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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Stars align in Los Angeles for NBA All Star Weekend

PRAYITNO [(CC BY 2.0)] / FLICKR
Fans, players alike were given an entertaining show all weekend

With nearly three-quarters of the NBA season behind them, players, fans, coaches and legends of the past convened in Los Angeles from Feb. 16 to 18 for the NBA’s annual All Star weekend. While the rest of the NBA season relies on wins and losses, All Star weekend is meant to entertain, and with a slate of events that took place over three days, there was a little bit for everyone from the hardcore fans of NBA basketball to the casual observers.

Since 2005, the weekend has been kicked off by a Friday night double-header of the NBA All Star Celebrity Game and the Rising Stars Challenge, an exhibition match between the league’s best rookies and the sophomores from across the globe. For the celebrity game, stars from across sports and entertainment came together to put on a light-hearted exhibition to get things started. This year, the roster included singer Justin Bieber, rapper Quavo and actors Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx. The duo of celebrity-filled rosters, named after the Lakers and the Clippers, got some help from former NBA players and current WNBA players like Paul Pierce, Tracy McGrady, Jason Williams, Candace Parker and Stefanie Dolson. The final result was often more humorous than it was competitive, as the Clippers defeated the Lakers 75-66.

The Kia Rising Stars challenge proved far more competitive, as it included up-and-coming NBA talent from the rookie and sophomore classes in a game that pits Team USA (featuring Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram of the Lakers, De’Aaron Fox of the Kings and Dennis Smith Jr. of the Dallas Mavericks) against Team World (featuring Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons and center Joel Embiid and Sacramento Kings guards Bogdan Bogdanovic and Buddy Hield). The game, which often resembled a dunking and three-point shooting contest, was a fast-paced exhibition which did not slow down from start to finish. Thanks to a flurry of three-point jumpers from Bogdanovic in the first half, who scored 26 points in his MVP performance, Team World won the game 155-124. Boston Celtic guard Jaylen Brown of Team USA led all scorers with 35 points, while Hield led Team World with 29 points.

While Friday and Sunday were about the games, Saturday night was for the skill-based competition. For the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the league continued its recently adopted tradition of pitting the league’s power forwards and centers against the more traditionally-skilled and smaller players. In the final matchup, Chicago Bulls center Lauri Markkanen found himself against Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie for the title. Dinwiddie’s speed advantage during the final stretch proved too much, however, and he was the one hoisting the trophy in the end.

The JBL Three-Point Contest pitted Oklahoma City Thunder guard Paul George, Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson, Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker and more of the league’s best shooters against one another. While many of the shooters — including George, who shot for a dismal nine points in the starting round — struggled during the first round of shooting, Devin Booker put up a historic 28 points in the final round en-route to securing his three-point shooting title.

The final event on Saturday night, the dunk contest, is often viewed as the highlight of the individual competition. However, save for the classic matchup between Zach Lavine and Aaron Gordon in 2016, recent years have left a little bit to be desired. Bringing in high-risers Dennis Smith Jr., Cleveland Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr., Indiana Pacers forward Victor Oladipo and Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, the NBA was hoping to breathe new life into the struggling competition. What they got was a night of nostalgic callbacks, meaningless cameos and missed opportunities. During the final round, where Nance Jr., who previously paid homage to his father, a former slam dunk champion, threw a double-tap off the backboard in what many declared to be the dunk of the night. Mitchell responded with a throwback to legendary dunker Vince Carter’s classic 360-degree, one-handed throwdown and won the contest. Though the contest left some to be desired, the final product gave the fans enough highlights to keep them entertained

Finally, the All Star Game itself. It has been a staple of nearly every NBA season since 1951. While the game has typically been a simple match of East versus West, the NBA decided to switch things up this season and give leading vote-getters Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James and Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry the opportunity to pick from a pool that was picked by fans, players and league personnel. With Team LeBron falling victim to several injuries, Team Steph appeared to be in the driver’s seat, taking an early double-digit lead in the first half, and after coming all the way back in the early part of the second half, the lead was exchanged between both squads for the rest of the game until LeBron James led a final surge over Team Steph, leading his team to victory and winning All Star MVP in the process. It was a fast-paced game where both teams desire to win appeared to outweigh their desire to put on a highlight-reel and the competitive atmosphere was evident from the very first whistle.

All in all, the weekend was a success. From highlight plays to the stiff competition, the weekend provided a friendly, entertaining show for fans across the world. The teams will now go back to their regular season competition, where playoff standings and lottery position are still left in the balance. The next All Star Game will be played in Charlotte, North Carolina from Feb. 17 to 19, 2019.

 

Written by: Bradley Geiser — sports@theaggie.org

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