The NBA All-Star Game: Breakfast of Champions
There’s a definite “breakfast for dinner” feel to the NBA All-Star Game. For those who follow the Association closely, the day-in, day-out grind of an 82-game season can produce stretches where teams and players blur together, where nothing stands out, where all you can remember are wins and losses – only the broadest strokes of the games.
But this is part of the covenant: The ultimate goal of the season – a championship – only has meaning because of the grind, because every team works every day to use every bit of leverage to try and stop every other team. This is meal planning for the month: making casseroles to freeze, keeping the fridge stocked with flexible staples, relying on the odd frozen pizza to keep it going.
And then here comes a giant plate of blueberry pancakes with real maple syrup, applewood smoked bacon and fluffy scrambled eggs with finely chopped chives at 8:30 p.m. on a Sunday night.
This year’s All-Star Game descended on New York City in all its decadent, empty glory this past weekend – a fact the festivities wouldn’t let us forget, as Christina Aguilera opened the game with a six-minute medley of every song to ever mention New York, followed by the Rockettes dancing to “Welcome to New York” by Taylor Swift.
After the reliably awkward Celebrity Game, the consistently entertaining Rising Stars Challenge, the much-discussed Three-Point Contest and the usually moribund Slam Dunk showcase (momentarily energized this year thanks to Zach LaVine’s aerial displays), the actual event got going, and West head coach Steve Kerr knew just what he wanted to run.
“I’ve got a great play planned for the first play,” he said in the huddle before tipoff. “So one of you guys get it and, like, throw it to one of the other guys and then you throw it to someone else and then you shoot.”
“OK,” they all said, and then that’s what they did. Sure, the East – coached by Spurs disciple Mike Budenholzer – actually ran baseline hammer once, and when four of his five Hawks were out on the court you saw 3-pointers abandoned in favor of open layups under the hoop, but not too many of them: This game set the All-Star record for most combined 3-pointers attempted with 133. In other words, these two teams would eclipse the Minnesota Timberwolves’ 791 attempts this season in just over six games. This is what we call chucking.
But there was also dunking, including a couple nifty stuffs from All-Star MVP Russell Westbrook, who was Double Live Gonzo! from the jump. He came up one point shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s ASG record of 42 points, but did set the record for most points in a half with 27 through the first two quarters.
He also hit his head on the backboard on an alley-oop dunk, which is apparently something that’s humanly possible, we all learned. He even checked his head for blood – presumably – afterward:
There was also Steph Curry dancing nimbly between defenders (and possibly clipping through them; gotta get that glitch fixed, NBA 2K15) for a circus layup that defied physics:
But there were also cool, quieter moments along the way. Brothers Marc and Pau Gasol, the first pair of siblings to ever start the All-Star Game, were introduced together and their embrace before parting to rejoin their teams lasted just a bit longer than all the other perfunctory bro hugs given during the intros – long enough to let you know it was a nice moment for the two of them.
Mics caught John Wall asking, “Hey State Farm: Can I be a part of y’all’s crew?” The 36-year-old Dirk Nowitzki made his first basket of the night on an alley-oop dunk from Steph Curry that he played up to the hilt, as well he should have – it might be the last time we ever see him dunk in a game. And 38-year-old Tim Duncan only scored two points, but got those two on a nice dunk…because Duncan is all flash and no fundamentals, right?
Both sides kept a reasonably decent seesaw act going throughout the first half, with the East clawing back to make it an 83-82 game at the break. And, as is custom, the game slowed to a crawl in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter. That’s when everyone starts trying to win, although in this case it looked like these guys were trying to win a pick-up game, with copious 3-pointers and desperate, swiping steals. In this case (and in four-of-the-last-five games), it was the East coming up short and the West walking away with a 163-158 victory – a record for most combined points, by the way. But down the stretch, the fun factor leeched out and the whole thing began to line itself up for a return to the real world of the NBA: seatbacks and tray tables in their full upright and locked positions, all seatbelts fastened.
At its best, All-Star Weekend is an overstuffed delight, a vaguely surreal alternate universe where the razor thin margins between winning and losing get relaxed a tad, where everyone present seems a little closer to the superheroes they all claim to be. It can be an enchanting diversion, but the enchantment can’t last long, nor should we want it to. We need the games to matter, for playoff positioning to come into sharper focus.
We’ve finished our eggs, our bacon, our pancakes. In a lot of ways, the All-Star Game is the most important meal of all; it prepares us for the task ahead. After all, the regular season returns and – in many ways starts – in just a few days.