All-star Saturday is more than just a collection of “side events” meant to add sparkle to the crowning jewel of the weekend, the NBA All-star game held on the Sunday of the All-star weekend. At least that is the goal based on the new format instituted by the NBA this season. What’s new? Well the league has stretched the East-West rivalry embedded in the marquee game and extended it to encompass the events held on Saturday as well. Young players such as Terrence Ross and Kyrie Irving made sure fans around the world were thoroughly entertained.
In the State Farm All-star Saturday Night, competitors representing teams from the East and West coasts of the NBA competed to win money for selected charities. The winners would get $350,000 to their charity, while the losing side would get $150,000 for theirs. It incorporates the spirit of “giving back” of the NBA and the competitive theme, and atmosphere of fun normally expected from the weekend celebration. This was a creative move by the league to brighten up a portion of the festivities which have lost some of its lusters over the last few years. It was smart because beyond just cheering for individuals and their feats of basketball prowess and was about throwing support behind the conference you were rooting for. A scoring system was put into place where the team with the highest cumulative score for the particular event would score points for the “Team Round,” while points were also awarded to the winner of a head-to-head duel between the top performers of each side during the team round, called the “Championship Round.” The team that would garner the most points across all the events for the evening would be declared the overall winner of the Saturday event.
The first was the Shooting Stars Event, which was a team event participated in by an active NBA player, an active WNBA player, and an NBA Legend. The East Conference’s Team Bosh won the event. It was composed of Chris Bosh (211 cm, Georgia Tech’03) of the Miami Heat, Swim Cash of the WNBA’s Chicago Sky, and Dominique Wilkins (204 cm, Georgia Tech’82) formerly of the Altanta Hawks. They defeated the Western Conference’s Team Westbrook, which was composed of Russell Westbrook (191 cm, UCLA’08), Maya Moore from the Minnesota Lynx, and retired NBA sharpshooter Robert Horry (207 cm, Alabama’92).
Rookie-of-the-Year-Award leading candidate Damian Lillard (187 cm, Weber State’12) of the Portland Trail Blazers took home the trophy for the West in the Skills Challenge. He defeated Philadelphia 76ers guard Jrue Holiday (191 cm, UCLA’09) in the Championship Round.
One of the bigger surprises of the night was Kyrie Irving’s win in the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest. He defeated some of the leagues’ top three-point shooting specialists in Steve Novak, Ryan Anderson, and Matt Bonner. Irving is not known for his three-point shooting skill as much as his ability to break down defenses with his dribble-penetration. This was somewhat of an eyeopener for people following this young guard’s pro-ball career. He is still developing and improving his game and is still quite far from reaching the pinnacle of his game. This is just another step in the evolution of one the game’s soon-t0-be all-time best point guards.
Even though there have been proponents for the cancellation of the Slam Dunk Contest from the All-star Weekend in the past few seasons; players like Terrence Ross, Jeremy Evans, and Gerald Green continue to bring performances that keep the event alive and kicking. Have all “the good dunks” already been done and seen? The young participants of the event refused to believe that and continue to push the envelope of the celebration of a unique marriage of artistry and athleticism. The Championship round of this season’s Slam Dunk Contest was left in the hands of the audience as it was decided upon by votes sent in via text messaging. In the end, Ross’ between-the-legs slam over a ball boy beat out Jeremy Evans’ effort for the evening. While purists would prefer to see the event return to its original format, last night’s participants proved that the competition is still vibrant and enjoyed by many.
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Two out of three days have now passed and everyone is excitedly anticipating this Sunday’s All-star game. It should be a blast like no other.