Come fly with me. Let’s fly, let’s fly away. On Air Canada’s last stopover welcomed in Atlanta. This will be the last season we see Toronto Raptors dunking legend Vince Carter soar above the rim. Enjoy this ‘One Last Dunk’ whilst he’s still up there. And although the 42 year old seems forever young, this Hawks team is a young one of the future lead by Steph Curry like star Trae Young with the ice tray. If San Francisco Warrior D’Angelo Russell has ice in his veins, then this guy has it in his whole nervous system. Pair him with Duke Rookie Cam Reddish and the big, big man Lakers draft pick of DeAndre Hunter and you have a potential big-three of the future. And they still have big names and contracts like Jabari Parker, Evan Turner and Chandler Parsons in reserve. Chopped and screwed Atlanta basketball right now sounds as good as the ATL music scene in the early 2000’s. Hawk that!
The Hornets just lost their hive with Kemba Walker buzzing off to Boston. They ended up getting Terry Rozier back in return from the Celtics. But just how far can this city buzz with him Nicolas Batum and Miles Bridges? Charlotte will still be good, but right now their most exciting player is still in the front office like the Jumpman on their lapels. Marvin Williams is still here. He seems to have been around longer than those iconic uniforms. But like an Emeka Okafor he never did quite turn out into the player they thought he would be. Let’s hope the same doesn’t happen for a franchise that looked set for the stars hosting last year’s A.S.G. with their once franchise face leading the way.
I hope you ticket stub save your last dance card. Because Dwyane Wade is gone. And he isn’t going to come back like ‘Bad Boys’ too. Even if he is Heat for life. Whiteside has left the white hot franchise too. So what talents are left in South Beach? Oh yeah some guy called Jimmy Butler. Look at him…look at him. It’s his team now. But look at Philly and Minny. And do you remember Chicago? Dwyane Wade does? Butler doesn’t exactly have the reputation of staying in house for long. But having this Florida franchise all to himself might make him and his Mark Wahlberg entourage the star he’s always wanted to be. And at least the dragon Dragic, young man Justice, Canadian Kelly and Waiters are still here with Butler. And Udonis Haslem too one more time. The Heat lifer and legend destined for the rafters is set for one last season like his brother in sleeveless arms Wade. Will you have this dance?
It’s a kind of Magic. With Dwight Howard back in Hollywood. It seems even longer ago that he was a Mickey Mouse superstar in the Magic Kingdom. Seemingly even longer than when Shaq and Penny were that dynamic duo before Shaq and Kobe. Now this Disney roster looking for a plus reads like a list of could be’s and could have been’s. Aaron Gordon, Markelle Fultz, Nikola Vucevic, Mo Bamba, Evan Fournier, Jonathan Isaac, Terrence Ross, D.J. Augustin and Michael Carter-Williams. Sleep on them now and this Magic spell could trick you. But they’re going to have to pull more out the hat if they want to shock the Wizards in their division.
The best, blazing beating back-court in the league of John Wall and Bradley Beal have finally got some help. And we’re not just talking about slept on spark plug, Six Man Isaiah Thomas. Or they’ll need him and everything else they’ve got more than ever now with Wall still banged up with injury. But their new top ten drafted Power Forward Rui Hachimura has the ability to be a star right now and a super one once the 2020 Tokyo Olympics happens in his native Japan. I’m Bogna and Wagner they also have a few former young Lakers like Bryant (Thomas not Kobe) to solidify their own young core. That’s enough to do more than get over the wall. Whether it be the injury to their leading man or the one their President is threatening to put up.
Boston lost Kyrie Irving…yeah we all knew that was going to happen about halfway through his first season. But they gained Kemba Walker. So you lose some, you win some. Like losing Al Horford too. They still kept their future of Tatum and Brown however, minus Rozier. And Hayward is way on the mend. Add Enes Kanter and the huge Tacko Fall too and who knows how big Boston can be. You can just see it now Fall blocking the Celtics Laker rival LeBron whilst everyone in the Garden screams, “TACKO TUESDAAAAAAY!” Even this Laker fan would love to see that if it shut up his timeline on any given Tuesday. Celtic pride still has a green day.
New York Knicks
They didn’t get Kevin. They didn’t get Kyrie. Brooklyn did. New York didn’t even get Zion. New Orleans did. It seems the N.Y. Knicks are as cursed as biting that bog red apple, but the garden could still be Eden again. The one big they did get instead of the Pelicans was the slept on star Julius Randle. And the one Duke star they did draft was the Maple Mamba of what could be the greatest Canadian since Steve Nash in R.J. Barrett. They lead a talented team that features Dennis Smith Jr, Kevin Knox, Allonzo Trier, Elfrid Payton, Frank Ntilikina, Marcus Morris, Reggie Bullock, Wayne Ellington and Taj Gibson. Make all the rotten apple jokes you want but we may finally have a New York team more concise than the one across that bridge.
