The 63rd NBA All-Star Weekend will take place in New Orleans, bringing some of the biggest stars in sports and entertainment together. It is a time for players to have some down time and fun from their grueling schedules while fans get the opportunity to watch some of their favorite players on the same court.
What sets the NBA apart from other major sports that have All-Star events is that there is constant entertainment and events provided. The weekend ignites with a glimpse of the future stars of the league in the Rising Stars Challenge Friday night. All-Star Saturday night is perhaps the most entertaining venue throughout the whole weekend. The Shooting Stars Competition, Skills Challenge, Three-Point Shootout and the Slam Dunk Contest are all events that make up the night. All the parties, festivities and concerts Saturday night lead up to the game on Sunday.
The weekend is a global celebration for the game of basketball and there might not be a better host city than New Orleans. Here are 20 things to look forward to in The Big Easy.
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1. Slam Dunk Contest and the new format
I am glad the NBA is at least trying to revive this once exciting event. You can arguably say the dunk contest was more popular at one point than the ASG itself. I remember being eight years old at home watching Vince Carter put on one of the best dunking exhibitions of all time. Since that dunk contest, which is 14 years old now, the contest has been dull and just plain average some past years. (Seriously lost it when they gave Nate Robinson 14 attempts to complete one dunk a few years back.)
The bland action and the lack of real stars actually participating in the event hurt its value. I refused to watch Jeremy Evans and like all others, I want to see LeBron in the contest! Stop teasing up, ‘Bron. At least this year, he would’ve had some competition.
For the first time since 1988, there will be three All-Stars participating in the dunk contest, when Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins and Clyde Drexler headlined the event. This year’s participants–Paul George, John Wall, Damian Lillard, Ben McLemore, Harrison Barnes and defending champ Terrence Ross–gives the contest some hope this year.
The NBA decided to initiate a new format keep fans entertained and watching. The six participants will split into teams representing their conferences. (George, Wall and Ross for the East, and Lillard, McLemore and Barnes for the West.) First, each dunker will be given a 90-second freestyle round to complete as many dunks as they can. Then judges will select which conference wins the freestyle round for the chance to elect what conference dunks first or second in the battle round. The Battle Round will include a head-to-head dunk off between players from both conferences, as the judges select a winner. The loser is eliminated and the first team to win three battles will be declared the winner. It is kind of sad that one single player will not host up the trophy but fans do have the opportunity after the contest to vote for their dunker of the night.
2. Damian Lillard competing in a record five events
Damian Lillard is going to have a very busy All-Star Weekend, participating in a record five events–the Rising Stars Challenge, Skills Challenge, Three-Point Shootout, Slam Dunk Contest and the All-Star Game. On top of being overly ambitious, Lillard is also co-hosting a freestyle contest with producer Mannie Fresh based on his legendary #4Bar Fridays on Instagram.
Lillard has become one of the game’s most clutch players and has rejuvenated the Blazers, along with LaMarcus Aldridge, to make them a contending team this season. Participating in all these events is very bold. Let’s just hope he doesn’t burn out his great play this season for the Blazers.
3. The official stamp in the post-David Stern era–welcome Adam Silver
Not hearing David Stern say “Tonight you were the stars of stars” during the ASG MVP ceremony is going to feel weird, but the torch has been handed down to Silver, who has been in the business for two decades waiting for his chance. This is the first major event for Silver as the new commissioner and if all the events go well, Silver will look like a savior.
4. Welcome to the Smoothie King Center, home of your host, the New Orleans Pelicans
Weird name for an arena and a weirder team name, but New Orleans is a very promising city and has a lot to offer. Can you imagine a Game 7 Finals matchup at the Smoothie King Center? Nope, neither can I.
5. Rising Stars Challenge
Formerly known as the Rookie/Sophomore Game, the Rising Stars Challenge provides us with a look of the upcoming players in the league. Grant Hill and Chris Webber had the honors this year of drafting two teams.
