Basketball fans across the world waited months for NBA All-Star Weekend, a weekend of events surrounding the NBA All-Star game. The Chicago Bulls hosted this year’s festivities in their home arena, the United Center.
One of the highlights of All-Star Weekend was the State Farm All-Star Saturday Night on Feb. 15. The league’s top players competed in a night of fun challenges and competitions including a skills challenge, three-point contest and dunk contest.
The final event of the night was the AT&T Slam Dunk contest. After strong showings from Aaron Gordon of the Magic and Derrick Jones Jr. of the Heat, Milwaukee’s Pat Connaughton and Los Angeles’ Dwight Howard did not advance past the first round. Gordon jumped over Chance the Rapper multiple times en route to the finals, while Jones jumped over two people and capped it off with a between-the-legs scoop dunk.
Both Gordon and Jones scored a perfect score of 50 with their dunks in the final round, so the two went to a dunk-off. Gordon jumped over Tacko Fall of the Boston Celtics, who stands as the tallest player in the league at 7 feet and 5 inches. Jones topped that with a tomahawk dunk from the free-throw line. The result, however, was controversial as Jones earned 48 points while Gordon was one point behind in the dunk-off, even though most fans believed that Gordon had the better final dunk.
Sunday, the final day of the NBA All-Star Weekend, featured the weekend’s most anticipated event — the NBA All-Star Game. Fans voted for five players from each conference to be chosen for the starting lineups. Team Captains LeBron James of the Lakers and Giannis Antetoukounmpo of the Bucks drafted the starters and reserves for their teams.
This year’s game was formatted differently “to increase the level of competition throughout the game.” The first three quarters were treated as 12-minute games rather than the traditional 48 minute game, and whichever team won the quarter donated $100,000 to a Chicago-area charity.
Team LeBron won the first quarter 53-41 after Kawhi Leonard of the Los Angeles Clippers led Team LeBron with 12 points. No individual player on Team Giannis exceeded eight points in the first quarter, but Antetoukounmpo upped the ante in the second, bringing his point total to 20 for the game and strengthening the team’s strong defensive effort. Atlanta’s Trae Young also drained a half-court shot at the halftime buzzer to boost Team Giannis’ lead.
The third quarter was much more evenly matched than the previous two. The quarterly game ended with a tie at 41 apiece, with Houston’s Russell Westbrook from Team LeBron just missing a tie breaking shot at the buzzer.
In many ways, the game honored Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, who passed away in a helicopter crash in California last month with daughter Gianna “Gigi” Bryant. After the first three quarters, a target score was calculated by adding a point total of 24 — Kobe’s jersey number — to the leading team’s score. After three quarters, Team Giannis led 133-124, meaning that the first team to score 157 points would win the game.
The fourth quarter was full of high-energy basketball. Team LeBron rallied back from a nine-point deficit at the beginning of the quarter, but Antetokounmpo blocked a layup by James that would have brought Team LeBron team within a one-point reach from victory. The referees called goaltending, but after further review, it was ruled a clean block. Then, James Harden of the Houston Rockets hit a 3-pointer for Team LeBron that would have won his team the game, but Toronto’sKyle Lowry took a charge to cancel the made basket.
Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid hit two free throws to put Team Giannis only one point behind Team LeBron. At 156-155, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Anthony Davis was fouled by Kyle Lowry of Team Giannis and the Toronto Raptors. At the free-throw line, Davis needed one bucket to bring Team LeBron to the target number and a winning score of 157 points, ultimately delivering the point and securing the victory. After their 157-155 win, Team LeBron donated its $400,000 to Chicago Scholars, a group that helps underprivileged youth navigate college.
On Team Giannis, Antetokounmpo led his team with a 25-point 11-rebound double-double, and Young, Embiid and Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz each finished with double-doubles as well. James finished with 23 points, but teammate Leonard took home the newly renamed NBA All-Star Game Kobe Bryant MVP award with 30 points, eight of which were 3-pointers, and 11 rebounds. Leonard became close with Bryant over the years and he was honored to receive the newly renamed MVP award.
In honor of Bryant, James’ team wore No. 2 in honor of his daughter Gigi, who also passed in the helicopter crash. Antetokounmpo’s team wore No. 24 in honor of Bryant. An eight-second moment of silence was held for Bryant prior to the game, a reference to the No. 8 jersey that Bryant wore at the beginning of his career. Musical performances by Common and Jennifer Hudson also added Kobe tributes to their performances.
Kobe’s competitiveness had distinguished him from other players, and this year’s All-Star game displayed a level of competition that seemed to honor this fact. Past All-Star games had only seen such a level of competition during the fourth quarter.
All-star Chris Paul of the Thunder was one of the pioneers behind the new all-star game format which contributed to the higher quality of play throughout the night. Paul and NBA legend Michael Jordan met with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver after Bryant’s death to discuss implementing a new format to honor Bryant. After the game, Paul said “the best way we could honor Kobe, Gigi and everyone involved is to play like we played.”
Next year’s NBA-All Star Weekend will take place in Indianapolis, Ind.
Michael Mariam (23B) is from Rye Brook, New York, and is on the BBA track. Outside of the Wheel, he serves as the president of Coaching Corps, a volunteer club that plays sports with Atlanta youth at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta. He also interned at PoolHost.com, a sports office pool hosting website. Mariam is a die-hard Yankees fan.