February 17-19 saw the annual NBA All-Star Weekend travel to New Orleans for the 2nd time in 4 years after the league’s decision to strip original hosts Charlotte of hosting duties due to North Carolina’s stance on LGBT rights. The All-Star Weekend is always billed as the league’s showcase of its best and brightest stars, however over time has gradually descended into a weekend of questionable fashion statements, D-list celebrities trying to remain relevant (that means you Nick Cannon!) and the unpleasant ‘Kevin Hart Saturation’ that’s been rolled out over recent years.
We here at ‘The Dunkyard’ consumed every minute of the 10 hours of this years thankfully Kevin Hart-free festivities so that you didn’t have to because, let’s face it, ain’t nobody got time for that. We hope you enjoy this look at the good, the bad, and the downright ugly of the 2017 NBA All-Star Weekend.
Celebrity All-Star Game:
The term ‘Celebrity’ should be applied very loosely here with this more a case of a “Who’s that?” rather than a “Who’s who.” The East team trotted out a popular Youtube’r, some guy from the band ‘Arcade Fire’, straight-to-DVD actors, a Korean-Canadian rapper and a 15yr old who’s claim to fame was playing young Simba in Broadway’s “The Lion King”. Yes, really. The West team featured a Mexican chef, Nick Cannon (sigh), father/son duo Master P & Romeo Miller (formerly Lil’ Romeo) and perhaps the worst inclusion of all-time, who was simply listed as “Chinese Actor/Model Jiang Jinfu”…..what the actual hell NBA? How long do you actually expect us to put up with this?
The highlights were rare as Youtube’r Brandon Armstrong took home MVP honours with 16 points (6-13 FG) and 15 rebounds as East defeated West 88-59. Teammate and last years MVP, aforementioned Arcade Fire member Win Butler added 22-11, while 56yr old Milwaukee Bucks owner Marc Lasry’s 9-point cameo gave real hope to the possibility of him becoming the first owner to sign themselves to a 10-day contract.
The best moments for me came from Olympic Basketball legend Oscar Schmidt, who showed he hasn’t lost his touch at age 59 and Jarrius Robertson, a pint-sized 14yr old battling liver disease who made an impressive cameo. If he can develop a witty “Whatcha talkin’ bout Willis?” catchphrase he could be the Gary Coleman 2.0 we’ve all been searching for:
While I appreciate the inclusion of retired NBA stars to add some credibility to proceedings, Baron Davis and Jason ‘White Chocolate’ Williams this year, the idea to include current WNBA players needs to be rethought. If the idea is to bring exposure to the women’s game and attempt to attract new fans from the existing NBA fan base, watching 3 x WNBA champion Lindsay Whalen, 2 x WNBA MVP Candace Parker and reigning MVP Nneka Ogwumike miss layups, air ball 3-pointers and get scored on by overweight, middle-aged TV personalities simply reinforces the “women’s sport isn’t worth watching” stereotypes that they’re trying so hard to eliminate.
Rising Stars Challenge:
In its third year of the USA vs World incarnation the Rising Stars Challenge provided the best of the leagues first and second year players. The USA team featured Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Devin Booker and Myles Turner battling a World team featuring Kristaps Porzingis, Nikola Jokic, Dario Saric and Australia’s own Dante Exum. Joel Embiid and Emanuel Mudiay both missed due to injury which explains the otherwise questionable inclusions of OKC’s Alex Abrines and Utah’s Trey Lyles.
There were plenty of dunks, alley-oops and a combined 95 3-point shots attempted to excite the crowd who were slowly waking up after the celebrity game. The surprise MVP was Denver’s Jamal Murray who exploded for 36-3-11 (9-14 3pt) and was well supported by Porzingis (24-10, 11-16 FG), Jokic (12-11-8) and Buddy Hield (28-6-3-3 in front of his new hometown crowd) as the World team enjoyed a 150-141 victory. Team USA was led by Frank ‘The Tank’ Kaminsky’s 33 points (9-13 3pt) and Towns’ 24-10. I have no doubt any LA Lakers fans still watching would have turned their TV’s off in disgust after witnessing Ingram produce a measly 4 points and 3 rebounds in a game where any defensive resistance folded quicker than the French military.
The least attractive or the Khloe Kardashian of the All-Star Saturday events, the Skills Challenge has evolved into a bigs vs smalls test of dribbling, passing and shooting with the winner the first to hit a three pointer at the end of the course. The competition had been dominated by guards since its inception in 2003 before Karl-Anthony Towns made the big man breakthrough last year:
This year saw Nikola Jokic, Kristaps Porzingis, DaMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis try to retain the crown from the smalls Isiah Thomas, Gordon Hayward, John Wall and Devin Booker. The bigs bracket saw Porzingis defeat Jokic in the final to match up against Gordon Hayward who defeated Thomas in the smalls bracket final. It was back-to-back for the bigs as Kristaps disposed of Hayward in the championship round with Reggie Miller’s commentary perfectly summing up how the win sits in the Knicks season so far….
