As the Klaw was falling out of bounds as the buzzer blared and blazed red, the Spalding hit the rim and bounced back up. Kawhi Leonard, crouched at the baseline like Tiger Woods mastering Augusta, with his M.J. clutch tongue out and that thousand yard stare for a picture that was about to say that many words just watched. The ball hit the rim again as super sub Jordan Lloyd in street clothes with his arm around Kawhi excitedly watched in anticipation at all this air time that seemed to last longer than Winters in The Six. It looked like Summer in this city would drop before this simmering ball. It hit the rim again. To Leonard’s left Philly Sixer, Joel Embiid, almost smiling watched all this process with Game 7 and the Eastern Conference semi-finalists and who will play the Bucks in the final on the line like this ball in the seconds after time expired. It hit the rim again.
And again and again…
…and then it dropped.
Sunday was such a fun day for sports fans. In the same 24 hours where the Premiership came down to the last game as the valiant reds of Liverpool lost the race to the champion Manchester City by two points (sound familiar?) in the afternoon, the NBA had one hell of a double header to close out God’s day which is usually a lazy one with a blessed gift from the hoop heavens.
Two game sevens in one night? This must be fantasy Basketball.
But it all came down to this.
First up the Pepsi Center in Nevada cracked open the last game between the two wild cards come good of the host Denver Nuggets looking to stone-cut their way to success and the visiting Portland looking to blaze a trail out of Rip City, following their first round downpour from way downtown against the OKC Thunder. But in the first half it looked like the Dame Time watch of Lillard had stopped as this team down by as many as 17 looked as cold as that teenage age. It looked like The Joker Jokic with 29 and 13 and his golden Nuggets held all the cards.
That was until the second half turned into C.J. time.
That’s when the other half of the best backcourt in the league (sorry Bradley Beal and the Washington Wizards. Get well soon John Wall. Show us what you still got next season) came alive in the crunch time like snap, crackle and pop. CJ McCollum definitely finished his breakfast on Sunday morning as he had an extra bowl this afternoon and finished with 37 points. Stopping on a dime and turning into a mid-range killer as his previously burnt our Blazers got that fire back and a 100-96 close victory in a to the wire and free throw line conclusion like chess tense. All checked for their first trip to the Wild West finals since the year 2000. The time Bonzi and the boys met Shaq and Kobe and that infamous, iconic alley-oop with arms up and mouths open.
But this time they will meet another dynasty champion…the Golden State Warriors.
Kevin Durant. Klay Thompson. Draymond Green and Steph Curry with the shot. One more before the Silicon Valley of San Francisco.
“Kick them off he court again boy”!
But that wasn’t the only thriller this night as we in the north were treated to more hardwood
In the end after two tales of epic four quarters there was no time for overtimes. As this 92-90 game came down to the closing clutch and two free agents to be who didn’t know whether they would be playing on Wednesday in Milwaukee, or fishing back home. Let alone what jerseys they’d be wearing next season, come Summer. Jimmy Butler thought he had it with a hard fought lay-up as did a jumping and clapping Embiid in premature celebration. But then the usual calm and composed assassin of Kawhi Leonard with 41 looked to claw away at all that, as he emphatically ran to the corner of downtown like your first night out of youth and launched what would have been a Hail Mary prayer if you didn’t believe just how brilliant this guy is. Craning the gooseneck and then watched as another Toronto Star took that renaissance painting iconic photo.
And judging from the usual calm and composed Kawhi’s screaming reaction as what looked like the whole of Toronto hug mobbed him you can guess the outcome with an electric Jurassic Park as wild as real raptors alive outside that no perimeter fence could contain. Forget the next few months and whether he will trade this cold front and touch of frost for a sunny day in L.A., right now Leonard has a real chance of making hoops history as Canada could well become the first franchise outside of the United States to become National Basketball Association champions. And those ready for that laughing GIF in response that was a lifetime ago. Look at his face last night. Whose laughing now? They said he’d never leave San Antonio and looked what happened there. The opposite could here.
But with both games done and dusted, taking it to the brackets the most impressive thing on both fronts yesterday was the professionalism. Whether it be the respect and heart emoji exchange between the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trailblazers on Twitter. Or Marc Gasol consoling and embracing an emotional and tearful Joel Embiid (absolutely heartbreaking and healing to watch) postgame in Toronto and undoubtedly telling him how much of a warrior he is. In a time where fans troll, reduce and erase superstars and teams into memes as soon as they are eliminated (James Harden? The MVP? Really? Like we could do better against the Dubs…or anyone) it’s real and refreshing.
And that is why we play…and watch.
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.