By Matteo Venieri
BU News Service
Emphatic blocks, controversial calls and a nail-biting ending. This wasn’t a playoff game, but it sure felt like one.
On Sunday, Team LeBron defeated Team Giannis 157-155 in Chicago at the end of one of the most exciting NBA All-Star Games in recent history.
Kawhi Leonard, who scored 30 points along with 7 rebounds and 4 assists, was named MVP. The Clippers forward is the first player to win the inaugural Kobe Bryant MVP award.
The trophy was just one of the tributes to the late Lakers legend during the night at the United Center. Chicago natives Jennifer Hudson, rapper Common and Chance the Rapper all paid homage to Bryant with their musical performances.
But the best tribute of the night was without a doubt on the court. The players, who wore number 24 and 2 on the back of their jerseys, honored the memory of Bryant and his daughter Gianna by competing hard for the victory.
“You could totally feel [Bryant’s] presence from the start,” LeBron James told reporters after the game. “He was definitely here.”
In the last few years, the All-Star Game’s popularity among NBA fans had started to decline. The abundance of three-pointers and dunks, combined with a total lack of defense, caused many fans to lose interest in the game. In 2019, the ratings tied an all-time low.
For the 69th NBA All-Star Game, the format underwent a major change.
The most significant was the implementation of the Elam Ending, a redesigned fourth quarter with a target score and no game clock. Each of the two teams won one of the first two quarters and tied the third.
As a result, Team Giannis entered the fourth quarter with a +9 margin. In the final minutes, Kyle Lowry drew a rare charge against his former teammate, Leonard, then Giannis Antetokounmpo blocked James on the glass.
However, Team LeBron rallied from behind to take the lead and hit the target score of 157 points, with a clutch free throw by Anthony Davis.
Given Bryant’s competitive spirit, it’s no surprise that the players put an extra effort into a game meant to celebrate the legacy of the Black Mamba.
After the game, Joel Embiid said that, despite coming up short, he deemed the game a success.
“Tough loss,” the 76ers center told the fans. “But, to me, it was probably the best All-Star Game ever. Everyone competed. I had fun.”
The game was a big hit, not only for the players and fans but for two local charities. Chicago Scholars, affiliated with Team LeBron, won a total of $400,000, while After School Matters, chosen by Antetokounmpo, took home $100,000.
With this format, Commissioner Adam Silver appears to have found the best way to revamp the crown jewel of the All-Star Weekend. For three quarters, the players can pace themselves and build momentum for a hard-fought fourth quarter.
Next year’s All-Star Game in Indianapolis will help determine if this new format is indeed part of the future of the league.