No championship in Brooklyn until Kevin comes back. But oh how good is a Durant and Kyrie Irving one/two punch going to be? No matter how long it lasts. And they added DeAndre Jordan to a Jarrett Allen, Joe Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie supporting cast too. The fight for N.Y. looks as classic as the vendetta of that Def Jam beat ’em up game. New York basketball like the battle for Los Angeles on the West Coast looks big market classic again. But like the Lakers we hate how the Nets did D’Angelo Russell. Especially after his coming out/revenge season last year made him the King of the B.K. like a SLAM Notorious B.I.G. cover. That was juicy. But things done changed and let’s just see how bad these boys can be against teams ready to die.
Can you still trust the process with Jimmy and J.J. gone? Well the Sixers still have a big three of Simmons, Embiid and Tobias Harris. And they added the Celtics big man Al Horford too. It seems like a more focussed unit, but it’s about as deep as modern rap these days. Philly need a new creed after being Rocky knocked out by Kawhi Leonard’s Raptor series winning shot that went all around the world before destroying Philly’s one. The process is still ongoing trust, but this superteam in Apollo shorts just had it’s cape trod on.
How can you go from championship to commiseration in one Summer? Losing Leonard that’s how. But this Raptor reigning champion and first in Canadian history is more than just Kawhi. Like they were more than Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, Chris Bosh and DeMar DeRozan. No matter how much these guys will always be Dino legends. So don’t worry Drake you don’t need to suit up. We’ve already seen on a Kentucky practice run how “Steph Curry” with the shot you really are. The Raps still have Lowry, Gasol, Siakam, Ibaka, VanVleet and enough teeth to make a meal out of their title defence. Protect this Jurassic Park. The 6 still has numbers.
Lauri Markkanen is better than you think. Zach LaVine is better than you think. As is Denzel Valentine. Pity the Chicago Bulls aren’t though. Give it a few seasons of change in the Windy City and Coby White could change all that Bull####. But until then the Bulls will be propping up the Eastern Conference standings like the Jordan statue outside the United Center does their legacy. Chicago has taken enough hits. It’s a beautiful city that deserves better than to be ignored now. But like a Common album the let’s love rule and have the last word, Chi-city will rise out the storm to gold glory of legend once again.
Remember when LeBron was in The Land again? Yeah it seems like a lifetime ago doesn’t it? Still Cleveland still has Love. And Kevin making his name talking about the need to start the conversation on mental health is so underrated in all areas. Canadian Tristan Thompson is still with the Cavs too like Delly and the young core of glue guys like microwave scorer Jordan Clarkson and all dunking Larry Nance Jr. But as of right now ‘All You Need Is Love’ is just a Beatles song, because this team needs to get by with a little help from their friends in what’s set to be a helter skelter season as it was last once the King’s story became once upon a time in Hollywood.
Just when you thought the Pistons had died like the automotive industry refuses to, Motor City rides again down 8 Mile road. Blake Griffin and Reggie Jackson formed a nice one, two punch and then it got even more heavy handed in the paint with Andre Drummond. Now the force of a frontline is built like a pickup truck. You don’t want to play pickup basketball with these two GMC’s. You may end up as a DNP like DMC on an off-season run. And now there’s a Rose blooming in Motown as Derrick grew from the concrete again for the legend of his classic, redemption song career. He was built for this city like Detroit rock. Put your hands up. We love this city.
Indiana lost pace when they lost Victor Oladipo to injury last season. But once he’s back expect the Pacers to speedway race away like the Indy 500, especially with Sabonis and Turner in tow. Running the picket fence like those classic Hickory Hoosier jerseys. But we may need a few more glue guys to fill them before this team gets to really live like white pickets. Last season they were in the red like those classic vests. But this year it could be all about the glittering shorts. It hasn’t been this exciting in the Fieldhouse since Coach Bird like Gene Hackman watched Reggie nail three’s like he used to in the Garden. And this time, nobodies going to choke.
