A new format was supposed to give the NBA All-Star Game a boost of energy.
No one could have guessed it would change the fabric of the showcase moving forward.
Thanks, Chris Paul.
The Thunder guard went to commissioner Adam Silver last summer, wanting there to be more to the All-Star Game than dunks and shoddy defense — and more on the line. In the wake of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash last month, the new format was put in place: three quarterstreated as individual games for charity, with the score wiped at the end of each, then the score of the leading team through the first three quarters totaled. Add 24 to that total, and the first team to that number in the fourth quarter wins.
What a final quarter it was. All-Stars were taking charges, diving for balls and playing defense at NBA Finals-level — all ending when the Lakers’ Anthony Davis, a Chicago native, stepped to the free-throw line with Team LeBron needing just one point to win. Davis hit his second free throw for a 157-155 victory over Team Giannis.
It was the ultimate pick-up game, played in a city where pickup basketball is almost religion.
“It was a hell of a way to end the game,” captain LeBron James said of Davis’ heroics.
“Listen, man, Chicago is right up there with the top cities in the world with producing some of the greatest basketball players to ever play the game. I mean, you even got guys like [high school legend] Ben Wilson, who was on his way to being a star, and obviously we all know the story about that. So you’ve got it all the way from grade school, through high school, through college, and then so many pros and so many Hall of Famers.”
It was a Hall of Famer — Magic Johnson — who set the tempo, honoring former NBA commissioner David Stern, who died Jan. 1, and also Bryant, the player the weekend was built around.
Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, and seven others were killed Jan. 26, sending a seismic shift through the sports world. All-Star players did their best to honor Bryant’s “Mamba mentality,” from playing a bit harder in the game to sharing how that mentality can be embraced in everyday life.
“[Bryant] influenced so many people,” said guard Jimmy Butler, representing the Heat on Team Giannis. “It’s beyond basketball. Just that mentality of getting out there, being great, pushing through anything and everything, wanting to be the best at what you do.”
Following Johnson, rapper Common preached all things Chicago basketball, from its high school legends to Michael Jordan, tying it all to Bryant with a lyrical poem that brought Chicago native Dwyane Wade to tears.
Team LeBron wore No. 2 jerseys honoring Gianna Bryant, while Team Giannis, captained by the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, wore No. 24 for Bryant.
Team LeBron won the first quarter to give $100,000 to Chicago Scholars, while Team Giannis won the second quarter and $100,000 for After School Matters. The third quarter was a tie, meaning a charity take-all in the fourth quarter.
After the game, Paul was asked if the All-Star Game was back.
“I don’t know,” he said with a smile. “You tell me.”