This first appeared in the Feb. 19 edition of The Washington Post’s NBA newsletter, the Monday Morning Post Up. You can subscribe by clicking here.
LOS ANGELES — This year’s NBA All-Star Weekend was capped off by the league holding its 67th All-Star Game here at Staples Center on Sunday night, with Team LeBron emerging with a 148-145 victory over Team Stephen in the first year of the game’s new format.
Here is a rundown of the winners and losers from this weekend’s festivities.
The league knew it had problems with the way the All-Star Game was going. The players clearly didn’t put in much effort over the past few years, and last season’s game — a 192-182 farce in New Orleans — was a nadir for the league.
So the NBA took a big swing, blowing up the format and instead having teams captained by the top two vote-getters — LeBron James and Stephen Curry — who then picked their respective teams. Additional financial incentives for both the players and the charities of the captains’ choosing were also included.
It wound up being a grand slam. The product on display Sunday night outpaced even the NBA’s wildest expectations. There are still improvements that could be made, including televising the draft, something that several players endorsed this weekend and feels very likely to be part of the process next year. But this was a massive success, turning this event into something worth watching.
Not only was James the best player on the court Sunday night, finishing with 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in 31 minutes, but he set the tone for how the game would play out from the opening moments by leading the charge from a defensive standpoint.
The only way there was going to be meaningful change was if players such as James did what he did, and, even at 33, he’s still quite clearly the player from whom everyone takes their cues.
The Utah Jazz rookie guard continued his rapid ascent to superstardom by winning Saturday night’s Slam Dunk Contest in style. A rookie of the year race that once seemed sure to favor Philadelphia 76ers forward Ben Simmons is now a legitimate head-to-head battle thanks to Mitchell’s inspired play, combined with Utah’s current 11-game winning streak that’s gotten it back into the West’s playoff picture.
Mitchell has the total package, as he showed Saturday not only by the way he won, including dunking over his younger sister, but with quotes such as this one, when he was asked why he included her:
“Growing up, she’s been to so many games,” Mitchell said. “She’s missed so many parties with friends. It’s tough sometimes being a popular athlete’s sibling. Lot of people don’t know that. She’s sat in the car for hours while I’ve had games. She’s done a lot, and I’m getting kind of emotional just saying all this. But, yeah — she’s a trooper. She’s been there. She’s driven in the car 14 hours with my mom to Louisville and watched the game and then drove back the same night.
“To have a sister that’s dedicated to doing that, to bring her out here for All-Star Weekend, she met Gabrielle Union, she freaked out. She took a picture of Odell Beckham. And all she does is show me videos of that guy: Did you see him do this, did you see him do that?”
Get used to hearing Mitchell’s name as part of all-star weekends for years to come.
Anthony Davis honoring his teammate
DeMarcus Cousins was supposed to be starting, before an Achilles’ tear prevented him from doing so and ended his season. So it was pretty neat to see Anthony Davis, Cousins’s teammate with the New Orleans Pelicans and close friend, wear Cousins’s jersey at the start of the game.
The NBA’s mascots pranking DJ Khaled
During one of the many in-game skits (some of which were good, and some of which most definitely were not), the NBA mascots began dunking off a trampoline. After a minute, Benny The Bull — the GOAT of all mascots — gestured to rapper DJ Khaled to get out of his courtside seat and head to the court.
The result was a moment of comedic genius:
This, by far, was the highlight of Sunday’s in-game entertainment.
Long one of the most entertaining personalities in the league, Mike D’Antoni won the night with his response to a question about what was happening in huddles during the game.
“The Golden State guys kept taking my clipboard and trying to draw up plays, and I had to fight them,” D’Antoni said with a smile, referring to the Warriors coaching themselves during a recent win over the Phoenix Suns. “I don’t understand that one.”
With so much attention surrounding George and his potentially joining the Lakers as a free agent this summer, the Los Angeles native was expected to have a big weekend here.
Instead, he flamed out in the three-point contest Saturday night, scoring just nine out of a possible 34 points to finish last among the eight competitors, before putting up a solid but unspectacular performance (16 points on 15 shots) in Sunday’s showcase.
It was a chance for George to show off on a big stage in his home town. Instead, it was a dud.
Fergie’s rendition of the national anthem
It was at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game — which also took place here in Los Angeles — that Marvin Gaye performed one of, if not the greatest, renditions of the national anthem of all time.
Let’s just say Fergie’s rendition of the anthem will not be considered in the same pantheon.
As her performance played out, the reaction on social media quickly made clear that her attempt to do . . . something with the anthem did not work out the way she must have hoped.
It was Draymond Green’s reaction, however, that truly summed up how everyone was feeling.
Jordan Brand’s All-Star Game jerseys
The jerseys Jordan Brand created for this year’s game — the first year of Nike’s new apparel contract with the league — looked more suited for the rec league than the NBA.
Obviously the league was in a unique spot because of the way the teams were constructed this season. But did the jerseys have to look like they had the logos ironed on right before handing them out to players at a local YMCA?
Hopefully there are improvements for next year’s game. especially considering it will be in Charlotte, where Michael Jordan’s Hornets will be the hosts.
The pregame introductions
First of all, it took 41 minutes from when the pregame introductions began to when the game started. That is just far too much time to take to simply announce everyone who is playing.
Second, do we need some kind of Kevin Hart story leading up to him announcing the players? If there is a need to have him be the announcer, can’t he just do it without all of the additional acting and histrionics? That could have saved 15 minutes, at least, right there.
It was just too much — and, in particular, too much Kevin Hart, as my friend and colleague Candace Buckner so perfectly put:
The Property Brothers were doing what, exactly?
In what was the strangest of the many in-game entertainment portions of the game, Drew and Jonathan Scott from “Property Brothers” had a bizarre battle inside inflated bubbles — which only started after they began arguing about which team would win.
The obvious question here: Why? There is no answer. It was exceedingly strange.
While the game was great, the crowd inside Staples Center was largely awful, just as it was for most of Saturday night. That is less of a commentary on the people of Los Angeles than a common problem at events like these — seats filled not with regular fans but receivers of corporate gifts.
At least people got into the game in the final couple of minutes, but it was largely a sterile atmosphere, even as the game was being played at a far higher level than in the past.
Correction: A previous version of this article said that 30 points is the maximum possible points that could be scored in the three-point contest.
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