February 12-14, 2016 was the very first time the National Basketball Association (NBA) hosted an All-Star weekend outside the United States. Toronto, Canada was the chosen site. For three days the fans are treated to a show featuring some of the best players in the world. The team with best record to date from the Eastern and Western Conference, send their coaching staff to coach the games.
Friday night starts off with one of the best basketball games of the weekend, the Rising Stars Challenge. This game features players who are in their rookie season and second year of playing. Ten players are selected to represent the U.S. and ten to represent the World (player’s nationality outside of the U.S.). These players play two 20 minute halves and are coached by the assistants from the Eastern and Western Conference. This year the U.S. won an extremely close game 157-154, thanks to the Most Valuable Player (MVP) – Zack LaVine. He scored 30 points, grabbed seven rebounds, and dished out four assists. Emmanuel Mudiay and Kristaps Porzingis both scored 30 points for the World team.
Saturday night is the busiest night of the weekend featuring three events – Skills Challenge, Three-Point Contest, and Slam Dunk Contest. The Skills Challenge features two players racing against each other on the court to test their ball-handling, passing and shooting ability. The players must weave in between obstacles, pass the ball through a net, dribble the length of the court to make a layup, and dribble back down the other end of the court finishing with a three-point shot. Normally this challenge is comprised of guys who play the position of guard. This was the first year that the “big men” or players who play the position of forward or center participated. The guards would battle each other, while the big men did the same to decide who represent each group in the final. The finals would be between Karl-Anthony Towns for the big men and Isaiah Thomas for the guards. Towns would pull an upset victory by hitting his three-point shot right before Thomas. The Air Canada Centre was at a level 7 on a scale of 1-10.
Next up would be the Three-Point Contest. Players shoot from five different three-point positions on the court. There are five basketballs at each position. Four basketballs are worth one point and one (“money ball”) is worth two points. Each shooter is allowed to designate one of the five positions to be the “money rack”, consisting of five money balls. The best shooter in the NBA, the reigning NBA MVP, and last year’s contest winner was a favorite to go back-to-back. Steph Curry seemed to be a lock in the early going. He reached the final round including Devin Booker and Klay Thompson. However it would be Curry’s teammate Thompson that would post a winning score of 27 to take home the championship. This is the first time that teammates would win back-to-back three-point shooting contest. At this point, the arena is at level 9 out of 10. Could it possibly get any better?
The Slam Dunk Contest is between four players who get three opportunities to complete a dunk. Andre Drummond and Will Barton made good dunks in the first round but were not good enough to advance to the finals. Aaron Gordon and Zack LaVine started off the finals with mouth opening dunks, scoring 49 out 50 points. Next up would be dunk off to decide the champion, both would post a score of 50. Another dunk off would ensue, this time Gordon posted a 49 and LaVine another 50. Unbelievable! LaVine would be a back-to-back winner. All of us leaving the arena knew that we had watched history in the making. For the first time, there were two dunk offs to decide a champion. Saturday night’s events pushed the arena to a level of 11 on a scale of 1 to 10.
Sunday night is the grand finale. It is the All-Star game between the East and Western conference players as voted by the fans. This was a special night because it was a farewell to Kobe Bryant. He was playing his final All-Star game, his 18th out of the 20 years he has played in the NBA. After two video tributes honoring him, the game started. Usually the game has very little defense until the final five minutes to decide a winner. The West team took a commanding lead in the third quarter and never looked back. Kobe would finish the game with 10 points, seven assists, and six rebounds for the West. Paul George would lead the East with 41 points, one point away from tying the all-time record held by Wilt Chamberlain. It would be Russel Westbrook’s 31 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and five steals that would lead the West to a 193-173 victory over the East. Westbrook would be the first outright back-to-back MVP winner. Even though it was “weatherin” for the weekend, there was never a “kerfuffle”. The city of Toronto did an excellent job of making the first ever international NBA All-Star an awesome time.