Damian Lillard (Blazers)
Bradley Beal (Wizards)
Andre Drummond (Pistons)
Harrison Barnes (Warriors)
Terrence Jones (Rockets)
Giannis Anteokounmpo (Bucks)
Jonas Valaniunas (Raptors)
Dion Waiters (Cavaliers)
Miles Plumlee (Suns)
Anthony Davis (Pelicans)
Michael Carter-Williams (Sixers)
Tim Hardaway Jr. (Knicks)
Trey Burke (Jazz)
Jared Sullinger (Celtics)
Mason Plumlee (Nets)
Victor Oladipo (Magic)
Steven Adams (Thunder)
Kelly Olynk (Celtics)
The two rosters make up an exciting match to watch as the weekend gets started. Matchups to keep an eye on are last year’s Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard vs. current front-runner Michael Carter-Williams and the future of NBA big men: Andre Drummond vs. Anthony Davis.
6. Expect the ASG to be the Kevin Durant Show
Kevin Durant is possibly the leading candidate for MVP honors having the incredible season he is having so far. With Russell Westbrook out the past few months, Durant has morphed into the conversation with LeBron for the NBA reign. The All-Star Game is the perfect venue for KD to launce up some shots. It will be fun to see how much he will go for in the game but if he becomes the first player to drop 50, I wouldn’t be surprised.
7. Three-Point Shootout
This year’s field is pretty impressive and worth watching. Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving (last year’s champion), Bradley Beal, Kevin Love and Damian Lillard are just some of the favorites in the field of eight. This year the contestants will have the opportunity to pick a certain rack to become a full rack of money balls that will equal two points each.
8. Introducing the Greek Freak
Playing in a small market like Milwaukee, this will be the first national glimpse of Giannis Antetokounmpo for some. He has stolen media hearts this season with his vibrant personality. The Greek Freak is one of the most versatile players and has tremendous upside and potential to be really good in a couple years. He will be participating in the Rising Stars Challenge and the Skills Challenge.
9. New ASG jerseys
You can call them experiments or soccer jerseys–adidas has been promoting the short-sleeve jersey since the ending of last season and throughout this whole season thus far. Twenty teams this season have donned the prototypes and it has brought major backlash and critiques from some big names such as LeBron and Mark Cuban. From a marketing standpoint, adidas’ approach is for fans to buy jerseys, again, at numbers they used to do. We are in the fitted age and the new look is geared for the young generation. It is a very daring effort for adidas to use the ASG as a platform to promote the jerseys. Who knows? Maybe sooner rather than later, every NBA team will be wearing short-sleeves.
10. Music performances
One thing the NBA has always done a great job of is making sure that some of the best musical talents are part of the event. Pharrell had one of the best years in music last year, taking home a number of Grammys. He will be performing during the introductions for the All-Star Game. For halftime, the NBA picked New Orleans music influences Earth, Wind, & Fire, Janelle Monae, Gary Clark Jr., Dr. John and Trombone Shorty to perform. The pregame show will consist of pop singer Jason Derulo, singer Aloe Blacc (has to perform “The Man”) and Grammy-nominated singer Mack Wilds performing.
11. Stephen Curry‘s first All-Star Game
The biggest snub from last year’s game, fans made sure to vote in Stephen Curry this year with 1,047,281 votes, ranking above Kobe Bryant and just behind Kevin Durant in the Western Conference. Curry is a fan favorite and has been really good this season for the Warriors. He has become an elite point guard and based off Kevin Durant’s judgment, he is the greatest shooter ever. He is my dark horse to win MVP during the game because when he heats up, he is the closest thing to plasma. I expect him to put on a shooting exhibition… just how Glen Rice did in the 1997 game.
12. LeBron‘s MVP watch
It is amazing to think that LeBron is already a 10-time All-Star. In his career, he has become one of the game’s greatest players and ambassadors. The All-Star Game is LeBron’s playground and chance to show why he is the best force in the game. He currently has two ASG MVP awards and is two behind leaders Kobe Bryant and Bob Pettit. If LeBron is really determined, the record can definitely be his by 2016.
13. John Wall and other first-time All-Stars
I already mentioned Curry and Lillard, but there are four other first-time All-Stars in Anthony Davis, John Wall, DeMar DeRozan and Paul Millsap. It is scary to think that the torch is finally being passed after players such as Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash are not in the game.
