The NBA All-Star Game
On March 7, the NBA had their 71st NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta, Georgia. After much criticism by players and analysts, the NBA packed its weekend of festivities into one night. The evening started off with the NBA Skills Challenge followed by the Three Point Contest. The All-Star game began after those events and during halftime, the Slam Dunk Contest took place. The night was far from the usual All-Star break, but it did not fail to showcase the league's biggest stars along with the memorable moments each competition brought.
The NBA Skills Challenge was where the NBA was able to present some of the most talented players with the ball in their hands. Last year, Miami’s center Bam Adebayo, won the competition. This year the big men of the league were able to retain the title as Indiana Pacers power forward Domantas Sabonis was able to hoist the trophy. Interestingly enough, the runner-up was Nikola Vucevic, who is the All-Star center for the Orlando Magic. Both players were able to beat guards Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks) and Chris Paul (Phoenix Suns), who are arguably some of the best facilitators and scorers in the league today.
Following the Skills Challenge, the NBA Three Point Contest was ready to display the league's premier sharpshooters. Headlined by the greatest shooter of all time, Golden State’s Stephen Curry, it was a no brainer that the threes would be dropping from all corners of the arch. The contestants put up a good fight, especially Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley. However everyone knew that it would be “Chef Curry” taking the title home. In the first round, he set the Three Point Contest record for thirty-one three’s made. When asked if he pulled a “Larry Bird” and declared himself the winner in front of the other contestants, Curry remarked that “Sometimes you don’t have to say it, you just walk in the locker room”.
After the select All-Stars got a breather from participating in the earlier events, the main event was ready to start as Team Lebron (West) faced off against Team Durant (East). Same as last year’s All-Star game, the teams competed to raise money for their captain’s chosen foundation. This year the beneficiary for Team Lebron was the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, while Team Durant played for the United Negro College Fund. Both teams, of course studded with star power, made the game entertaining. Team Durant however, were missing their captain, Brooklyn Nets’ Kevin Durant, along with Philadelphia 76ers tandem Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons due to injury and COVID restrictions. Although the abilities of those players were missed, the roster spots were filled by Domantas Sabonis (Indiana Pacers), and Mike Conley (Utah Grizzlies); Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans) would be the replacement for Embiid in the starting lineup. Team Lebron, arguably the better team, ensembled players like Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks), Damien Lillard (Portland Trailblazers), and Luka Doncic, to play alongside captain Lebron James.
As the game tipped off, it was slow at first but the tempo gradually increased as time went on. Curry, who seemed to still be hot from the Three Point Contest, put up a mirage of threes hitting most of them from range. Antetokounmpo went the first half without missing a shot, and was even able to make a couple of threes. Those two led Team Lebron to win both the first and second quarter, which raised money for their respective foundation. During the halftime break, the Dunk Contest took place as Anfernee Simons (Portland Trailblazers), Obi Toppin (New York Knicks), and Cassius Stanley (Indiana Pacers) tried to put on a show. With very little fans in attendance, the atmosphere was lackluster and there have been previous Dunk Contests that had a better showcasing of creativity. However, Simons was voted the winner over Toppin in the finals after Simons attempted to kiss the rim. When the All-Star game resumed, the stars on Team Lebron continued to shine as Curry and Antetokounmpo stayed hot while Lillard started to heat up as well. Team Lebron proved to be too much for Team Durant to overcome as their only bright spot seemed to be Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn Nets). While the game went on Lillard and Curry decided to have a deep three contest as they both started to pull up for threes by the halfcourt line. When Team Lebron approached the target score to sweep Team Durant, Lillard called it a game from half, ending the dominant performance by Team Lebron. Antetokounmpo would go on to win the Kobe Bryant All-Star MVP award as he went 16-16 on field goals, which set an All-Star game record, scoring 35 points. Thanks to their win, Team Lebron raised $1.25 million for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. Even though Team Durant lost, they were able raise $500,000 for the United Negro College Fund.