Charlotte, N.C. • Who really wins the All-Star Game? Is it the team with the highest score at the end? Or the team with the best highlights?
For about 40 minutes, the winners of that battle were definitely the highlight-seekers. But for the final eight, LeBron James’ drafted team buckled down and surged ahead of Team Giannis, eventually winning by a score of 178-164.
That’s not to criticize, actually: The highlights were pretty cool. Paul George completed a “Statue Of Liberty” 360-degree dunk that would have held its own, perhaps even scoring a 50 in Saturday’s Dunk Contest.
Just minutes later, Steph Curry — a native of Charlotte — bounced a ball off the hardwood so high that it lept out of the view of the TV cameras, before falling back to earth into the hands of Giannis Antetokounmpo for a spectacular alley-oop. Which wasn’t the first nor the last dunk for Antetokounmpo, by the way. He had 38 points on the night, the game’s leading scorer. It wasn’t Curry’s only notable play of the night: He hit an and-one 3-point shot over teammate Klay Thompson and later finished the game with a rare reverse dunk.
But it was another Warrior, Kevin Durant, who played the key role in Team LeBron’s comeback from an early 20-point deficit. By winning the game’ MVP trophy, he became the first Warriors player to do so since Rick Barry in 1967.
“It’s cool to be out there with some of the best players to ever play the game, and to win an MVP here in front of my family and friends is pretty sweet,” Durant said.
Team LeBron’s defense notably tightened to nearly-real-game levels in the end, as James, Durant and friends held Antetokounmpo and company to just 33 points in the fourth quarter and 69 points in the second half.
“You put me on the floor, I want to compete,” James said. “I was competing to be up here [on the podium] first. Did anyone come here before me?” He was, indeed, the first to be interviewed.
And there were additional benefits to James’ competitiveness. James’ chosen charity of Right Moves for Youth Charlotte received $350,000, while Antetokounmpo’s selected foundation, Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina, received $150,000.
While Antetokounmpo was disappointed that his team lost, he was still thrilled to have received the chance to draft a team at all, putting a team up against one of the greatest players in the game’s history in James.
“It’s crazy, before I came into the league, I was looking up to him. Right now I was in the locker room, and I was sharing a meal with Team Giannis. Like I’m leading the All-Star team. You know, picking teams with LeBron James,” Antetokounmpo said. “If you told me that six years ago, I would never, never, never thought I would be in this position right now.”
As much as the game was a showcase for the NBA’s current top talents, it sought to highlight those who changed the game in years past. Dirk Nowitzki came off the bench and hit three consecutive 3-point shots for Team Giannis in only four minutes of play; Dwyane Wade scored seven in 10 minutes, and replayed his role as a lob assist man to James for one final game.
Legends David Robinson, Allen Iverson, Bill Russell and Magic Johnson were memorably honored during one timeout. Perhaps the biggest star, Hornets owner and Chicago Bulls great Michael Jordan, passed the “torch” — really, a commemorative ball — to Bulls president Michael Reinsdorf.
The Jazz hope a similar ball will be passed to Salt Lake City, as the team has a bid to host the game in 2023.