This year’s NBA All-Star game, the 69th annual, was held in Chicago at the United Center on Feb. 16. The two leading all-stars, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Eastern Conference and LeBron James of the Western Conference, picked their teams, which mostly comprised of fellow conference members.
A new game format resulted in a truly competitive battle between the two sides. As both raced to the finish line of 157 points; it was Team LeBron who finished first, 157-155.
Recent all-star games, including other major sports, had declined in competitiveness, and the game was used as a break for the league at mid-season. It had become a formality, as players were recognized but not truly incentivized to compete. Complaints by fans and media alike were growing. The players competing in the all-star games also feared injury, as well as over-working themselves.
However, the new Elam Ending format changed all of that. Each quarter’s winner would receive a donation to their chosen charities. The first quarter winner was Team LeBron with a 53-41 lead.
It was Kawhi Leonard of the Los Angeles Clippers who began the game hitting consecutive 3-pointers. He finished the first half with seven 3s, tying the record for the most at an All-Star game. Leonard finished with the game high of 30 points. He also added seven rebounds and four assists. Kawhi ultimately won the game MVP award, the newly inaugurated Kobe Bryant All-Star MVP trophy.
The trophy honored Bryant following the recent tragic helicopter accident that ended his life and the lives of his 13-year-old daughter Gigi and seven others.
Leonard commented on winning the Kobe Bryant MVP, saying, “It’s very special. I had a relationship with him. Words can’t explain how happy I am for it, able to put that trophy in my room, in my trophy room, and just be able to see Kobe’s name on there, it just means a lot to me. He’s a big inspiration in my life. He did a lot for me.”
Other Team LeBron leaders were from the Los Angeles Lakers. LeBron James stats include scoring 23 points, five rebounds, six assists, and two blocks. His Laker teammate, Anthony Davis, added 19 points, nine rebounds, three steals, and three blocks. Other notables for team LeBron include Chris Paul of Oklahoma City with 23 points, Ben Simmons of Philadelphia 76ers with 17 points, James Hardin of the Houston Rockets scoring 11, and Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks scoring eight points.
Team Giannis rallied in the second quarter to take the halftime lead 92-83. They were lead by Giannis from the Milwaukee Bucks, himself with 25 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, and three blocks. Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid had 22 points and 10 rebounds. Kemba Walker of the Boston Celtics scored 23 points, and had three rebounds, and three assists. Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert had 21 points, 11 rebounds, and two assists. Other notables are Toronto Raptors’ Pascal Siakam with 15 points, and Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young who scored 10 points along with 10 assists.
Both teams scored 41 points in the third quarter as Team Giannis maintained a nine-point cushion. The fourth quarter was filled with fierce competition as both teams battled to reach 157 points. It became very physical, unlike the first half, which was mostly quick shots, fancy passes, uncontested dunks, and the typical show-boating of an All-Star game.
The last quarter however felt like a playoff game with tenacious defense. There were even complaints regarding the officiating by the players and coaches. Fourteen fouls were called in the first three quarters, but 21 fouls were called in the fourth quarter alone.
Team LeBron came back from 9 points behind in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 146. They then took the lead, and Team Giannis tied the game a few times until the end. The last plays of the game included Giannis’ incredible block of LeBron’s layup, which was originally called goal-tending. However, it was overturned after review.
LeBron came back by beating his man off the dribble for an uncontested dunk. And the final point came from the second free throw from Anthony Davis, after he was fouled receiving an interior pass from fellow Laker LeBron. The pressure of the game was enormous as Davis had missed the first of two free throws. Kawhi Leonard confirmed the new format as exciting, intense, and competitive.
Overall, it was quite a successful NBA All-Star game and weekend, as television ratings increased from previous years. Various charities received donations, and the event also included a reunion of superstars of the past, including Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Scottie Pippen, Allen Iverson, Magic Johnson, and others.
Magic gave a heartwarming tribute speech for the recently deceased Kobe Bryant. With Kobe’s passing, it seems to have brought the NBA community and their fans closer together. And the new format for the All-Star game has, for now, brought back the spirit of competition.