By Devin Jones
The NBA All-Star 2020 weekend events concluded Feb. 16, with some of the best players in the league gathering in Chicago to showcase their skills throughout multiple events. The weekend consisted of the Celebrity All-Star Game, the skills challenge, three-point competition, dunk contest, and the All-Star game itself, which turned out to be extremely suspenseful and fun to watch.
Aside from the three-point competition and skills challenge, the game and side events are historically known for a lack of effort on behalf of players. Excluding rare cases such as the 2016 dunk contest that featured Zach Lavine and Aaron Gordon going head to head, most of the events that the NBA hosts in their all-star weekend see the players not putting their all into the competition due to things like injury risk and fatigue.
This is clearly represented in the actual all-star game itself where little if any defense is showcased by the players.
The celebrity all-star game started the festivities off. The two teams were coached by ESPN analysts Stephen A. Smith and Michael Wilbon. Both teams featured former NBA players, WNBA players, and celebrities such as artists Common and Quavo. Team Wilbon won in the end, and the MVP award of the game went to hometown player and team captain Common, who finished with 10 points, five rebounds, three assists, and four steals.
The rising stars challenge, a game featuring younger players from the NBA in a “USA vs World” style game, also had plenty of highlights from the earlier in the weekend. A halfcourt shot from Luka Doncic as well as some flashy missed dunks from Zion Williamson capped off what wasn’t a very close game. Team USA won 151-131, with Michigan State University alum Miles Bridges winning the MVP trophy.
The skills challenge, a gauntlet-style obstacle course based around different basketball challenges, was as much of a nail biter as it could be as well. It came down to the two finalists taking turns hitting the final three that would end the competition. Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo ended up making his first after clearing the rest of the gauntlet of obstacles on the first try, leaving the other finalist Domantas Sabonis shaking his head.
The three-point competition wasn’t without its drama either. Coming into the final rounds, finalists Buddy Hield and Devin Booker, previous champion of 2019 three-point contest, were on fire. Booker put up an impressive score of 26 which led fans to believe he secured yet another trophy. Although Hield diminished those short-lived hopes- most players will strategically place their “money ball racks” (each ball worth two points instead of one) as their final rack. Hield used this strategy which led him to take down Booker by one point (27) on his final shot attempt.
We also got to witness what many are calling the best dunk contest since the mid-1990s contests that featured Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins.
After trading perfect scores for four rounds (nine total rounds for the competition), finalists Aaron Gordon lost to Derrick Jones Jr. by three points – even after Gordon jumped almost all the way over 7-foot-5 NBA player and fan favorite Tacko Fall.
The NBA has been taking steps to counteract that, however. Putting more charity money on the line and having team captains choose their teams live on national television are a couple of rule changes that the NBA has made to counteract the lack of effort that was traditionally shown in the all-star game.
With the passing of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, the league implemented a new “Final Target Score” concept, the “Kobe Bryant MVP award” (originally named All-Star MVP), and a rule in which whatever team “wins” each quarter (the highest score at the final buzzer, score ‘resetting’ after first three quarters) wins $100,000 for the charity they were sponsoring that night.
For all of those reasons as well as outside factors such as the passing of Bryant motivating the players, or the sense of wanting to one-up the other players on the court, the 2020 NBA all-star game turned into one of the best, most suspenseful basketball games that have been played. Chicago native Anthony Davis sealed the win for Team LeBron by sinking clutch free-throw, with an end-score of 157-155. Kawhi Leonard took home the Kobe Bryant MVP award, which he naturally dedicated to Bryant, with a stat line of 30 points, eight three-pointers, seven rebounds and four assists.