This weekend was the 69th annual National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star Weekend. With star-studded lineups featured in every event, NBA fans had their eyes on this year’s rule changes. Every year, the NBA does something a little different with the dunk contest or one of the other smaller events.
But with the media in panic about declining television ratings, the NBA switched things up much more than usual this year. Fans are usually left disappointed by these changes, but this year, they nailed it.
First up on Friday night was the All-Star celebrity game. As a kid, this event was one of my favorites because I could watch the likes of Dr. Oz, Pitbull and Kevin Hart remind us how bad normal humans are at basketball.
Maybe I’m getting old, but the name recognition of the participants has seemingly declined over the years. This year featured Quavo, Chance the Rapper and Common (who made his eighth appearance in the game), but outside of that, there were many names I didn’t know.
There were only three notable events in this game: Guy Fieri showing up as an assistant coach for some reason; Quavo failing to repeat his MVP performance from 2018; and former NBA player Quentin Richardson causally blocking Spice Adams’ comedic layup attempt.
This game is always make-or-break depending on which celebrities show up, and this year wasn’t anything special.
Next up was the Rising Stars Challenge, a regulation game featuring first and second-year players. This game was intriguing because it featured two All-Star starters in Trae Young and Luka Dončić.
But any game featuring Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, the two frontrunners for Rookie of the Year, was going to garner some attention.
Like most All-Star Weekend events, this game suffered from lack of effort by the players. Viewers were treated to some spectacular dunks. But a pair of missed dunks from Zion towards the end summed up this game nicely.
Saturday featured the Skills Challenge, the Three-Point Contest and the Dunk Contest. The Skills Challenge was kept standard this year. Players make passes, layups, do some dribbling and the event culminates by awarding whoever makes a three-pointer first at the end.
Normally, this event is dominated by guards, but winner Bam Adebayo showed that bigs can have some finesse too. Again, this event was entertaining but not especially intriguing this year.
The Three-Point Contest saw a change this year. The NBA introduced two four-point shots from several feet behind the three-point arc.
Sharpshooters like Damian Lillard, Trae Young and Davis Bertans have been slowly normalizing this shot during games, so the NBA incorporated it into the contest.
I liked the addition, but as the commentators pointed out, it felt as though you had to make at least one of the two shots to get a high enough score to stay alive.
Trae Young was the first to go, and he scored a measly 15 points. Devonte’ Graham followed with only 18. The contest was off to a rough start, but soon Devin Booker scored 27 points, which would tie Buddy Hield for the high score for the first round.
Davis Bertans was the third participant to move on to the next round after returning champion Joe Harris couldn’t get more than 22 points.
In the third round, Booker scored 26 points. Hield was the last to go and he needed to beat his first-round score in order to win.
As Hield got to his last rack, the score was extremely close. And with one ball left, he needed to sink it. Hield made the shot and the arena erupted.
Booker congratulated him and Hield hoisted the trophy. For an event that is normally a bit bland, this year’s Three-Point Contest was about as good as it could possibly get.
The last event of the night, the Dunk Contest, is perhaps the most hit-or-miss event in all of sports. The last good Dunk Contest occurred in 2016 which featured the duel between Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon. Gordon made his return this year, reigniting hopes that this year would be as good as 2016. Longtime dunker Dwight Howard and incredibly athletic Derrick Jones Jr. also gave fans high hopes for this year’s dunks.
The contest started out with some incredible first-round dunks. Howard gave us all some nostalgia with the return of his Superman cape. Pat Connaughton jumped over reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, touched the ball against the backboard, and then dunked the ball.
Gordon and Jones Jr. advanced to the next round where they traded amazing dunks. Aaron Gordon’s one-handed windmill off the side of the backboard was a personal favorite of mine. But then controversy struck. Gordon had received four-straight perfect scores, almost guaranteeing him the victory. But on his last dunk, Dwyane Wade and Chadwick Boseman both gave Gordon nines, causing him to lose to Jones Jr. Many have accused Wade, who played for the Miami Heat for many years, of rigging the contest in favor of current Heat player Jones Jr., but Wade has deflected such criticism.
Despite the controversy, this year’s Dunk Contest was everything fans hoped for. The contest has still yet to see the likes of Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, so there’s plenty the NBA can build off of going forward.
Then on Sunday came the All-Star Game itself. This event is often a flop because few of the players are trying. But this year was entirely different. And that’s thanks to the NBA’s new rules.
Under the new rules, the score of the game would reset at the end of each quarter. Whichever team won the quarter would receive $100,000 towards a charity of their choosing.
Then, as a tribute to the late Kobe Bryant, the fourth quarter would end when the leading team scored 24 points (or when the trailing team reached the leading team’s third-quarter score plus 24).
The rules were a little confusing at first, but anyone watching the game caught on pretty quickly. During the weekend, commissioner Adam Silver also announced that the All-Star MVP award would be renamed as the Kobe Bryant All-Star MVP award.
What ensued was the most effort seen in an All-Star Game since the 90s. Whether it was the fact that teams couldn’t simply mess around while the clock ticked down or players gunning to win the first ever Kobe Bryant All-Star MVP award, these rule changes brought out the competitive spirit in these players.
One of the top highlights online after the game was Giannis Antetokounmpo blocking LeBron James. A defensive highlight from the All-Star Game!
Other than the Friday night events, this All-Star Weekend was one to remember. Adam Silver has repeatedly shown that he is looking to try new things, and this is another one of his successes. Fans have lamented over the disappointment of the All-Star events for years if not decades, and the 2020 weekend has given fans hope for the future.