The headband King brought the chalk back, tossed it up, the ball came down and it was on.
The 2019/twenty, twenty NBA season.
But tonight in downtown Los Angeles it was the Clippers house and their fitting banner covering all the Lakers championships and retired jerseys, stating “L.A. Our Way” that said it all.
And the man or few words Kawhi Leonard did the rest. Finishing the sentence with the reigning champs’ Clippers bid for their own championship.
With his former Canadian champion, Toronto Raptor and Spurs scoring teammate Danny Green being the high-man on the other side of Los Angles with 28 (a new debut, opening night record for a Laker, beating all-time scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 27), fate looked to be in the purple and golds favour. He hit seven threes, including an off balance one that almost went around the whole rim of the world like Leonard’s infamous, processing winner against Philly last postseason. Whilst big-man for the new generation, still at age 26, Anthony Davis had 25 points and 10 rebounds that could be his average for this season, to go with superstar dynamic duo teammate LeBron James’ line of 18, 9 and 8. And let’s not forget those vintage running back, dunking breaks that hit you like a sledgehammer or a slice of NBA nostalgia from the legendary one and true King.
They combined for just two in the fourth however as the Clippers bench outscored the Lakers pine with a line of 60 to 19 by the final frame. The Lakers began this homestand as the away team against the half century Clippers with a 60 years in Los Angeles (it doesn’t seem like a decade since their Minneapolis actual anniversary of that many years) inspirational video of all the greatest moments of history for the most storied team outside of Boston. Mikan to Magic, to Kobe to now. Assisted by the bass of another video from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers superfan Flea who also showed some of the lows from D’Angelo Russell (really Lake Show?) falling out of bounds with the ball. To the guy he snitched on Nick Young shooting his shot and missing whilst turning around and celebration leaving many as confused as his cult favourite GIF (shots literally fired anyone?).
But in the end this actual superstar Laker team looked like a laughing stock as even BIG3 owner Ice Cube took to Twitter to air his embarrassment like a Good Year, bad day blimp. Not enough Avery Bradley and too much KCP (someone had a point with the end of that Laker captioned Key and Peele infamous Obama handshake video). And the Lakers “consider this a warning” Golden State Warrior dub drubbing tweet which they will never live down now looked as Donnell Rawlings radio booth funny as Kawhi’s laugh on that equally hilarious ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ commercial tie-in with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton, as Leonard said “Hasta La Vista” baby and “what it do” to the Lake Show.
The Lakers should have learnt from their opening night a few seasons ago, when the man they let go Patrick Beverly took the ball from their top pick Lonzo like it was never in his family name. And without their D Loading replacing point it looks like new Showtime is not running right now…at least in one side of L.A.
As in this new battle for Los Angeles that was only missing a Crenshaw versus Compton city jersey statement for Nispey, with two new superstar STAPLES and two new one, two punches going toe-to-toe for the K.O., it was Kawhi who went home with the belt. Softening the Lakers defence like milk does cereal. Even when they played him close like butter plays toast. C(k)lawing the Lakers for 30 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and a block, to go along with former purp and gold Lou Will’s 21 (put the greatest 6 Man not named Jamal Crawford (you see his post? The Lakers need him like everyone else does) at the back of your cover looking as thrilled as Brandon Ingram to be a Pelican on SLAM now Sports Illustrated) and a clipping 112-102 win for the Clips. Partying like the Atlanta club of the same score name, singing like the R&B group.
It was all peaches and cream for this team…and they were even without Paul George looking like P. Diddy courtside in a dapper velvet and bow-tie suit Dan.
Meanwhile Paul George wasn’t the only month off superstar not making his debut on opening night, the New Orleans Pelicans were without their top pick Zion Williamson as half the former Lakers took on the reigning champ Raptors in Jurassic Park as they all got blinged out like amber sap (also in a moving move giving a ring to their real Six Man, superfan Nav Bhatia). What the NBA had billed as a defending champs versus rookie for the new year match-up turned out to be quite a game anyway. Going all the way to O.T as Canada’s very own team showed they were still hot without their man Kawhi and still big, like they were soaring past the Rockets in Tokyo, Japan with a 130-122 win.
The Raptors clawed this bird without Kawhi and Zion’s road thanks to Pascal Siakam’s super 34 points, 18 rebounds, 5 assists and one block as he showed he could be the new superstar in this 6 God town. Freddy VanVleet also made his case with his own Shaq sized 34, as Lowry had 22 to go with Ibaka’s 13 against Ingram’s inspired 22 in a balanced attack from this New Orleans animal that was all about fight, not flight.
And what a game to begin a season we’re sure will be just as good…if not go big, or go home better.
The NBA is back and in the words of a last dance card retired Dwyane Wade, now punching in as a pundit in another social media overshared reaction…
…”I love it!”
I hope you’re sitting comfortably in your banana boat because this is going to be a hell of a ride.
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.