Putting Toronto on the World Stage, Remembering NBA ALL STAR 2016
The biggest stars in the NBA were in Toronto on Valentine’s Day weekend as the city hosted the first ever All-Star weekend outside the United States. Here’s a rundown of what happened throughout the weekend.
The festivities began Friday night with the All-Star Celebrity Game. The match-up saw notable celebrities as well as former NBA players from Canada and the United States go up against each other. Coached by Drake, the Canadian team managed to pull off an upset against the Americans with a 10 point victory. The highlight of the game was when Kevin Hart, a four time MVP of the event and the coach of the American team, decided to enter the game in an attempt to ignite a comeback though his efforts were in vain. Win Butler, the lead singer of rock band Arcade Fire, won the MVP award as he finished the game with 15 points and 14 rebounds. His speech was cut short by ESPN however, as he was unable to resist the urge to call out the United States government to implement a single-payer healthcare system like we have here in Canada.
The celebrity game was followed by the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge, which showcased the best young players in the league. The game featured team USA against team World. Led by Zach LaVine’s 30 points, the Americans managed to prevail by a score of 157-154 in what was a highly competitive game. Kristaps Porzingis had the best showing for the world team. The 7 footer from Latvia finished with 30 points and demonstrated his athleticism along with his three point shot. Toronto native Andrew Wiggins had a solid night as he finished the game with 29 points.
The State Farm All-Star Saturday Night included three events: the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Footlocker Three-Point Contest, and Verizon Slam Dunk. For the first time ever, the skills challenge included big men. The event requires speed, passing, and ball handling ability which is why it was always guard oriented in the past. In the end, in a thrilling final, the big men prevailed as center Karl-Anthony Towns beat point guard Isaiah Thomas. The skills challenge exemplified a clear transformation in today’s game where frontcourt players are becoming more perimeter oriented. Afterwards, some of the biggest names in the NBA participated in the three-point contest. The list was headlined by the splash brothers from the Golden State Warriors, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Steph Curry failed to defend his title as Klay Thompson scored 27 points in the final round. Zach LaVine was more successful than Curry in defending his slam dunk title, as he became a back-to-back slam dunk champion with multiple electrifying dunks from near the free throw line. However, Aaron Gordon from the Orlando Magic had what was arguably the best dunk of the night and even of all time. Gordon jumped over the team mascot and brought the basketball under both legs before slamming it in, electrifying the crowd and the announcers.
After an eventful two days, the All-Star weekend was capped off Sunday night with the NBA All-Star game. The high paced game finished with the West beating the East 196-173. Russell Westbrook took home the MVP award for a second time as he finished with 31 points and 8 rebounds. The 369 total points scored is an all time record. More so than the record, the game will be remembered as the last All-Star appearance for NBA legend Kobe Bryant, who is retiring after this season. Hall of Famers such as Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, and Bill Russell were all in attendance to watch Bryant’s 18th All-Star game. A video tribute was also made to honor Kobe Bryant with current All-Stars thanking him for his contributions to the game. The black mamba finished the game with 10 points.
Throughout the course of the weekend, Toronto proved itself to be an excellent host with a large basketball fan base. Even with frigid weather conditions, there were huge lineups in player autograph signings. Thousands flocked to the exhibition place for NBA Centre Court, where they had the opportunity to take a picture with the Larry O’Brien Trophy, meet some NBA players, and to participate in various basketball related activities. All-Star weekend 2016 in Toronto will be remembered for the passion of the basketball fans in the city, one of the best slam dunk contests of all time, and the commemoration of one of the greatest players to ever play the game.