Last night NBA fans around the world were treated to two games. The first was the Sprint All-star Celebrity Game which was highlighted by a mix of former NBA stars and personalities from other sports and the entertainment industry. Teams were coached by NBA players Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder and his former teammate James Harden, who is now with the host team Houston Rockets. Former NBA players Dikembe Mutombo, Clyde Drexler, Sean Elliot, and Bruce Bowen were among the participants. The celebrity side of the rosters was an eclectic mix indeed from Olympic Gold Medal sprinter Usain Bolt, who despite his long frame and obvious speed is not very skilled in basketball; to singers Ne-Yo, Common, and Trey-Songz; and even the Slam Dunk Contest’s host Nick Cannon, from the reality show ” The Real Housewives of Hollywood.” It was Kevin Hart and former US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who were instrumental in leading the West team to a 58-38 victory over the East.
The second was the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, which is a game between two teams drafted by NBA greats Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley from a pool of the league’s rookies and sophomores. This is the second year year that the drafting format has been used to select the teams. Charles Barkley’s team won the inaugural challenge last season. They were led by American guard Kyrie Irving (191 cm, Duke’11), who put on one heck of a show with 34 points and going 8 of 8 from beyond the arc. Irving, who is the point guard for the Cleveland Cavaliers, was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1992.
2013 BBVA Rising Stars Challenge
The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge was an interesting contrast of team composition. Shaq drafted a guard-heavy lineup, taking rookie Damian Lillard (187 cm, Weber State’12) of the Portland Trail Blazers with first overall pick and following it up by taking Kyrie Irving this time with his second pick. Barkley on the other hand went with a pair of highly athletic power forwards to form his team, selecting the first-overall real-life draft pick in the 2012 draft, Anthony Davis (208 cm, Kentucky’12) of the New Orleans Hornets and Kenneth Faried (203 cm, Morehead State’11) of the Denver Nuggets.
While most eyes will be on Sunday’s all-star game, the participants of the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge did not disappoint. This game isn’t just being played for pure bragging rights, the winners got $25,000 each, while the members of the losing team got $10,000.
Before the game began, Team Shaq was considered the hands down favorite to win the duel, as it was anchored by two of the league’s most promising point guards today. NBA analyst and former NBA player Chris Webber (208 cm, Michigan’93) who was participant in the first-ever Rookie-Sophomore game in 1994 said that guards have an inherent advantage in this kind of game.
“All-star game, is a little guy’s game. Big guys just rebound the ball, get it to the guard, run, and try to stay involved in the game” – Chris Webber
Most people expected Team Shaq to do a lot of dribble penetrations and rain down a lot of three-point shots. Team Chuck had other things in mind. Its big men, led by Faried were just unstoppable in the paint and simply scored at will. It was also Team Chuck’s guards who were more accurate from their bombardments from beyond the arc.
In the end Team Chuck beat Team Shaq 163-135. Kenneth Faried won the MVP honors with his 40-point (10 dunks), 10-rebound performance.
The game was such a blowout that the last few minutes of the second half became a warm-up session of sorts for Faried who is a participant in Saturday’s Slam Dunk Contest and a “Kyrie Irving Ball Handling Clinic.” Irving began a back-and-forth duel with Brandon Knight (190 cm, Kentucky’11), whose fuse was lit by an ankle-snapping crossover that was segued by a display of some insane ball-handling skills.
Aside from the excellent plays and display of skills by the young talent the NBA has to offer. It was also nice to see players like Minnesota’s Spanish sensation, Ricky Rubio (192 cm), get out and have some fun after recovering from knee surgery at the end of the 2011-12 season. He was dazzling fans with his pin-point passing all game, from alley-oops to Faried to a fantastic no-look pass Washington’s Bradley Beal (190 cm, Florida’12).
Other international players made their presence in the game felt as well. Orlando big man, Montenegrin Nikola Vucevic (210 cm) got into the spirit of the fun by attempting and knocking down a shot from downtown. It was something he doesn’t normally get to do during regular games as he’s normally busy grinding out nightly double-double performances from the paint for the Magic. And even though Minnesota’s rookie out of Russia, Alexey Shved logged a few minutes (198 cm), he brought on loud cheers from the crowd with every possession he was involved in. It is good to see that the NBA’s future looks to be in good hands, based on the talent displayed by this colorful group of internationally diverse players.
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If this game is an appetizer for Sunday’s All-star Game, then fans from all over the world are sure in for one hearty weekend of basketball action.