Celebrities bring All-Star energy to charity game

Simu Liu, Ranveer Singh and Ben Affleck were among the stars who made appearances at the 2023 Ruffles All Star Celebrity Game.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Carlos Boozer, Dwyane Wade, and Ryan Smith react as Richard Jefferson prepares to play in the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game, at the Jon M. Huntsman Center, on Friday, Feb. 17, 2023.

The purpose was for fun and for charity, but that didn’t mean the players at the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game weren’t playing hard.

The game was tight, with players on both teams pushing to their full ability. Both teams recorded a fair share of steals, and Team Dwyane — coached by Miami Heat legend and current Utah Jazz minority owner Dwyane Wade — fought hard in the paint, going after rebounds.

Ultimately, Wade’s team took the game Friday at the Huntsman Center, beating Team Ryan — led by Jazz majority owner Ryan Smith — by a score of 81-78.

On Wade’s team, actor Simu Liu, known for starring in Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and listed at 5-foot-11, didn’t let the taller players around him deter from fighting for rebounds. Teammate Hasan Minhaj, the comedian, set multiple picks for rapper 21 Savage.

Wade also had a ringer in the second half: Former Utah Jazz legend Carlos Boozer.

The game, a precursor of Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game, went to the wire. Team Ryan almost tied it up with a half-court shot by WWE superstar The Miz that left his fingers just after the final buzzer.

The game’s MVP was Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf, who hit a number of slam dunks for Team Dwyane.

The game raised $100,000 for Washington, D.C.’s Howard University, paid by the NBA and the game’s sponsor, Ruffles potato chips.

Wade and Smith raised another $63,000 for charity with a 3-point shooting contest between the third and fourth quarter. Each successful shot was worth $3,000, and Smith beat Wade, 11 shots to 10.

The Huntsman Center was packed, and even had some basketball stars in the seats — legend Shaquille O’Neal and the Jazz’s current All-Star, Lauri Markkanen. The Jazz Dancers were on hand, and “America’s Got Talent” 2020 semi-finalists The Spyros Bros gave a halftime performance.

Smith’s team was loaded with athletic talent: Besides The Miz, his roster included WNBA All-Star Diamond DeShields, just-retired St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols and retired Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson. He also had the rappers Cordae and Ozuna, country singer Kane Brown, actors Everett Osborne and Sinqua Walls, TV host Marcos Mion and “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” sidekick Guillermo Rodriguez.

Rounding out Team Dwyane were actor/singer Janelle Monae, Bollywood actor Ranveer Singh, actor/musician Nicky Jam, tennis player Frances Tiafoe, WNBA All-Star Arike Ogunbowale, YouTube creator Jesser, and Peleton coach Alex Toussaint.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The rapper Cordae, on the red carpet before the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game, at the Jon M. Huntsman Center, on Friday, Feb. 17, 2023.

Excitement on the red carpet

On the red carpet before the game, Smith said the All-Star Weekend so far “feels pretty normal for Utah. We’ve been gearing up for this and it’s all coming together for a compelling event.”

When asked if the weekend can change outsiders’ perceptions of Utah, Smith said, “I think we have a perception in Utah more of what we think others think, than what they actually think. … Everyone knows how special it is here.”

Liu was adamant of his love for Utah, noting that since he is from Canada, he enjoys the snow and weather. He noted that he was winded at his first shoot-around. “I feel like such a professional athlete because I get to talk about the air,” he joked.

Minhaj said he’s not only there to represent for brown people but, “I’m representing for weekend warriors all across those guys who had their prime 15 years ago,” he joked. “Guys that play at 24 Hour Fitness every other Saturday, to the chagrin of their partners.”

He also noted his excitement to be on the same team as Singh, and being excited to see what he would wear on the red carpet. “Nobody does celebrity like Bollywood,” Minhaj said.

Singh is known for his colorful clothing choices and red carpet swag, and he delivered once again, decked head to toe in Gucci — from sunglasses to his handbag. The first staple of his fit, he told The Tribune, was the white jacket from a Mumbai designer, Rhycni.

Singh spoke about his debut Bollywood film, “Band Baaja Baaraat” and how during his work on that film was nerve-wracking. “I had no idea, I was so raw, I did what I could. I didn’t know much about the craft or how to be on a film set or anything at all.”

He said he put his best foot forward and was able to make a career out of it, and he wants to apply the same to his work on the court for the game.

“It’s a great honor and a privilege to be here, to have the opportunity to engage and interact with one of my sporting heroes, Dwyane Wade,” Singh said. “I followed him and his expertise on the court for so many years, so I’m very, very excited to be playing.”

Singh says his skills lie in the defensive area, and that he has a lot of cardiovascular ability, so he plans on telling his coach he can run back and forth as needed.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ben Affleck talks about his new film "Air" during a news conference at the Huntsman Center on Friday, Feb. 17, 2023.

Affleck on Michael Jordan

Before the game, actor-director Ben Affleck attracted the media to talk about his upcoming movie, “Air,” a film that tracks the history of the Air Jordan shoe that took the basketball industry by storm.

Affleck — who directed the film and plays Nike founder Phil Knight — introduced the game’s players and coaches, along with his son, Sam.

At a news conference, Affleck talked animatedly about the film, which opens in theaters on April 5.

“If it’s about anything, it’s about what Michael Jordan meant to sporting worlds, to the world at large, the way who he was and what he did transformed sports, sports marketing [and] the way athletes were compensated and treated,” Affleck said.

Jordan doesn’t appear in the film, but Affleck talked to him — and said that the former Chicago Bulls star has extraordinary integrity. The movie is not authorized by Jordan, and Jordan was not paid for his name to be used in the film.

Jordan’s only ask, Affleck said, was that Viola Davis would play his mother.

“One of the things about great global iconic figures is that they manage to mean something to people all over the world,” Affleck said. “People all over the world obviously have very different experiences and lives and stories — and what’s remarkable is that all of us from our different places, manage still to connect to this one person.”

Affleck said that he looked through old family photos, and found images from 1985 of himself and his brother, Casey, wearing Air Jordans.

“In my experience, every 15 years, if you’re lucky you have an experience like this movie,” Affleck said. “I love it and I hope that that the audience loves it as much as I do.”