Milwaukee were the team to beat last year. And then the Raptors did exactly that on their way to becoming champions and the Buck stopped right there. But postseason Giannis Antetokounmpo still beat James Harden for the MVP and now he has one of his brothers on his ‘Most Improved’ Khris Middleton, ‘Splash Mountain’ Brook Lopez side. And don’t forget the slept on but never stepped on Eric Bledsoe. Still in this league right now who else would you really want to start a franchise with other than the Greek Freak? Still so young, but old enough to contend party. As tall as they come, but still runs like a guard. Still gives it all for club and country, check a FIBA feed. Truly the most valuable player in the association. And the reason next season Milwaukee are stopping everybody. Buck it!
Chicago, All-Star 2020 blows in the Windy City for Kobe
Like Eliot Ness, that’s what Common’s city of Chicago is when it comes to this court. All greatest of all-time thanks to the statue outside the United Center that they have to bring in from the cold when ice gets in it’s cracks like the veins of new Minnesota Timberwolves cold front player, D’Angelo Russell (he should be here. These lost Lakers are just glad Brandon Ingram is). Forming a duo with Karl-Anthony Towns as dynamic as that one of Star Marbury and the uncut gem of Chi-towns own Kevin Garnett heading for the Hall.
And just like the Big Ticket, the Rose that grew from concrete and the way of Wade who was moved to tears, the rapper slash actor, author and Microsoft poet Common (who fittingly won MVP of the Celebrity Game in his city. Even after Kenny ‘The Jet’ Smith said “c’mon Common you can’t even dunk donuts in coffee” after giving Dwight Howard’s athletically graceful, camera flash freeze, cheese smile, spin dunk an 8 (Kobe?)) put on for his city like Barack Obama and of course the statue of the G.O.A.T. M.J. with a poetic rap that waxed lyrical on hoops history and it’s nuanced nostalgia.
Shouting out the real King MLK and Kobe before Magic made a moving speech, all players behind him dressed in warm-up white and Jennifer Huston brought the not a dry eye in the arena, house down with her tribute that beat the hardwood like the commercial Dr. Dre one for this California love in Chicago, like the National Anthem of treasure Chaka Khan in a 23 jersey.
Common also had rhymes for each player introduction for all those who would take to the floor dribbling across the Chicago skyline, as he rocked the mic like fellow Chicagoland legend Chance The Rapper halftime and injured All-Star Dame Lillard, who still got to play this weekend as Dame D.O.L.L.A. The first player to perform on this stage of Basketball’s Grammy’s, bringing out ‘Tha Carter’ himself Lil’ Wayne and a Mamba Forever leather that we all want to cop for this year’s Winter jacket.
From saying “Sixteen-time all-star, three-time NBA champion/ We continue to witness his reign / One of the greatest to play the game/ From the Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James”, to “A four-time all-star / He handles the rock like Gibraltar / From the Boston Celtics / Give it up for Kemba Walker”.
But hey, I’ve got one for you all, “like the Beard and the Brow he runs the show/so where the f### is Alex Caruso”.
But to the beat of his own raps and his milk carton brother Kanye, even if every event was set off by the “GO” vocal of guitar hero John Mayer on his Common collaboration with ‘Jesus Is King’ walking God, Mr. West (from the bam, bam Bam Adebayo BAM Skills Challenge bucket win. To the Buddy Hield buzzer beating on the last ball of the last rack, Devin booking, beating and winning the Three-Point Shootout (still one of the best and most underrated events of the weekend)), this night of all the All-Stars was all about the one who should have been in the crowd cheering with his daughter courtside.
From Superman, Dwight Howard returning and bringing back the red cape out of the phone booth, with 24 on the chest, to Man Of Steel and former Lex Luthor like enemy Shaq filming on that old camcorder again. In one of the best but most controversial dunk contests that saw an all 50 and 7-foot-5 Tacko leaping Aaron Gordon robbed again like when he cleared the mascot (seriously I don’t mean to leap to conclusions, but these guys need to get over jumping over things…literally. Only Leonardo DiCaprio gets over this many people).
This time by the South Beach, bringing the Heat in the Windy City, tornado storm of Derrick Jones Jr. Air Gordon won’t be back (thanks for that judges. Dwayne Wade said in the Skills Challenge his mind can be changed…ain’t that the truth), but let’s hope the backboard ball touching, Woody Harrelson Venice Beach wear honoring Pat Connaughton will be. Because white men can jump too in an epic exciting weekend of Chicago, 2020 that in the Olympic year of Tokyo, 2020 showed all the world’s a Basketball stage like the Rising Stars game (Konichiwa Hachimura).
