The 2021 NBA All-Star Festivities took place in Atlanta at State Farm Arena home of the Atlanta Hawks. In a year of unprecedented firsts due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all events took place on Sunday. There was no All-Star Friday or Saturday night in the “ATL”.
People still ascended upon Atlanta, but they would find that the usual raucous parties and gatherings were slim pickings.
ATL Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms and her office sent cease and desist orders to many of the city’s club and entertainment promoters, threatening them about using the All-Star weekend to throw parties and gatherings during such a trying time. She even told folks who were considering traveling to the city for fun to stay home as this was a made-for-TV-event.
The weekend’s big theme was supporting the HBCUs in the country. In a time where many are struggling to stay afloat, the survival and elevation of Historically Black Colleges and Universities were the focus. Almost every NBA-sanctioned All-Star event and activity, in some way, resulted in a financial come up for various HBCUs.
The day started with Sixers duo Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons ruled out due to contact tracing from their personal barber who had a positive test and is awaiting a second test. It was only right that COVID would affect the All-Star game in some way. The virus has controlled the sports world for the past year.
Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons came in contact with a barber who tested positive for #covid_19 in #Philadelphia. The super duo may not play in tonight’s #nbaallstar game at #philipsarena #statefarena in #atlanta pending further tests. pic.twitter.com/WCL2pyv7k3
— The Shadow League (@ShadowLeague) March 7, 2021
Fortunately, each took private planes to Atlanta and had no exposure to other players in the “Atlanta Bubble.” Zion Williamson was chosen to start for Embiid, also Jazz guard Mike Conley received his first All-Star experience as he was added in place of Suns guard Devin Booker, who was picked to replace injured Lakers star, Anthony Davis.
The game was played at an uptempo pace with the three-point shot being taken at will. In fact, Steph Curry and Damian Lillard aka “The Logo Twins” both finished (8-16) from deep including multiple 30-foot daggers. Dame even walked us off with a 40-foot logo shot to reach the 170 point “Elam Ending” to give Team LeBron the win.
Giannis Antetokounmpo finished a record (16-16) from the field and (3-3) from three-point range for 35 points to win MVP honors. Team LeBron raised $1.25M for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (UNCF) by winning every single quarter and the game (170-150).
This was the first time Steph and LeBron actually had the chance to play with one another after years of being rivals during the season and All-Star games, and these two megastars thoroughly enjoyed it. All in all, it’s what you’ve come to expect from an ASG; matador defense, tons of threes, and guys just having fun.
In a bit of a twist due to the pandemic, the Skills Competition, Three-Point Contest and Slam Dunk Contest all took place on Sunday either prior to or at halftime of the game.
The Skills Competition was a microcosm of what the league has become as far as Uber skilled big men go. In fact big men have now won 4 of the last 6 skills competitions. Which includes Karl Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis, and Bam Adebayo.
Pacers big man Domantas Sabonis (son of the legendary Arvydas) defeated Magic big man Nikola Vucevic in the finals. Other participants included Chris Paul, Robert Covington, Julius Randle and Luka Doncic.
The Three-Point Contest was won by the greatest shooter I’ve ever seen in Wardell Stephen Curry. He trailed Mike Conley (27-25) in the round and on his last shot but he didn’t blink.
In typical Steph Curry fashion, after a slow start, he calmly drilled the moneyball shot for the huge (28-27) win over Mike Conley. The win was similar to Larry Bird’s (17-15) last rack comeback against Dale Ellis in the 1988 three-point contest. Rumor has it Curry walked into the locker room upon arrival at State Farm Arena and asked, “Who’s finishing second tonight? — same as Bird did in ’88.
Curry went for (31) points in the first round. The other competitors were Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Zach LaVine and Donovan Mitchell. Curry the 2015 and 2021 winner joins Bird (3X Winner), Craig Hodges (3X Winner), Peja Stojakovic, Jeff Hornacek, Jason Kapono and Mark Price as the only multiple winners of this competition.
Remember the days when the buzz about All-Star Weekend always surrounded the Slam Dunk Contest? Well, that hasn’t really been the case much lately.
Aside from Blake Griffin jumping over a car a few years ago and Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon giving us some creativity in their aerial display, it hasn’t been much to brag about.
Last night’s contest didn’t do anything to change that perception. The participants were Blazers guard Anfernee Simons, Knicks rookie forward Obi Toppin and Pacers rookie guard Cassius Stanley.
All had some solid dunks, but none really had that “WOW” factor. The viewers at home and the 2,500 live spectators probably felt the same.
Simons won, but all I can remember when watching the Dunk Contest is Vince Carter in 2000, or those classic Jordan vs Dominique matchups in the late 1980’s that were emphatically competitive and rivalry driven.
Wanna give a big shout out to the All-Star DJ “Big Tigger” who happens to be the DJ for the home team Hawks. He’s a legend in the DMV where I reside, from his time on the radio and as the DJ of the Wizards.
But in the end, the big winner of the day was the HBCUs. Those donations will go a long way towards helping many Black students achieve a college degree, which eventually evens out the playing field, on and off the court.