There was a lot to talk about over the All-Star Weekend, and not all of it could be properly described in text form. This was an All-Star Weekend for the ages, a memorial to Kobe Bryant and an introduction to a new era. Stepping back, I take another look at the All-Star Weekend’s events.
Celebrity Game – C
Team Wilbon vs Team Stephen A, it was the match up no one was tuning in for. Apart from seeing stars fumble the ball around former NBA players, the star power was enough to keep you slightly entertained. Along with the staples of Marc Lasry, Quavo and Common were some new faces, such as comedian Hannibal Buress and Chance The Rapper. Like usual, Quavo and Common stole the show, it was obvious that they were taking the game a little more seriously than others. Team Stephen A lost (surprise) to Team Wilbon, 47 – 52.
Rising Stars Game – B-
There’s no doubt that a USA vs World game held between the best players in the league would attract a lot of viewers. Either as a part of the All Star weekend (maybe changing the All Star Game format again) or at the beginning of the season. The USA vs World format that the Rising Stars Game uses is being wasted on the All Star Weekend.
Moving on to the actual Rising Stars Challenge, we got a good look at the best first and second year players setting each other up for alley oops and mid court shots. Despite a good season with the Washington Wizards, Hachimura seems to be one of the more overlooked first round picks, but tonight he got the chance to show off more of what he can do, finishing off some monster alley-oops.
The cousins Gilgeous-Alexander and Alexander-Walker played together (the two longest jersey names in the league). On team USA, Trae Young was pulling out all his moves: shooting half-court shots and nutmegging defenders. All eyes were on Zion however, who put up 14 points creating some great highlights, such as a brilliant half court alley-oop dunk set up by Ja Morant. The game ended with the typical spontaneous semi-dunk challenge between the teams. But as usual, the rookies were too gassed to manage anything but a standard two-handed dunk (even Zion had an embarrassing miss).
The Skills Challenge – B
The Skills Challenge is always a tough event to make interesting. The appeal comes down to matching up different players, getting them to emulate basketball moves and seeing who can do it the fastest. The skills in the challenge seem a little outdated, you would imagine every single person in the NBA should be able to dribble a ball up the court, make a chest pass, a lay-up and a three pointer. Perhaps they could lengthen the course, add more passing and dribbling challenges, or maybe turn it into a huge round of HORSE. Either way, the Skills Challenge needs an update.
Nonetheless, despite the format, players managed to make it interesting. Favourites Dinwiddie and Beverley wer knocked out in the first round by big men Adebayo and Siakam. Meanwhile, the defending champion Tatum was knocked out in the first round by Sabonis and first timer Gilgeous-Alexander is beaten by Middleton.
The second round got interesting, with Adebayo and Siakam and Middleton and Sabonis facing off. Adebayo impressed everyone with his dribbling and passing, then knocked out Siakam on his second three point attempt. Sabonis and Middleton stared neck and neck, until Khris lost control of the ball, losing valuable seconds. It came down to the wire as Sabonis misses his first few, then finally hits it as Middleton misses his third shot making it a big man finale.
Adebayo and Sabonis were equally matched to the very end, when Adebayo just hit the three point shot before Sabonis, becoming the new Skills Challenge Champion.
3pt Contest – C+
Just like the Skills Challenge, the 3pt Contest suffers from being kind of formulaic. Eight men enter, one man leaves victorious. Each person does the same thing, shoot 5 racks of 5 balls, one rack chosen by the shooter as the “money ball” rack, worth two points. Credit to the NBA, they have introduced two deep three balls, presumably to give Trae Young some extra points.
The contest itself was a bit of a surprise. Strong favourites like Trae Young and Zach LaVine dropped out early, while Buddy Hield hits all of his money balls to take him from possible elimination to tied highest score. Davis Bertans blitzed his first money ball rack as well, making it through to the next round easily. Devin Booker beat out Bertans in the second round with 26 points with only Buddy Hield left to shoot.
Like his first round, Hield got off to a slow start but quickly gained speed, banging down the second rack. It came down to the last bucket, Hield had to make 4 from his money ball rack to win. His fourth shot bounced out, but he made the make or break shot crowning him 3pt champion, with Booker narrowly missing out on the 3pt Contest title.
Dunk Contest – A
The best event of the weekend so far. The 2020 Dunk Contest was a historic occasion. Featuring first timer Pat Connaughton (has a 44 inch vertical, so don’t say he’s an added novelty), professional dunker Derrick Jones Jr, the jilted Aaron Gordon and the return of Superman. Dwight got the contest started with a Statue of Liberty dunk with his limbs fully extended. A decent first dunk earning 41 points but was just a taste of what was to come.
Derrick Jones Jr earns a 46 on his first, after wheeling out a birthday cake (it was his birthday, okay) and a runway of airplane stewardesses and dunking over teammate Bam Adebayo, clearing him by several inches. No one was more excited for this next dunker than Giannis Antetokoumpo.
Connaughton comes out as Woody Harrelson’s character in White Men Can’t Jump (I think it might be some kind of statement, not sure) and does a beautiful dunk, grabbing the ball from baseball star Christian Yelich’s hands while jumping over him as a giddy Giannis looks on.
Aaron Gordon put up the first 50 of the night, taking it between the legs then reverse dunking it with two hands from the other side of the rim. Although he took two tries, it looked effortless.
Dwight’s second dunk was the most personal of the night. Dwight and Kobe had planned this dunk before his death. Dwight walked onto the court and pulled his jersey off to reveal a Superman logo, whch was then peeled off to reveal a yellow logo with the number 24 inside. Adorning a cape, Dwight leaps from a step inside the free throw line and catches a lob from behind the basket, slamming it down with force.
