The 2019 NBA All-Star festivities have come and gone with another three days of missed dunk attempts, celebrity sightings and the world’s greatest players sweating out hangovers during the All-Star Game after a couple nights of merriment. The weekend had moments that will be in the highlights for the foreseeable future.
RISING STARS CHALLENGE – FUTURE OF THE NBA STAKE THEIR CLAIM
Led by 35 points from Rising Stars MVP Kyle Kuzma, Team USA broke a two-year dearth with a 161-144 win over Team World.
With All-Star teammate Karl-Anthony Towns rocking his jersey courtside, Josh Okogie of Nigeria scored 13 points in 19 minutes — a total that would tie his seventh highest in a game this season. Okogie got way up for a tip dunk that was one of the game’s best and had a reverse finish through contact, but air-balled one of his two 3-point attempts — both misses.
This was the fifth year of the U.S. vs. World format; the World now leads the all-time series, 3-2.
All 10 players on the World team hailed from a different nation, two of them (OG Anunoby and DeAndre Ayton) are of Nigerian descent.
SKILLS CHALLENGE, 3-POINT CONTEST AND SLAM DUNK CONTEST
The Skills Challenge saw Jayson Tatum best Trae Young with a half-court shot, and then go on to stake a claim that his Boston Celtics will win the NBA Finals this season. This happened after Young beat Luka Doncic, two players that will be linked forever due to their draft-day trade. Overall, the Skills Challenge needs some tweaks (no three-pass limit, complete the pass), but it was a nice table-setter for the rest of Saturday evening’s events.
The 3-Point Contest continues to be the marquee competition on All-Star Saturday as Joe Harris held on to beat Stephen Curry and Buddy Hield in the final round. Harris (26 points to Curry’s 24), was awesome in both rounds, and played spoiler to Curry in front of his hometown. Steph, however, did have the highlight of the event after ending his first round with 10 consecutive makes to post the night’s highest score at 27.
The Slam Dunk Contest had some moments of brilliance, but felt a little flat with all of the missed attempts. Africa’s Hamidou Diallo of the Oklahoma City Thunder won the contest, with his honey dip dunk over Shaquille’ O Neal being the dunk of the night, thus becoming the first full blooded African to achieve the feat
Dennis Smith Jr. made the finals after catching a lob from music artist J. Cole while donning Cole’s high school jersey. John Collins and Miles Bridges are powerful in-game dunkers and brought creativity, but failed to impress in their only two dunks.
OBAMA SET FOR ROLE WITH NBA BACKED BASKETBALL LEAGUE
The NBA is helping to establish a new professional basketball league in Africa, and it has the enthusiastic support of Barack Obama. In fact, the former president reportedly will have a role with the league, although the extent of his involvement has yet to be announced.
The league announced a partnership with FIBA, basketball’s international governing body, to create the Basketball Africa League. Set to debut in 2020, the BAL will feature 12 teams from across the continent, with qualifying tournaments to be held later this year.
HOW WILL THE LEAGUE WORK?
The NBA and FIBA will conduct qualification tournaments to identify which teams from several African countries, including Angola, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia, can compete in the league.
No more than two teams from the same country will be eligible to play in the league.
The NBA has seen 80 current and former players from Africa or with family links to the continent compete, including Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon from Nigeria and Dikembe Mutombo from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
ALL STAR GAME – ANOTHER WIN FOR THE DRAFT FORMAT
The All-Star Game went as expected. Both teams were moving at a snail’s pace for the first half, likely getting the liquor out of their system while not wanting to risk injury in an exhibition, but the game saw some defense in the final quarter. Team LeBron came back to beat Team Giannis, 178-164.
Kevin Durant claimed his second All-Star Game MVP with 31 points, but Steph Curry and Giannis Antetokounmpo claimed the highlight of the night for sure. Other great moments included Dirk Nowitzki draining all three of his 3-point attempts and LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combining for one more picturesque alley-oop.
The on-court events were what we have come to expect from All-Star weekend, but the hometown environment Charlotte and what the NBA brought was the coolest aspect. The league did a great job of using the Currys as pseudo-ambassadors for the weekend, had DSJ, a local Carolina kid in the Dunk Contest, and then booked J. Cole for the halftime performance. Charlotte as a city was represented well throughout the weekend.
FROM ONE JORDAN LANDMARK TO ANOTHER
Next year’s All-Star weekend will be in Chicago, which means that everyone will be much colder, but the scale will be bigger. Can Giannis steal the MVP next year? Can someone dunk over Chance the Rapper on Saturday night? Will the Bulls have more than 20 wins by the All-Star break? Until next year…
By Kayode Hammed: (Twitter: @kayodemed)