A major sporting event spanned the course of multiple days, all centered in Canada, and Nickelback was in no way a part of it. You win, NBA.
Seriously though, outside of painfully cold weather (but it is Toronto in February), the NBA’s All-Star foray north of the border was just another annual example of how the NBA does these things better than everyone else, particularly the send-off to future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant (10 points, 7 assists).
The West won, 196-173, in a game where the only drama was whether or not the conference would get to 200.
Bryant was the focus of the entire weekend, and certainly the main event, the actual game on Sunday night. To the casual observer, the pomp and circumstance had to be curious, but the NBA has always known it’s a stars league and treats stars accordingly.
Kobe, for his part, was about as laid back and jovial as you’ll see him. He looked nothing like a guy who’s been painted over the years as respected, but aloof and not really liked. Players spoke in reverence about his impact — on their lives growing up, and on the game of basketball.
Kobe, because Kobe is Kobe, demanded everyone go hard at him, leading to playful moments like Lebron James slapping the floor on defense at him or Pau Gasol and Kobe going back and forth at each other late in the game.
Other than that, the Association delivered on its annual promise of highlight-reel first half amidst defense that rivals only a mailbox in terms of intensity (as in, unless you blatantly run into it, it’s not impeding your progress) so people could watch human beings do things human beings shouldn’t be able to do in concert with one another.
In the second half, you got the customary defense that creeped slightly above mailbox level to at least young tree level (as in, hands occasionally up, so you might run into a branch if you’re not paying attention) in an effort to see if it was going to be competitive.
It wasn’t, so the fourth quarter reverted mostly to chucked three balls and more dunks. There’s something unique and fun about a close All-Star game where the game’s best are actually trying for a segment of time, but alas, maybe next year.
Even the standout performance of the night for the East was a nod to Kobe, from Paul George of the Indiana Pacers. He lit up the night with a record nine three-pointers and 41 points, one shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s record.
The West doubled George on the last possession in a rare acknowledgment of defense so he couldn’t set the record. If PG has enough competitive spirit about him, that will stick in his craw.
George was an appropriate breakout performer, though, probably giving the most passionate sign of respect to Kobe in the pre-game tribute. George credited Bryant (probably over-credited, to be honest) with getting him to the NBA — he grew up watching Bryant as a child.
George also confessed that he skipped out on festivities past his obligations at last year’s game while rehabbing a gruesome leg injury suffered playing for Team USA. He said the 2015 game wasn’t for him, and that he shouldn’t be there even to be a part of the ancillary festivities, only the All-Stars at the time. It was a moment that showed how deeply those moments in rehab affected him.
Russell Westbrook (31 points, 8 rebounds) still won the MVP award, which enraged a few people because people just can’t be happy without complaining about something. Really, though, who cares?
The All-Star Game and All-Star Weekend were a grand success for a league that continues to look like it’s become the best run of the four professional sports leagues under Commissioner Adam Silver.
There’s comfort and excitement in just giving people what they expect and what they’ve come to love. If it ain’t broke, don’t go tinkering too much. And obviously, no Nickelback. Now, we’re onto another thing the NBA does appreciably better and more exciting than anyone else.
Who’s ready for NBA trade rumors by the minute?