LOS ANGELES—It was only an exhibition, but it felt like a postseason game that was played in a playoff atmosphere. It was a popularity contest that was played under the bright lights in Hollywood, but it felt like much was at stake, for once, even though it was only a night for the fans. The annual event this year was held at Staples Center in downtown L.A., a basketball-devoted city that owns a fair share of triumphant and priceless memories with championship banners hanging from the rafters.
It was apparently not a lopsided, unevenly matched blowout or shootout. The physicality of this game, its rough and pesky, in-your-face kinda defense, along with the ferocity of the offense whipped the crowd into a fever of excitement. Amazed by the shot-swatting, ball-snatching, ball-ripping toughness, a deafening sellout crowd barely took notice of a highlight reel of dunks.
As you would on a fantasy team, LeBron James picked his own team, kind of like how a wannabe team captain recruits the players he desires to team up with on the playground in his daily activities. Little was known about how the new format in place for the 2018 NBA All-Star Game would affect the league’s image. And while it will be a while before some actually get used to the new idea, the results spoke for themselves and apparently it worked.
“The great thing about our commissioner, he’s absolutely okay with trying something new, to change the format, and it definitely worked out for everybody,” James said. “It worked out not only for players, not only for the league, but for our fans, for everybody.”
James, playing beside his former teammate Kyrie Irving, not only made it known that there’s no beef between the two superstars but also showed the world they are still capable of being a workable tandem in the league. The NBA made progress on the back of a drastic change that’s surely, at least for now, not one for the worse. This, in the long run —to be straightforward—is a sign of good things for a league that badly needed to revive it’s All-Star Game and it’s now alive and well.
It was humbling and an honor for James to be named a team captain of his own squad. He is largely symbolic of the NBA’s evolution, also a player, like many others, who came to an agreement to give this a try and surely it has breathed new life into the biggest weekend in sports.
“I had a heck of a time doing it in the conference call with Steph,” said LeBron. “We’re going to try to figure out ways we can continue to get better and better.”
James, undoubtedly, put together an unprecedented team that survived in the very end, beating Curry’s team, 148-145. He had 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists and was deservedly named the All-Star Game MVP for a third time in his accomplished career. It was his moment on the big stage to show us all that his reign has yet to suffer, still holding the title as the world’s best basketball player.
And again, as he normally does, James set the tone early with his aggressiveness and mental toughness. There isn’t anybody in the sport better than LeBron. So what if he now chooses to leave Cleveland to join the Lakers? Well, it’s debatable, for sure, but that’s a discussion for another day. Let’s, for now, reserve judgment and instead appreciate the energy he brought to the game, the excitement he brought to the game.
Fans got their money’s worth, finding a deep sense of enjoyment and watching King James once again do amazing things on the royal court where he was impeccable from start to finish. In the league’s attempt to reestablish a culture of competitiveness, the change of the format was a tremendous success.
The defensive intensity on both ends of the floor was the essence to keep an unimportant game fiercely competitive. It was incredibly a watchable event, particularly when there’s a competitor and a three-time champion as good as James. The crowd, often quiet then noisy as heck in the closing minutes, was in James’ corner. They stood by him, cheered him on, and watched in amazement as he carried the weight of a cruise ship down the stretch.
With 1:30 to go, James stepped back and jacked up a 3-pointer from the left wing to tie it. The icing on the All-Star cake came when he hit another triple with 34 seconds to play. By then, the only thing that could have thwarted their fortunes in the final minutes was LeBron, but when his team took the lead and control, Russell Westbrook extended the lead to three with 10.7 seconds after finishing a layup.
They trailed by 13 points with 6:30 remaining in the fourth, but they erased a double-digit deficit and went on a 13-3 run. The budding confidence and the true grit Team James fueled his team’s fire late in the game.
The ball bounced his way, and he took flight at the rim. It seems as if gravity doesn’t affect LeBron’s levitation capability at all. He floated to the rim, elevated above the floor and slammed it down on numerous plays.
Still physically talented and fit at 34, with an opportunity to produce a new experiment, James has helped reinvent the All-Star Game and its new format.
Out with the old, in with the new. That’s fitting for a new chapter of hope and for a fresh start for a league that needed to touch up some things and, of course, it was spearheaded by James.