The National Basketball Association’s (NBA) All-Star Weekend looked a bit different this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic. In previous years, there were five events spread across three days, but this year there were four events all held in the same night. These events were the Skills Challenge, Three-Point Competition, Dunk Contest, and the All-Star Game. The only events that were not hosted this year were the Celebrity All-Star Game and the Rising Stars Game, which usually take place on the Friday night of All-Star Weekend. The players that participated in the All-Star Game were chosen by a mixture of fan vote, player vote, and votes from the media, while the players for the challenges were invited by the NBA to participate.
The Skills Challenge was the first event of the night. In this challenge, two players race against each other to get through an obstacle course, and the person who finishes it first moves on to the next round. The different basketball skills that players need to navigate their way through the course included dribbling through agility cones, passing through a small target, making a layup, and shooting a three-pointer to finish the course. Six players competed in this challenge, and two of them received a ‘bye’ (free pass) into the second round, Chris Paul and Luka Doncic. The ironic part of this event is that both of those players lost in the semi-final round.
Domantas Sabonis and Nikola Vucevic were the two players that made it to the final round of the Skills Challenge, each of whom plays the center position, so it was unexpected to see them make the final round. Centers are not known to dribble, pass, and shoot three-pointers, which is why it was a surprise to see these players in the final round. The race to the finish was competitive and the deciding factor was the three-point shot at the end. Each of the competitors attempted several shots until Sabonis finally made one to win the Skills Challenge. This was the second straight year Sabonis made the final round as an “underdog,” but he lost this event last year, so it was nice to see him get some redemption and win it all this year.
The Three-Point Competition was the second event of the night and was highlighted by one of the best shooters in the game, Stephen Curry, making an appearance in the contest. This competition includes six players, half of whom are eliminated after the first round, leaving three others to battle it out in the final round. For the second year in a row, two green basketballs were placed several feet behind the three-point line that were worth three points each, while all the other basketballs were worth one and two points. Jaylen Brown, Donovan Mitchell, and Zach Lavine were all eliminated in the first round leaving Stephen Curry, Mike Conley, and Jayson Tatum in the final round with a chance to win it all.
Tatum went first in the final round and put up a disappointing number, but Conley put up an impressive score of 27 points to take the lead. Curry, the favorite to win the challenge, started slow but caught fire as he approached his final rack of basketballs. He had to make his last shot to take the lead and win the challenge, and he did just that. This is the second time Curry has won the Three-Point Competition. He dedicated the win to his former “Splash Brother” Klay Thompson, who is currently out for the season with an injury.
Slam Dunk Competition
The Slam Dunk Competition took place at halftime during the All-Star Game, which included Anfernee Simons, Obi Toppin, and Cassius Stanley. Each player was able to perform two dunks in the first round, and the judges would rate their dunk out of ten. Stanley, who had the lowest score of the three contestants, was eliminated after a disappointing second dunk. He could not finish the dunk he was attempting, so he did an “average” dunk that resulted in a score of 37. For the final round, each contestant had one dunk to impress the judges. They did not rate these dunks out of ten. Instead, they had to choose which player had the better dunk. Simons won the competition after soaring high in the air and appeared to attempt to kiss the rim as he finished the one-handed slam. This was the first time a Portland Trailblazers player won the Slam Dunk Competition.
The format of the All-Star Game is different from normal basketball games because the first three quarters are played individually. The team that scores the most points in 12 minutes of each quarter wins. Money would be donated by the NBA to the Historically Black College and University (HBCU) represented by that team. For the fourth quarter, there is no clock running. A target score would be set for each team to achieve. This is based on the winning team’s score with an additional 24 points added, which pays tribute to the late Kobe Bryant because 24 was his jersey number.
Team LeBron dominated the first three quarters of the All-Star Game, winning each one by a combined score of 21 points. This made the fourth quarter extremely easy for this team because they only needed to score 24 points, while Team Durant needed to score 45 points to win. Damian Lillard sealed the game for Team LeBron with a three-pointer just inside half-court, which makes LeBron undefeated in the All-Star Game as a captain. The MVP of the game was Giannis Antetokounmpo, who scored 35 points and made all 16 of his shots, three of which were three-pointers.
The NBA did a remarkable job organizing and executing this event amid the Covid-19 pandemic. They also focused the broadcast on several HBCUs, which was the primary focus of All-Star Weekend, to bring awareness to underfunded HBCUs across the country. The second half of the season begins today, March 10th. It will be exciting to watch which teams make the playoffs, and who will raise the championship trophy at the end of the season.
More information about NBA All-Star Weekend can be found here