3 Point Shootout
Always one of the more popular events of the weekend, this years participants included Kemba Walker (Charlotte), Kyrie Irving (Cleveland), Kyle Lowry (Toronto), Wes Matthews (Dallas), Eric Gordon (Houston), Nick Young (LA Lakers), CJ McCollum (Portland) and defending champion Klay Thompson (Golden State). Whilst disappointing to not see 2015 champion Steph Curry participate, there was none the less plenty of star power within the field.
The top 3 from the first round progress to the final and it seemed that everybody watching was waiting for Thompson to catch fire and boot-scoot his way to another title, however his score of 18 wasn’t going to be enough as Gordon (24), Irving (20) and Walker (19) finished at the top of the table. Nick Young (18) was unlucky to miss out however the performances of Matthews (11), McCollum (10) and Lowry (9) were, quite frankly, embarrassing.
The final saw Walker (17) have to be satisfied with a 3rd place finish while Irving (20) and Gordon (20) couldn’t be separated and forced into a tie-breaker round. Irving responded with 18 however Gordon powered his way to the title with 21.
One of the best moments of the whole weekend came in the form of a tribute to Craig Sager, the eccentric sideline reporter who lost his battle with cancer in December. A clearly emotional Ernie Johnson invited players to the court to shoot 3’s to raise money for the Sager Strong Foundation. To see a cheque for $500,000 presented to Craig’s family showed more heart than most of the players who took to the court this weekend. #sagerstrong
Slam Dunk Contest
After one of the best Slam Dunk Contests in memory last year, expectations were high despite the absence of 2 x defending champion Zach LaVine. This years field consisited of last years runner-up (some would say winner) Aaron Gordon (Orlando), DeAndre Jordan (LA Clippers), Glenn Robinson III (Indiana) and relative unknown Derrick Jones Jr. (Phoenix).
Unfortunately, this contest was a bigger fall from grace than Ben Cousins with any semi-impressive dunk usually the result of numerous missed attempts beforehand and nothing sucks the excitement out of a crowd begging for something special quicker.
Gordon’s injured right foot gave him all the jumping ability of Kendrick Perkins and he crashed out after scores of 38 and 34. Jordan’s performance was underwhelming and should have been disqualified for using the unbearable DJ Khaled as a prop in his first dunk, a feeling the judges seemed to agree with scores of 41 and 43. Jones and Robinson provided the best dunks of the night – at the end of proceedings Robinson was crowned the victor however nobody is going to be confusing him with Jason Richardson or Vince Carter anytime soon….he probably wont be confused with Fred Jones or Jeremy Evans either.
2017 NBA All-Star Game
LeBron, Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Curry, DeRozan, Antetokounmpo, Wall, Anthony. OK, well maybe not Anthony but the prospect of these names sharing the court at the same time should be a highlight of the NBA calendar, like all your Christmases coming at once. This game was more like waking up on Christmas morning, running downstairs to open your presents and being kicked in the balls by Santa himself.
You could be excused for thinking that watching the West defeat the East 192-182 in the highest scoring All-Star Game of all time would be a joy, a celebration of offensive basketball, and I’m sure for some casual fans and 10yr old kids it very well may have been. But with more chance of locating Maddie McCann than any sign of competitiveness or defence it was, sadly, almost unwatchable for the rest of us.
New Orleans Pelican Anthony Davis was spoon fed the ball at every opportunity while the East squad stood around like traffic cones as he was allowed to do anything he liked in order to claim MVP honours in front of his hometown crowd. He finished with 52 points (26-39 FG) and 10 rebounds and what should be an emotionally empty MVP trophy. Westbrook added 41-5-7 (16-26 FG) for the West while Durant (21-10-10) and Curry (21-4-6) were also prominent. For the East Antetokounmpo was the clear standout with 30-6 in his first All Star appearance and genuinely looked like he gave a shit in the first quarter before somebody had a word in his ear to calm the fuck down. LeBron’s 23 points and Irving’s 22-7-14 were the next best for the Eastern Conference squad.
I really hope commissioner Adam Silver sat through this game and thought to himself “Is this really the best experience our league can offer?”. Something needs to change. The league needs to find a way to get the players to care about this game. I understand that no player wants to risk injury leading up to the playoffs but there has to be a happy medium somewhere. I’ve heard people say that maybe there should be prize money on offer for the winning team – that’s one idea but that’s going to have to be quite the purse for athletes already earning $20m+ per year. Personally, I’d like to see the NBA take a page out of the MLB book: between 2003 and 2016 the winning league of the MLB All Star Game would get home field advantage during the World Series. You think the reward of home court advantage during the NBA Finals is going to get the competitive juices flowing between the teams? When the current format makes a basketball junkie such as myself think about changing the channel to watch CSI reruns instead of the second half it has to be worth looking into….and soon.