Reflected in the purple neon glass of the STAPLES Center north entrance is a black and white image of LeBron James and his number 23 jersey from behind. Looking up to all those retired numbers and raised banners with the words next to the Nike swoosh, “It’s only a crazy dream until you do it”!
“King James baby”!
“Hey, what’s that accent. Where you from”?
“I’m from England. I came all this way to see the King”.
“Fourth time here. Last time was Kobe’s last season.”
“You must love LA?!”
“I’ve been a Lakers fan for more than 20 years when I was 11. Since the days of Eddie Jones and Van Exel”.
“Me I was a little before. I’ve been a fan since Sedale Threatt”.
“He’s the truth. You know his son is an actor”?
“Yeah! Sedale Threatt Jnr. He was in the new ‘Roots'”!
That’s kind of how the conversations go for this writer concluding Basketball Buzz’s road trip of the United States, everytime he suits up in Lakers gear in Los Angeles. And with a dozen conversations like this one for a guy who never gets this back home (apart from his boy. Coincidentally the only other basketball fan in the country, who also loves the Lakers and is from the same, small seaside town), this is hoops heaven in the City of Angels. The only thing better, seeing a Basketball God in his Adonis like prime do his thing, back-to-back. Two nights in a row for the once in a lifetime only chance I may get to see the King play live in the flesh before his banner moments join the other jerseys in the STAPLE of the ceiling he soars to on every play. Like the two Kobe’s number 23 aims to join up there, after eight and before 24. New additions like the Elgin and Shaq statues outside of courtside.
And boy did I see him play.
Especially after I didn’t want to tempt fate and see him injured and miss him play like Point God, Rajon Rondo. But as my friendly Uber driver, who introduced me to an R&B artist he’s managing who explicitly makes The Weeknd look like the ‘Once, Twice, Three Times A Lady’ of Lionel Richie says, “that guys iron man”! Dreams of riding with the King like B.B. and Clapton do come true like the goal checked of singing Ray Charles’ ‘Hit The Road Jack’ (“and don’t you come back no more, no more, no more, no more”) when an opposing player gets ejected as per STAPLES tradition.
“What you saaaay”?
Damn Denzel! We would have loved to have been an ‘Inside Man’ to the ‘Genius Talk’ you gave the Lakers (like Kendrick Lamar earlier this season, looking hilariously short next to all those ballers with vertical in their DNA) this week like ‘Remember The Titans’. We all know the ‘Pelham 1 2 3’ great equaliser line of never seeing a U-Haul behind a hearse, but we’d love to take this with us. Because Washington’s words of wisdom have helped the Lakers reach new heights before the calender end of December. Especially LeBron who is playing like a man on fire right now.
Better things could have been done in Denver this week for the Lakers chances there to not be dead in the Mile-High air. But last night back home a 38 point stand was made after the Lake Show put a stop to squandering a blowout against the Indiana Pacers running with those Hickory Hoosier picket-fence favourites. After gutting that one out they face a gruelling week in their home castle. But tonight after a slow start that looked like a yesterday’s tomorrow sophomore slump, the Lakers electrified the fast break like those strobe lights of the pregame introductions.
With Dirk Nowitzki’s attired up in joining a pretty in luminous pink Luke Walton honouring the strength of Craig Sager courtside, this West Coast powerhouse clash was dubbed a Luka Vs LeBron big fight before the big one at STAPLES this weekend. But the future of this league and Rookie of the Year favourite couldn’t associate with the veteran, greatest of right now and all time MVP sure-thing. Unleashing his sky-hook unstoppable like, bump and grind, Muhammed Ali moves of bobbing and weaving as he floats and dribble drives like a butterfly and stings and smash slams like a bee. After taking seemingly two steps as he strides down court from coast to coast, like he did The Land to La La Land. ‘Bron knows how to bounce and bang and knock his opponent for six. Or should we say 28? As after being blocked by a young and ready Donic twice at a time, James went full King and showed this young prince where the real throne lies. Coming alive in the night time of this game, he made up for no dunks in the last contest (hey it’s something this writer wanted to witness at least once) by going above the rim like Tupac as ‘How Do You Want It’ and his Beats By Dre ‘California Love’ commercial played over the PA. And if that sounded big, then when the best to Drake, Lil’ Wayne, Eminem and Kanye’s ‘Forever’ track off his ‘More Than A Game’ Irish movie soundtrack came on, LeBron came even more alive. Duking and dunking, spinning and scoring and making moves of the year and history highlight. Before dropping one final hammer from way deep into his downtown toolbox after a night of wielding axe wild dunks in front of ‘The Shining’s’ own Jack Nicholson. Heeeeere’s Johnny! And Bronny. Back again.
‘Daddy’s Home’ too. A mean-mugging, chin-stroking, playful ‘Anchorman’, Will Ferrell (I know Chilli Peppers attend these games but that ain’t Chad), Seattle Sonics thrift shop, throwback fanboy, Macklemore. A knockout Evander Holyfield with all of his ears and Lionel Richie (Hello!) we’re all in jumbotron attendance all night long. All legends all to watch another one do his thing. At one moment when LeBron actually hit from the free-throw line, either end courtside you had one man who made an iconic Joker and another Commodore who helped make Motown zoom watch a new kind of 23. And if you drew that big-three up in an on court play it would almost look like a triangle.
But the Lakers escaped a Bermuda from a terrifically talented Texan team featuring Jordan’s and juniors. One of the best stars of this league Harrison Barnes, who following a shoot-around morning was strolling round outside STAPLES with iced knees was ice cold in a good way looking to put this game in the freezer from downtown, let alone the refrigerator. But Brandon Ingram had an incredible first quarter for the Lakers keeping the teams money talking, before carrying on that tenacity throughout with 19. Alongside the 10, 4 and 5 of fellow young gun Lonzo Ball, who is shooting and handling the pill like that ankle was strapped not sprained. His snatch, grab and dash D-game, like his heart, or the ink on his arm art is growing and expanding like that very muscle hustle. He and a big McGee may have ended up fouling out. Say what you will about this ‘Stranger Things’ dubbed “Meme Team”, behind all that show, flash and glitz we haven’t seen this much, no expletives given grit since the 90’s Knicks. It’s a comprehensive roster of future and vets, style and sustenance. And everyone from B.I. to an ejected J.J. was technically in trouble as KCP went to the line more times than LeBron misses from it. And after a big inside job (12 scores and a season high 13 boards) and pivotal play with Chandler flexing and bruising before the Tyson fight this weekend. Not to mention Kyle Kuzma going for 15, 12 and 6 once he took off that headband. And Hart beating from clutch three to his signature, arm strong, bicep touching celebration, the Lakers looked good for the win and not looking back once they went fourth.
As the only team looking at the scoreboard and hoping Dallas broke 100 apart from the Mavericks themselves were the night crew that works at downtown Los Angeles’ Taco Bell. They didn’t have to prepare any fresh tortillas like last night on this one. As it was a wrap as the city edition Lore Lakers had the Mavs by the pin-stripes, 114-103. No tacos but no dice Dallas.
Cue the Worthy clap.
Staying in California (even though we sadly aren’t), the Lakers roll to the Suns this weekend, where in a Pacific play with Phoenix they hope to continue to rise, lead by the King’s drawn sword.
Time to put it in stone.
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.