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Tidbits, fun thoughts and notes from 2019 NBA All-Star Weekend.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Giannis Antetokounmpo was focused on winning All-Star Game MVP all weekend. He even walked through the tunnels with a semi-scowl on his face during pregame. When Team Giannis got off to that 20-point lead Sunday night, it looked like he was headed for glory.
“I had my name on that MVP until the third quarter, and they got hot and took it away from me,” Antetokounmpo said of the 178-164 loss in which he scored 38 points and had 11 rebounds and five assists.
Kevin Durant instead took MVP honors with 31 points and seven rebounds for Team LeBron.
Refreshing honesty, even in a lighthearted setting.
Simply ‘The Man’
At a stoppage in the second half, Magic Johnson, George Gervin, David Robinson, Allen Iverson and Bill Russell were honored by the crowd at center court. As soon as Iverson’s then-baggy warmups appeared on the big screen, the crowd roared in appreciation with the biggest cheer of the evening. But as Russell’s highlights began to play, the players gathered around him, bowing before him as his standing as a civil rights leader was noted. The reverence and respect given to the recently turned 85-year-old was genuinely touching.
William Felton Russell. Eleven championships. Never, ever forget that. And I’m sure everybody was expecting to see him pull out that famous finger one more time.
Oh, so close
Oh, if that first-quarter alley-oop from Stephen Curry to Giannis Antetokounmpo on Sunday night had connected, I’d call that the greatest connection ever. Lefty, with a behind-the-back twist? Pretty audacious, but considering Giannis’ length, it’s a play you gotta try at least once.
And then … the volley-oop. Giannis had to use all of his length to get it, and it was a glorious sight.
Doing things the right way
Cool moment in the pregame while the players were walking together to the floor: Dwyane Wade with his arm around non-teammate D’Angelo Russell, talking to NBA cameras about the obvious: Wade’s last game, Russell’s first.
Reminds one of Michael Jordan untucking Glen Rice’s warmup jacket in the back hallway before the 1996 All-Star Game. It was Jordan’s first All-Star Game following his first comeback, and Rice’s first overall. Not quite a changing of any guard, but the old icons helping new young stars, recognizing the nervousness and making those moments relaxing? That’s pretty cool.
The Dirk Nowitzki experience
Dirk Nowitzki looked like an old man in Boston in early January, going scoreless and looking like Lurch from the Addams Family. But in draining those early triples, he looked vintage. High arching, long posing, big smiles.
Talking the talk, Pt. I
“I’d give up half to be made whole again.”
— A retired player hanging around the weekend, reflecting on divorce and days gone by
The pulse of the city
It’s estimated that All-Star Weekend brings in around $100 million for the participating city. Uber drivers, street merchants unashamed to sell anything to anybody, restaurants and hotels, they all receive a piece of the action.
As wet as the weekend was, Charlotte kept things reasonably organized and fun. The activities were spread out enough, and they were safe and heavily attended.
A more relaxed environment
It’s always fun to see the first-time All-Stars engage in media-day activities. For some, it’s the first time they’ve been part of something so vast — and honestly, so random — with overseas media and the generally lighter atmosphere. Usually the players open up because the environment isn’t as pressurized as the everyday grind of the regular season.
Khris Middleton revealed he’s taken up golf the past three summers, which would explain the patience he’s been exercising in adapting his game alongside Antetokounmpo.
The shoe game
Jordan Brand’s presence was all over the weekend, even more so than Jordan himself. Everything around the city had a Jumpman logo, and consumers braved the early rain Saturday to hit a pop-up shop for the release of the Air Jordan Retro 6. The Infrared style is near and dear to the hearts of many Jordan fans, because it’s the shoe he won his first title in 1991, and although it’s been released in various forms since 2000, this version was the closest model to the original. Smooth move, Jordan Brand.
And by the way, Grape V’s would’ve been great this weekend (wink, wink).
Just like old times
Dwyane Wade started the second half with Team LeBron and went backdoor for an alley-oop from LeBron James.
But everyone wanted the pair to reverse it, so Wade dropped a dime off the backboard to James for a two-handed finish that got the crowd off its feet.
Yes, they still got it.
Even more MJ?
Let us not forget, Jordan is all-time petty. Who can forget his Hall of Fame speech nearly a decade ago that turned into him tearfully (Oh, hey meme!) settling old scores? With All-Star Weekend in Charlotte this season and Chicago next year — and him having to endure GOAT talk being debated once again — prepare for the next 12 months of him not-so-subtly reminding us who he is … and we’re here for it all.
Blast from the past
Speaking of style … there were more Charlotte Hornets Starter jackets this weekend than any since 1995. The Hornets franchise capitalized on the freaky-colors craze, and it was the hip team to follow shortly after their inception. Between the Hornets, Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors, it seemed like every youth had one of those teams’ jackets.
Hall of Fame talk
The Hall of Fame finalists were announced Friday afternoon and some intriguing names were on the list and up for discussion, as those inducted will be announced before the NCAA Final Four on April 6. Chris Webber is back up again, along with Ben Wallace.
Webber’s talent dictates he should be in the Hall as a precursor to the new-age, do-everything power forwards. Wallace’s accomplishments should put him there eventually as one of the league’s premier defenders.
The right touch
Mike Malone is a man of the people and always intense. You can trace Team LeBron’s comeback to him being fiery but loose on the bench. The entire squad was enthusiastic during the third-quarter comeback when Damian Lillard and Klay Thompson got hot and made it a game, nearly running across the floor when Lillard hit a triple to tie it all up.
To that end, LeBron James wanted to watch the halftime show that featured J. Cole, so he asked his old Cavaliers assistant coach, who made him a bargain. “I said you can watch the concert if you get your [behind] back in transition in the second half,” Malone said.
A kinder, gentler Shaq
Shaquille O’Neal used to come across as a grumpy old man when he first retired, but now he’s seemingly settled in and is at least willing to joke around with the younger generation.
His participation in the dunk contest as a prop is proof of that.
Stephen Curry looked worn out by Sunday. All the responsibilities of being an ambassador for Charlotte seemed to catch up with him, and he only seemed like a long shot for MVP. As committed as he is to the Warriors, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him play his final season — whenever that might be — in his hometown. The love is that strong.
Talking the talk, Pt. II
“I’m not sure what’s going on this weekend, but if it’s busy, I can sure use the activity.”
— An Uber driver who obviously doesn’t keep up with current events