Los Angeles, CA— For the first time (in a while) both teams played hard in a NBA All-Star event. The league’s mid-season showpiece absorbed a rather well-deserved thrashing from fans and even players themselves. Nobody was fooled. Something had to change and someone had to volunteer to be the game-changer. And so, on Sunday, the NBA season took on an 83rd game, as in a real game, thanks to commissioner Adam Silver’s willingness to fix what was broken and LeBron’s desire to set the tone for the most meaningful All-Star Game in years. The players gave the Staples Center crowd the usual acrobatic thrills associated with the game, naturally, but also some spills. As in, bodies on the floor. Every-single player who checked in played some competitive basketball, whether it was Joel Embiid, Victor Oladipo etc. As Kevin Durant said: “We just wanted to change the narrative of the All-Star Game being a joke.”It was Team LeBron 148, Team Stephen 145 in the new format where sides were chosen regardless of conference and captains were assigned by fan vote. This created a new and fresh mix of players, intriguing tandems and raised overall interest for the game. It also helped that prize money, $100,000 to each winning player, was increased and lent a financial incentive. Yet it wouldn’t have mattered if layups went unchecked and jumpers were uncontested. This is what the NBA needed, Players playing for-real. plus you had the Celebs in the house; Beyonce, Diddy, Pharrell Williams etc. It was a much cleaner look and it’s not a stretch to say the format and intensity rescued the All-Star Game. “The hope is that, as we go forward, it gets even better than this,” said Kyrie Irving. “The game started to get away and we took it personally.” LeBron James Had 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in the win and it earned him his third Kia All-Star MVP trophy, but he was more involved on the court than stats. Here’s the final sequence, dictated by LeBron:
LeBron encouraged his team to apply a full-court press to end the first half — has that ever been used in an NBA Game, let alone and All-Star Game? — and simply took charge throughout. It was a personal mission to keep folks intrigued and interested.
“I believe I can make an impact and make a difference,” he said. “We all know how great a player he is,” said his coach, Dwane Casey. “I’m jealous of (Cavs coach Ty Lue) that he has someone like that. But tonight, he was on our team. He’s a joy to coach. He reiterates exactly what should be said, the right things. No BS. In the huddle, defensively, he got the guys jacked up and juiced as far as wanting to get a stop.” If not for Team LeBron winning, the MVP could’ve gone to DeMar DeRozan, who returned to his hometown and dropped 21 points (but threw an errant pass in the final seconds). Or maybe Damian Lillard, who matched DeRozan’s 21. Or Joel Embiid, a first-timer who supplied a big blocked shot right before LeBron’s layup.
Therefore, an exhibition game that had grown stale and suffered from lapses and a lack of energy suddenly has a new beginning. East vs. West doesn’t exist anymore, and players purposely feeding a specific player so he can win MVP, and maybe no more matador defense, either, at least not for 48 minutes. It’s a small sample size, and the game must prove itself each year, but this is a push from LeBron and Silver into the right direction. The only possible tweak, perhaps next year, will be with televising the team selection. But that’s a nit-pick. This worked out well.
“The format was great,” LeBron said. “I think the fans did a great job of reacting to it in a positive way. It definitely worked out for everyone., not only for the players, not only for the league, but for the fans, everybody. It was a great weekend and we capped it off the right way.” Only time will tell if this format will truly work, when we find out next year in Charlotte.