The 70th NBA All-Star Game took place on Sunday 7th March as the league maintained its’ ability to forgo the ongoing pandemic in pursuit of basketball entertainment. That wasn’t to say that the annual draw for the megastars of sport, music and entertainment associated with the league went unscathed. Usually a full weekend of entertainment in celebration of the very best stars in the league, the entirety of proceedings were crammed into a single Sunday night of events.
The All Star-Game maintained its’ changed format, refreshed in the wake of the great Kobe Bryant’s death at the start of 2020. In this new format, each 12-minute quarter serves as an individual contest, with the winning team of each quarter earning $150,000 for a charity of their choice. With the scores being added together for the first 3 quarters, an additional 24 points would be added to the team leading after the first three, in honour of Kobe Bryants’ second jersey number with the Los Angeles Lakers. This then served as the target score for both teams with the first team to reach it winning the contest, earning an additional $300,000 for their charity. With other challenges and awards available throughout the game, the NBA had promised a phenomenal amount of money to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s).
Following on from the successful transition from East v West to teams being picked by captains with the most votes from each conference, Team Kevin Durant faced off against Team Lebron James. Participating in his 17th All-Star appearance, the most among active players in the league and six clear of his opposite captain, Lebron James drafted a squad that cruised to a final victory margin of 20 points (170-150), winning every quarter along the way to amass $1.25million for The Thurgood Marshall College Fund.
A star studded line-up that included both previous captains Lebron James had faced in Steph Curry and Giannis Antetokounmpo joining his team, the Los Angeles Lakers’ stars’ team romped to victory with a series of highlight plays that entertained the 2,500 fans in attendance at the Atlanta Hawks’ facility. Having shot a perfect 16 shots without missing throughout the game, Giannis was named as the All-Star MVP.
The Skills Challenge, Slam Dunk and Three-Point Contest
The Skills Challenge largely set the tone for the surplus events throughout the evening. Being dialled back considerably over recent years, the challenge itself represents a challenge of minimal difficulty for even the most average basketball player, let alone the very best players alive. A such, there was a rather lethargic energy emitted from those competing in the competition which was eventually won by Domantas Sabonis, each competition clearly having their mind on the game that was about to follow.
Usually the highlight of the weekend outside of the All-Star game itself, the Slam Dunk Contest is steeped in history; known for creating some of the highlights synonymous with the success of the NBA. In a renewed and shortened format that saw just three dunkers competing at half time of the main event, the NBA had almost conceded defeat before the opening dunk. The lack of crowd reaction and noise was a disappointment but not quite as much as the standard of the dunks themselves. The NBA has built its’ reputation on the marketability of its’ stars and with a field of unknown names it made the contest, eventually won by Anfernee Simons, much less attractive.
In contrast, the star power of the widely acclaimed ‘greatest shooter ever’ NBA Champion and MVP Steph Curry competing in the three-point contest did not disappoint. Steph claimed his second title with a dominating performance which set the stage perfectly for the All-Star Game that followed.
Not all went to plan
Despite the NBA’s outstanding success in the ‘bubble’ experiment at the end of last season, the commencement of the 2020-21 campaign has been littered with the consistent impact of contact tracing. Whilst fans have only been allowed to return in a limited capacity in certain venues very recently, teams are still flying across the country to play each other on a regular basis and as such, regularly having their players impacted by interaction with positive COVID-19 tests.
A few high-profiled players in the league such as Lebron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard and James Harden all voiced their displeasure at the All-Star game taking place. Despite these concerns the event went ahead as planned and two Philadelphia stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were forced to miss the event after a positive test was returned from their barber who they had met just days before hand.
The NBA All-Star game (and weekend) has been a staple in the league since 1951. Being able to facilitate the safe presentation of the 70th annual event is a commendable example of the organisation and willpower required to do so in order to uphold the tradition. For the league, the game represents the opportunity to showcase the talents of the elite players within the game, the stars that comprise the league and make it the success that it is. Whilst other American sports provide a similar alternative, there is a fundamental lack of opportunities throughout other major supports across the world, notably in Europe.
The success of the league over the last few decades has been predicated on the utilisation of marketing strategies and opportunities for exposure. For the NBA, this has comprised of a significant focus on social media platforms, allowing it to grow its’ following across the world. With the attraction being the stars of the game, the opportunity to showcase their talents on the single stage in a fun and enjoyable atmosphere geared towards facilitating just that has provided a plethora of subsequent opportunities for the individuals and groups involved.
Could this be an opportunity for other major sports around the world to follow suit and replicate? A Premier League All-Star game is sure to attract considerable interest from people around the world if they get to see the very best two squads go head-to head in a one off game every year. Maybe the opportunity to expand the reach of a league could be utilised by more than just Basketball.