Traditionally, events surrounding a sports All-Star game have been less than spectacular, with the NFL stealing the top spot in the ‘why are they doing this’ category (their game is truly truly horrible and is an insult to real football…yes, I’m not a fan of the Pro Bowl). Major League Baseball comes in second on the ‘UGH’ scale because frankly, it’s baseball, and unless you are a fan of the sport, it’s hard to follow a full game. If I would have to pick a sport that comes close to putting on an entertaining All-Star extravaganza, then basketball would be it.
Basketball gives you the ever popular dunk contest, the skills contest and the three point challenge. They give you three games over three days as well; the Celebrity game, the Rookie Sophomore Challenge, and the actual All-Star game itself. Are these the most entertaining events the world has ever seen, no, but they can shine a bit if given the right participants.
This year, the only event worth mentioning besides the game itself was the Slam Dunk Challenge, which featured the most popular player never to make it through a whole season (granted, it’s only his second) Blake Griffin. Griffin, who won the event with a leap over the hood of a car while a choir sang “I believe I can Fly”, is clearly the leagues next megastar. His highlight real slams on a nightly basis has every basketball fan across the globe salivating and that love showed on a night where there were an amazing amount of awesome dunks.
I can’t say I entirely agree that he was the clear winner, all the theatrics of that last dunk kinda distracts you from the fact that it was a rather pedestrian dunk in the first place, but he clearly had the crown support and the judges attention and, well, he’s a likeable enough guy.
"There’s a little pressure on us to really put on a show, but I thought those guys all did a great job," said Griffin, who beat Washington’s Javale McGee in the final.
The real treasure of the weekend, however, was actually the All-Star game itself. The game featured, as usual, the brightest stars in the league and while predictably high scoring (there is never defense played in these games, it’s against the law or something), there was an edge to the game that you don’t normally see in these situations.
You had an undercurrent of hostility between the Lakers and the Celtics, two teams that slugged it out 7 games in the Finals last season (Lakers won) along with the new villains of the NBA, the Miami Heat’s ‘Big Three’. You also had Kobe Bryant, who worked as hard in this game as if it was game 7 of the Finals. He slashed his way to the game’s MVP with 37 points and 14 rebounds, points mostly earned within the paint as he showed flashes of his younger days with some vintage Bryant dunks.
"I feel like we have a sense of responsibility and we are voted in for what we do during the season, which is play hard," Bryant said. "And we come here, that’s what the fans want to see. They want to see us go at it and see us compete and that’s what I try to do and that’s what I try to tell my teammates to do."
The frantic pace set by Bryant carried the West to a 148-143 win and allowed Kobe to shut out LeBron James for the MVP trophy. James finished the night with 29 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, a triple double, which is only the second such feat to be had in an All-Star game (Michael Jordan did it first).
"I wish the East would’ve won, then my teammate with the triple-double would’ve stole [the MVP]," Dwayne Wade, James teammate on the Miami Heat, said. "But [Bryant] deserved it."
As interesting as this matchup was, it could just be the tip of the iceberg as there is a strong chance that the Lakers and the Heat could meet again in the Finals. Could this be the year we see Bryant vs. James on the NBA’s biggest stage? Eh, maybe.
It’s not a given in any sense of the word but for one day, one game, everyone got a taste of what it could be like if it did happen.