John Wall has lived up to the contract extension he signed and is one of the most electrifying guards in the league. Anthony Davis has improved his sophomore season and has the potential to be the best big in the league in a couple years. DeMar DeRozan is having a great year and his game went to the next level since the Raptors traded Rudy Gay. The Raptors are in good playoff standing, sitting third behind Indiana and Miami. I will be the first person to say I had no clue Paul Millsap was having the season he is having. Millsap is a huge factor why the Hawks are currently in the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference. With Al Horford out for the season, Millsap has elevated his game and has taken leadership position for the Hawks.
14. Father/son battle: shooting stars
I would love Tim Hardaway Sr. to compete in the Skills Challenge but since that is restricted, it is also great to see him return to the court for the Shootings Stars competition. It will be a battle between father and sons, Hardaway Sr. and Hardaway Jr. vs. Dell and Stephen Curry. The other stars competing include Kevin Durant, Karl Malone and Skylar Diggins for the Western Conference, and Chris Bosh, Dominique Wilkins and Swin Cash for the Eastern Conference. I am interested in seeing WNBA superstar Elena Delle Donne shoot with the Hardaways; she is definitely going to be the x-factor if they win.
15. Chris Paul‘s return
After missing 18 games with a shoulder injury, there was no way CP3 was missing this year’s All-Star Game in New Orleans. NOLA has a special place in his heart. Paul was the face of the franchise and a major influence in the city for six years before being traded to the Clippers. After Hurricane Katrina devastated the city back in 2005, Paul brought hope and commitment in helping rebuild the city. The ASG is a setting where Chris Paul thrives. He is the best floor general in the game and when you have the likes of Durant, Griffin and Curry running by your side, it is a point guard Heaven. As last year’s game MVP, Paul had 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting with 15 assists for a win for the Western Conference.
16. Kevin Hart and the Celebrity Game
Kevin Hart may be one of the funniest actors in Hollywood but his work ethic is the truth. The last three months he has played three major roles in films Grudge Match, Ride Along and About Last Night. Hart will return for the Celebrity Game on a mission for a third MVP. Other celebs include Columbus Short (Scandal), Nick Cannon (everything) Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station) and Erin Heatherton (Victoria’s Secret supermodel). If you want some laughs and want to see Kevin Hart make a fool out of himself on the court, I recommend watching.
17. Exclusive TV coverage
If you are a true NBA enthusiast like myself the coverage and the shows by NBA TV/Turner makes the All-Star experience way better. Starting Thursday morning on NBA TV, there will be an all-day Dunk-A-Thon. The ASG coverage does not stop until the game ends Sunday night, giving fans the chance to watch practices and specials. Kenny, Shaq, Barkley and EJ are the most entertaining basketball analysts on television and have been a major reason why All-Star Weekend is enjoyable to watch.
18. D-League All-Star Game
The D-League this year has been really good and has become a legitimate farm system for the NBA. This game is a must-watch for scouts and gives fans a chance to see some of the prospects that may one day be huge contributors for their team. Pierre Jackson, Troy Daniels, Manny Harris, Seth Curry and Devin Ebanks are just some of the names that deserve call-up consideration.
Pierre Jackson is rated No. 1 on the prospect watch list and scored a D-League record 58 points last week on an efficient 24-for-33 from the field. Two days after being let go by the Lakers, Manny Harris returned to the D-League for the Los Angeles Defenders and erupted for 56 points. He is currently averaging 31 points per game in 15 games played for the Defenders this season. The game is worth the watch on Saturday afternoon before the night begins.
19. Fashion night out
Long removed from the baggy pants and throwback jersey days, basketball players rank among the most stylish athletes on Earth now. Players now have personal stylists and wear the latest fashion collections from designers such as Tom Ford, Gucci and Givenchy. All-Star Saturday Night is the night all the players strut their gear and latest attire. It is their version of Fashion Night Out. It is a competition and it is fun to see which kicks some players bring out. The major trendsetters Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul–have become the fashion leaders in the sport. It is now okay to take fashion tips from ballplayers.
20. The game itself
I am expecting a big outing from some of the stars in the main event Sunday night. Every matchup is great, whether it is Durant vs. James, Curry vs. Irving or George vs. Harden. This game has the opportunity to break all the scoring records in the ASG with so many elite scorers playing at the top of their game in recent months. This year is going to be a competitive and exciting game to watch.
What are you most looking forward to?
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