After a year of limited sports due to COVID-19, the NBA 2021 All-Star Game was a highly anticipated event that was indicative of the forthcoming return of normalcy to professional sports.
This year, the NBA 2021 All-Star events were hosted on Sunday, March 7th, in Atlanta, Georgia. It was exciting despite there being many changes and structural differences compared to prior years. First of all, rather than being a three-day weekend event as in past years, this year it was limited to one day. Because all events occurred in one night, some events like the Rising Stars Challenge (where first-year players compete in a game against each other) were not held. Furthermore, the in-person spectators were limited to about 1,200-1,500 people, such as healthcare workers and guests of players, who received special invitations to attend the game.
Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets and Lebron James of the LA Lakers received the most fan votes from the East and West, respectively, and were therefore selected as team captains. What makes the All-Star Game interesting is that players and coaches from different teams within both the East and West conference can get to play together. Before the game, Jake Teller (a sophomore at RHS) predicted that “Team Lebron’s team was overpowered, so I believe it was going to be a blowout.” Jake also said that he was looking forward to the game with new players and a new structure.
The two teams’ starting lineup was selected by a combination of fan, player, and media voting. Both captains selected a team of 12 players. The two team captains then select from the pool of players voted as starters and reserves in each conference and make their picks from the total pool without conference affiliation. Team LeBron was led by Quin Snyder, the Utah Jazz coach, while Team Durant was led by Doc Rivers, coach of the Philadelphia 76ers.
There were some exciting moments throughout the game. For example, Damian Lillard of the Portland Trailblazers hit the game-winning shot for Team LeBron, specifically a half-court 3-pointer. Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors added 32 and 28 points, respectively, and both made eight 3-point field goals for Team LeBron, including several from more than 30 feet from the basket. If that sounds easy, think about shooting a basket from the back of a school bus to the very front of the bus while being blocked and guarded by your friends! On Team Durant, Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards scored 26 points, an All-Star Game career-high.
Not only is the All-Star game fun and, particularly this year, provided much-needed entertainment, but the event also has a higher purpose: teams competed to win each quarter for their selected cause. Under the NBA All-Star Game format implemented last season, the score resets at the end of each of the first three 12 minute quarters. The teams competed to win each quarter for donation money that would go to their selected charities, including the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, United Negro College Fund, the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, and Direct Relief (Fund for Health Equity). The fourth quarter was untimed, with the first team meeting or exceeding a “Final Target Score,” with the game ends once the target score was achieved rather than when a clock ran out.
Unfortunately, a handful of great players did not play for various reasons. Anthony Davis was unable to play due to a calf injury, and Devin Booker was selected as his replacement. Many fans on social media platforms like Instagram thought that Booker should have been initially chosen because of his stellar performance this year; he has been averaging nearly 25 points on 49% shooting percentage. However, Booker was also unable to play due to a knee injury, so Mike Conley was chosen as the replacement. Despite being named team captain, Kevin Durant was unable to play due to a hamstring injury, so Domantas Sabonis filled in his spot. Zion Williamson started in place of Joel Embiid on Team Durant, who, in addition to his teammate Ben Simmons, was out for the game due to contact tracing.
Ultimately, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks won the all-star MVP award. Many fans were surprised at the 3-pointers he made since he usually does not make or even attempt them. He scored 35 points on perfect 16-of-16 shooting. In the end, Team LeBron beat Team Durant 170-150.
Overall, RHS Sophomore and NBA fan Jordan Rogers said that he felt the prior years’ All-Star games were “a lot better for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I think without the fans, it felt a bit quieter. I also think that without the fans, it was harder for the players to naturally and usually. Also, because of COVID-19 and injury reasons, the teams (Team Lebron and Team Durant]) felt uneven. Many players on Team Durant were injured and were in contact with people who had COVID, so Team LeBron had an advantage, and I knew they were going to win. They had advantages in many aspects like dunking, shooting, and defending. But regardless, I love to watch the All-Star game (and the other events) and the organization as whole shedding light on Black peoples’ rights!”
Sports & Wellness Columnist
Graphic: Tess Cundiff