Recently, a friend asked me to accompany him to Brooklyn to watch the Warriors take on the Nets. Despite the troublesome year it has been, it was nice to see one of my favorite teams in action. While I certainly had an enjoyable time, if I am honest, the game was not all that exciting. On the court, the biggest stars were probably D’Angelo Russell — playing what would be his final game with Golden State in his return to Brooklyn — and Spencer Dinwiddie of the Nets. While I have my frustrations with Kyrie Irving, I would have loved to see him in action, because that is what the NBA and professional sports thrive on: stars.
The game ended in a blowout and was certainly no exception to that rule. The most engaging part of the game, not just for me but for most in the stadium was Stephen Curry conducting his warmup routine, a half-hour before tipoff. I have seen it on social media: the three-pointers from the logo, the high-arching floaters, the quick ball-handling, but in person, it is a different experience. It gives an appreciation for the talent of the league’s top players and reaffirms what the NBA is all about.
That is precisely why NBA All-Star Weekend is one of my favorite times of the season. To see players from all teams and skillsets take the stage for a weekend of festivities is always tremendous fun. With this year’s rule changes and innovations, there were high expectations for All-Star Weekend to return to its former glory, and it certainly did.
For the first time in many years, I watched a vast majority of Friday night’s Rising Stars, featuring the freshman and sophomore talents of the NBA. The league’s future faces are brighter than ever before, with the flashiness of Trae Young, the powerful dunking of MVP Miles Bridges, the ever-enchanting Luka Doncic and of course, the man who was all the talk for destabilizing a rim — and will be for many years to come — Zion Williamson. College — or in many cases, international — years often go either too quickly or unnoticed in today’s basketball economy. For the first time, with all the league’s upcoming stars together, the talent, both as players and entertainers, has me very excited for the future.
All-Star Saturday Night: the chance for unknown underdogs to make a statement in the national spotlight. Over the years, this has been the source of some of my finest memories of the NBA. Every year around this time, I head into the archives to watch old Slam Dunk Contests, awing over Vince Carter’s 2000 reverse windmill, Jason Richardson’s two-footed power or the unforgettable duel between Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine in 2016. As the NBA has changed, the Three-Point Contest has become arguably the most coveted event. No subjectivity, no controversy: shooters shoot, and the best shooter wins. Even the Skills Challenge, a relatively mundane affair, has added a spark of energy with the addition of big men. Luckily, this year’s competition played into the best aspect of all three.
In the Skills Challenge, forget about the guards: it was all big men in the final round. Bam Adebayo was crowned the champion. Who would have thought Buddy Hield would down Devin Booker and Davis Bertans in the Three-Point Contest? And who expected another dunk-off in Aaron Gordon’s controversial loss to Derrick Jones Jr.? Saturday night was exciting and surprising with the stars of the league on full display.
The real catalyst for this piece, though, stems from Sunday night’s All-Star Game. With the passing of Kobe Bryant came an overhaul of the game’s rules to honor his legacy. The intent was to make the game more competitive and provide an initiative to win the game with donations to Chicago charities. Again, it was largely a success.
On the court, the exhibition style, defensive-void contests that would approach 200 points in previous years were nowhere apparent, especially in the final quarter. Instead there was an intense showdown where both teams wanted to take home the victory. Never have I seen players in the All-Star Game out of breath and drenched in sweat as if it was the playoffs.
When it comes to charity, Team LeBron — the champions — took home $400,000 for the Chicago Scholars while Giannis Antetokounmpo and his teammates earned $100,000 for After School Matters. The kids cheered from the sidelines as Anthony Davis secured $200,000 with the winning bucket in one of the most valuable moments of the night.
Equally important were the tributes to Bryant and late commissioner of the NBA David Stern. Jennifer Hudson delivered a pregame tribute, a stunning video headlined by Dr. Dre. All of Team Giannis wore number 24 and Team Lebron number 2, those of Kobe and his daughter Gianna. Each jersey featured a patch of nine stars to honor each victim of the crash and a black armband for commissioner Stern. Kawhi Leonard received the newly denoted Kobe Award, and most importantly, the competition of the game and its MVP were befitting of the “Mamba Mentality” itself.
The NBA has a cultural connection and concerns much more than the play itself. Stars are the incentive to watch games.
Years from now, Chicago’s NBA All-Star 2020 will be remembered as one of the league’s very best, not solely for the important changes made to the game, but for all it represented and accomplished outside of it. The NBA has set the stage for All-Star competitions and set a benchmark for other leagues to reach by reinforcing what makes the NBA special and displaying its reach beyond the lines of the court.