Mid-February marks the time of year that NBA players relish. The grind of an 82-game season—the back-to-back games, the road trips—they all leave the players desperate for some time off. That time off is the All-Star break.
The sixty-fifth annual weekend festivities were held in Toronto for the first time this past weekend. Friday night kicked off the action with the All-Star Celebrity game. The contest pitted Drake vs. Kevin Hart as head coaches for Team Canada and Team USA. The Americans, led by reigning WNBA MVP Elena Della-Donne, started off sluggish—so sluggish, in fact, that Kevin Hart checked himself into the game. The Canadians came out on top, thanks to the stylings of HGTV’s “Property Brothers” and former NBA All-Star Tracy McGrady. In the end, Canada prevailed, and the game’s MVP was Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler, who finished with 15 points.
Rounding out Friday night was the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge. The contest pits rookies (first-year players) vs. sophomores (second-year players), and this time, the U.S. came out on top, defeating the World squad (representing all other countries) 157–154 at the Air Canada Centre. Zach LaVine led the U.S. with 30 points, earning MVP honors. The highlight of the night came when Jabari Parker posterized Kristaps Porzingis with a monstrous dunk late in the game.
On Saturday night, the Taco Bell Skills Challenge was the first of the three primetime events. This contest, usually dominated by guards, was shockingly won by Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, a freakishly skilled 7-footer who is the tallest ever to win the event. He narrowly edged out Isaiah Thomas of the Celtics, the smallest player in the NBA at 5’9”.
Then there was the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest. It was no surprise to those watching that the “Splash Brothers” (reigning MVP Steph Curry and teammate Klay Thompson, both of the Golden State Warriors), made it to the final round. In a reversal of last year’s result, it was the less heralded Thompson who came out on top, with a score of 27–23.
Concluding Saturday night was the much-anticipated Verizon Slam Dunk contest. The event had Detroit’s Andre Drummond, Denver’s Will Barton, Orlando’s Aaron Gordon, and Minnesota’s Zach LaVine (defending champion) contending for the title. The contest quickly turned into a showdown between Gordon and LaVine, both of whom are Pac-12 products in their second NBA seasons. LaVine came out on top by a perfect score of 200, as opposed to Gordon’s 197, with a between-the-legs dunk from just inside the free-throw line in the final round. Gordon’s final dunk, however, received the most praise. He jumped over the Orlando Magic mascot (who was on a hover-board), grabbed the ball from under his legs and threw down a legendary reverse slam. Many said this was the best contest since 1988, when Michael Jordan faced Dominique Wilkins.
On Sunday, the focus of the weekend shifted toward the swan song of one of the NBA’s all-time greats. In his eighteenth and final All-Star game, Kobe Bryant went out with 10 points in 26 minutes of play. There were clear physical signs that 20 years of NBA stardom had taken a toll on him, during an emotional night for Bryant and his contemporaries. The loaded Western Conference All Stars topped the East in a record-setting 196–173 win. Several scoring records were set during this matchup, which is usually low on defense and high on acrobatic dunks and 3-pointers. In the end, it was Russell Westbrook, for the second straight year, taking home the MVP with 31 points, while Paul George of the Indiana Pacers put up 41 points for the East.
The bitter cold temperatures did not detract from the festivities in Toronto over the weekend. In a weekend that will be remembered as the last time Kobe Bryant suited up as an All-Star, we saw several unforgettable performances. Here’s hoping that next year in Charlotte, we see these spectacular athletes outdo themselves once again.