For the main event of the biggest weekend on the schedule itself Team LeBron all wore number 2 on their blue jerseys for GiGi and Team Giannis 24 forever for Kobe (a bald Khris Middleton even sometimes from the nose bleeds making it look like Mamba was there…which spiritually he was like his mentality), to another LeBron like Kobe dunk running the floor like Bean and the 24 second shot clock that decided the fourth quarter of an entertaining All-Star Game that was more than the legendary lay-up line and was actually a competitive affair.
That’s just what happens when you win the game on a free throw (157-155, King over Freak) as Laker and hometown Chicago hero Anthony Davis did the honors after filling the stat sheet with the game on the line. But, the All-Star MVP now beautifully renamed the Kobe Bryant award went to another Los Angeles King in Clipper Kawhi and his 30 points. Who dedicated his award to the late legend it’s named after, as fans had their fill of their favourite weekend of the mid-season they love like the hearts of a mid-Feb Valentine.
Just don’t ask him what he had for dinner.
For Team LeBron. For Kobe. For GiGi.
Canadian’s rise to the occasion at 2020 NBA Rising Stars game
Without a doubt, one of the brightest spots of the NBA All-Star Weekend, is the Rising Stars game.
Since it’s inclusion in the 1994 All-Star game in Minneapolis, it has seen multiple formats and renditions — becoming a fertile playground for “phenoms” and “sensations” to showcase their gifted basketball talents to a global audience.
Orlando Magic point guard Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway won MVP of the inaugural edition of the rookie challenge game which at the time featured a true all-rookie affair with the likes of Chris Webber, Sam Cassell, Isaiah Rider taking on Jamal Mashburn and Nick Van Exel.
Toni Kukoc + Dino Rađa first International Players
The original 8-player team rosters comprised of only two international players – both Croatian/ Yugoslavian greats Toni Kukoc and Dino Rađa made the phenom cut.
In addition to Kukoc and Rada, and up until 2000, when the NBA made it’s first format change, from a all-rookie game to a rookie versus sophomores soiree — the game had only featured a grand total of nine (9) non-American players. Arvydas Sabonis (Lithuania/1996), George Zidek (Czechoslovakia/1996), Vitaly Potapenko (Ukraine/1997), Zydrunas Ilgauskas (Lithuania/1998), Michael Olowokandi (UK/Nigeria/2000) and Dirk Nowitzki (Germany/2000) helped provide a blueprint for international expansion.
Steve Nash first Canadian selected in 1997
Steve Nash broke the Canadian trend and became the country’s first representation at the event, playing alongside Lakers’ great Kobe Bryant in the 1997 rendition. Winnipeg, Manitoba’s own Todd MacCulloch added his name to the list in first year of the new millennium, and twelve (12) years later Tristan Thompson (2012-2013) started what is now an eight-year streak of Canadians in the NBA’s Rising Stars’ Game.
Andrew Wiggins opened the flood-gates winning the MVP trophy in 2015 with an electric 22-point performance. Jamal Murray topped his scoring efforts with one of the best games in the events’ history with a 36-point, 11 assist MVP outburst in 2017.
History of Canadian’s NBA Rising Stars Game
Back then it was hard to imagine the impact that the NBA would have internationally, and across Canada. Despite multiple formats and various renditions, there’s little to no doubt that the idea of what has now become the World versus USA game has been a large contributing factor to the multiplier effect.
Record four Canadians in 2020 World vs. USA game
Now in its 26th year and in the sixth edition of the it’s latest format, the 2020 game showcased a record four (4) Canadian’s. Rookies RJ Barrett of the New York Knicks, Brandon Clarke (Memphis Grizzlies), Nickeil Alexander-Walker joined sophomore Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the NBA’s Tupac themed “me against the world” game.
Barrett poured in a game-high 27 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Clarke, arguably the steal of the 2019 NBA Draft was equally impressive with 22 points and game-high 8 rebounds on 11-of-15 shot attempts. Gilgeous-Alexander razzled and dazzled his way to 16 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists while his cousin Alexander-Walker added 6 points, 4 assists and 2 steals.
The Canadian’s contributions helped Team World race out to a 39-30 first-quarter lead over Team USA. A big second-half surge saw the all-American squad turn a 81-71, 10-point half-time deficit into 151-131, 20-point victory.
Outcome aside, the game featured a bevy of highlights including an impromptu dunk contest in the last minute that included some big time dunks by Brandon Clarke and RJ Barrett.
With such an impact internationally and responsible for giving many rising Canadian basketball players their first true taste of NBA All-Star weekend — it will only be a matter of time before one or two of them makes the leap from Saturday to Sunday like Nash did, becoming an official NBA All-star — five years after his appearance in the Rookie Challenge.