LOS ANGELES – It’s not every day in an All-Star game you see millionaire NBA stars diving for loose balls and playing with heart. Last year’s All-Star game (192-182) was two hours of watching superstars play matador defense and pick up a check. Well, this year, the 67th edition, that changed; these stars, some with inflated egos, showed the world they can indeed compete.
The NBA format did not deliver the NBA giant TV ratings numbers, but that’s because it’s 2018. People today have other things to do. With smart phones, iPads and apps, the ability to see replays, and YouTube, the days of sitting and watching an event for that length of time, unless you’re in a movie theater viewing Black Panther, are long gone.
Team LeBron rallied to beat team Stephen 148-145 as the players put on quite a show at the NBA’s showcase event. Yes, the game was tied in the final minute 144-144, the new format worked, the players were engaged and seemed motivated to compete as star competitors. They showed some pride. Maybe raising the financial stakes and incentives helped also, but I liked what I saw.
Now, as for the player pregame introductions, maybe not. Fergie singing the national anthem? Well, I’m not certain what that was — confusing and amusing come to mind. The Black Eyed Peas singer said, “I’m a risk taker artistically”; clearly her performance was not well received.
NBA players showed vigor and passion led by James, the game’s MVP for the third time and first since 2008, in his 14th All-Star game. This game had defense, blocked shots, and trapping defenses. James led all scorers with 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.
James, pro sports’ closest athlete today to Muhammad Ali on the social issues stage, was in the middle of a firestorm created by conservative right-wing cable news commentator Laura Ingraham in her blatantly insulting and offensive attack on freedom of speech. She ignited a political fury with one of the NBA’s most powerful stars.
When she challenged James and said in a report, “He should shut up and dribble” during these volatile times with Donald Trump in the White House, James demonstrated his remarkable passion for expression and fighting for right and substance on social and racial issues.
The game was 78-76 at halftime, score 112-109. Kevin Durant, drafted by James, had 19 and Paul George added 16. Damien Lillard and DeMar DeRozen both had 21 each for Team Stephen.
Of Minnesota’s own All-Stars, Karl Anthony Towns was brilliant with 17 points and 10 rebounds while Jimmy Butler, for reasons unknown, did not play (DNP) for some reason. Team Stephen could have used Butler helping defend LeBron.
A sellout crowd of 17,801 at Staples Center and a worldwide audience with 200 countries viewing around the globe saw Team LeBron win despite being out rebounded 68-49 by Curry’s squad. This new format is still evolving, but it turned the game into a thriller.
Now for the second half of the NBA season. The 36-25 Timberwolves, fourth in the Western Conference, have 21 games left. Can they end this 14-year embarrassment of missing the playoffs? Stay tuned.
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.