh was really good at Bingo I would believe that, too, but it's equally as nonsensical. Team Bosh competed in the final three contests and won all of them. Bosh made all three half-court shots he ever took in it.

The contest is gone now, and his dynasty might have been the perfect microcosm for Bosh the NBA Player, who has had a criminally underrated career. This Sunday will be his 11th All-Star Game, and he was voted in by the coaches in each one. He is a game-changing defensive player and more adaptable than maybe any power forward ever. He is on his way to a first-ballot induction into the Hall of Fame. But if Bosh clearly cares about the things that most basketball players do, like winning and money and living in fun places, he also doesn't fight the tide. Only so many people get to be LeBron or Durant or Steph, and anyway Bosh seems very happy just to be himself.

If James Harden wins the three-point contest, it will likely be an important part of a future Adidas campaign. Curry is competing to clarify to anyone who hasn't been paying attention that he's the best shooter in NBA history. Bosh is competing in the shootout because he's already in town and someone asked him to. He told the Sun-Sentinel that he wasn't going to practice for it. If he ends up winning it, he'll probably hold the trophy in the air with some mix of irony and authentic happy-to-be-here vibes. He's already shown us that he means it.