Connaughton’s next dunk left the whole stadium shook. After a failed attempt, he finally completes his entry by jumping clear over Giannis before tapping the ball on the backboard and dunking it in, the judges faces say it all and he earns a well-deserved 50 for his efforts.
Too bad for Pat that Jones Jr was next. Jones Jr flies into the finals with a 360 tornado dunk on his first attempt, barely breaking a sweat. This begins the fifty point showdown between Derrick Jones Jr and Aaron Gordon. Gordon’s response was a 180 double clutch, over and out of the hands of a quivering Chance The Rapper. Jones Jr then bounds back with a leaping dunk over two people, while bringing the ball between his legs. Fifty points each, deadlocked. Gordon returns again with Chance, this time putting it in reverse. Another fifty points. Derrick Jones just kept upping the ante, catching a lob off the backboard while jumping over the lobber.
At this point, everyone was getting a little confused about when this was going to end. Aaron Gordon’s next dunk was so fluid and effortless he looked like he was wired. Caatching a lob off the side of the backboard, Gordon performed a 360 one handed tomahawk. The crowd exploded. Another fifty. Two more dunks, two more fifties. At this point, it was clear that the trophy should be shared, but a controversial judgement ended that possibility.
All stops were pulled for Gordon’s final dunk. The Orlando forward singled out the 7’4 Tacko Fall from the crowd. Gordon cleared him easily, but the real shock came after the judges revealed their score; 47. Derrick Jones Jr, clearly out of ideas, goes for the free throw line dunk. Although he is a step in (he was really upset about it actually), the judges award him 49, finally ending the dunk contest.
Later, it came out that the judges were supposed to give the same score on the last dunk, but according to judge Common, there was a miscommunication which resulted in the win for Derrick Jones Jr (looking at you Dwayne Wade).
All Star Game – A+
Finally, what everyone has been waiting for. An updated All Star format that changes the way the game is played fundamentally. Gone are the years of uninterested stars waltzing down an open court to a yawning audience. While charity money was still on the line, it didn’t really seem like the stakes were that high.
This year however, Team Lebron and Team Giannis played each quarter like a new game, with the winner earning $100,000 for their chosen charity. After three quarters, the total scores are added and 24 is added to the highest scoring team’s score. The shot clock is off and then it’s a race to score the designated number. As well as that, members of each charity were there in numbers to support. This worked to increase the level of competition, especially with hundreds of hopeful young eyes to potentially disappoint.
This was a game to watch every minute of, don’t worry about the highlights, just sit down one evening and play it back to front. The All-Stars took the court after a stirring introduction by Common about growing up playing basketball in Chicago.
There were ten newcomers this year, including three starters. This high number was probably due to certain Warriors and a certain former Warrior being unable to play this year.
Although the new All-Star game had some similarities, it had one main difference: intensity. The first quarter was breezy enough for the first few minutes, until around halfway through when Team Lebron battened down the hatches. The defence had Jimmy Butler visibly shook as he turned the ball over multiple times. Lebron wins the first quarter and $100,000 for Chicago Scholars, who help low-income students get into college.
The second quarter started to swing to Team Giannis, as the defence and competitiveness was turned up. Antetokoumpo’s determination to get to the rim every time made it clear that this All Star Game was all business for him. Devin Booker shocked the audience too with a vicious put-back dunk only to be outdone by Chris Paul’s first ever alley-oop – this time on the receiving end (courtesy of Russell Westbrook).
As the game went on the amount of dives for loose balls and fouls slowly increased. Rudy Gobert gets his first block (of many) against Anthony Davis, setting the defensive standard for the rest of the game. Trae Young comes back for three big possessions, knocking down a three then nutmegging Harden and then hitting a half court buzzer beater at the end of the second to cap off a dominant quarter for Team Giannis, winning $100,000 for their charity After School Matters.
There was no need to cut to Kenny, Ernie, Chuck and Shaq for halftime entertainment, Chance and Chicago’s best (and DJ Khaled) put on an incredible show complete with detailed choreography, pyrotechnics, horns, and a touching dedication to the legacy of Kobe Bryant which was so powerful, you could feel the whole emotion of the room.
The third quarter started, and the physicality increased once again. But both teams tie after 12 minutes, meaning the charity prize from that quarter is added to the last, meaning that $300,000 was up for grabs. The scores say at 124 – 133, the advantage going to Team Giannis. The beautiful part of this format means that Team Lebron has to play defence if it hopes to close the margin, and with no clock they can take more time setting up offensive plays. This is when the dunks dry up. There were no more easy buckets, as the fouls began to rack up. Both teams were pressing half court on defence, trying to force turnovers.
Around three minutes into the forth game the scores start to match and the starters sub back for the final stretch of the game, but with Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry in Luka and Trae’s spots. It suddenly felt like we were watching a pickup match at the park, with two teams of mates playing their hardest for the sake of competitiveness and bragging rights. Lowry started to take charges, what looked like the first dunk of the quarter from Davis is quickly extinguished by Giannis and Lebron showed his defensive prowess on the other end of the court, stripping the Greek Freak of the ball and forcing a turnover, all the while the crowd becoming increasingly frenzied. This was the All Star game they had been waiting for. The game was tied with 11 points to win, it was pretty much ideal.
The only gripe I have with the format is that it suffers from the same problem as other NBA games that are close and played with intensity in the clutch: free throws aren’t that exciting. And sure enough, as the teams got closer to winning, the FGs dried up and each team were shooting free throws. Davis is fouled with one point to go for Team Lebron, effectively ending the game. Davis missed the first one (probably to build tension) but sunk the second to give Team Lebron and, more importantly, Chicago Scholars the win. Despite its failings late in the final quarter, the quality of the rest of the game easily makes up for it.