What it was like at the NBA All-Star Game
The NBA All-Star Game created a lot of excitement in Toronto, but it has a reputation among serious fans as a total bore, full of halfhearted performances by A-list ballers. Veteran sportswriter Eric Koreen is one of those All-Star skeptics, but, on Sunday night, he braved the Air Canada Centre anyway—and lived to tweet about it. These are his notes.
7:40 p.m.: Welcome to the 65th-annual NBA All-Star Game, and the first one held outside of the United States. Drake is on hand, and will be introducing the game’s starters. He’s wearing a loud jacket commemorating Kobe Bryant’s last All-Star appearance. It’s hard to believe Mr. Graham’s wardrobe can get more outrageous than the pink jacket he wore on All-Star Saturday Night, but here we are. There’s an owl on it, too. Never stop branding.
8:02 p.m.: The pregame show is underway. It’s Cirque Du Soleil, doing Cirque Du Soleil things. There’s a glowing orb involved. I don’t really get symbolism, but I believe it represents a basketball.
8:08 p.m.: Now the NBA has a fake Dr. James Naismith explaining basketball’s evolution. Former Raptors star Vince Carter gets cheered when he appears in the montage. He is the spectre hanging over this weekend.
8:09 p.m.: Steve Nash comes out to introduce…the player introductions. He was really shoehorned in there.
8:15 p.m.: “If Toronto is in the house tonight, if the 6ix is in the house tonight, I need everybody on their feet,” Drake says in his cameo. Raptor Kyle Lowry is the first player introduced, and he gets a hug from Drake. We should all be so lucky.
8:17 p.m.: Drake is not introducing the starters after all. He’s just hugging people. He seems like a good hugger. A firm hugger.
8:18 p.m.: Oklahoma City star Russell Westbrook snubs Drake. That’s cold, Russ.
8:19 p.m.: Bryant is saved for last. Drake bows down, and Kobe walks right on by him. Kobe stops for no man.
8:25 p.m.: Ne-Yo and Nelly Furtado, accompanied by a flutist, sing their respective anthems. Well, Furtado sings the lyrics to “O Canada” to a completely different melody, but close enough.
8:30 p.m.: A montage for Bryant. This whole night is going to be an excuse to celebrate him. I wouldn’t be surprised if the players rig this so he wins MVP.
8:32 p.m.: Magic Johnson takes to centre court, running down Bryant’s accomplishments. Kobe can’t help but grin widely. Magic saying the word “blessed” three times seems a little much.
8:34 p.m.: A second Kobe montage. The players are on the big screen, saying their words of acknowledgement to Bryant. Kobe greets Magic at centre court, with the other All-Stars standing behind him. The fans give him a “Kobe” chant.
8:39 p.m.: LeBron James and Kobe take part in the jump ball, and we’re underway. This is a good time to remind you: the first half of the All-Star Game is the worst part of All-Star weekend. If we’re lucky, the game will remain close into the second half, at which point the players will start to try, as opposed to just trying to do cool stuff with no opposition.
8:41 p.m.: Scratch that: a Kyle Lowry-Dwyane Wade-James passing play for an alley-oop was legitimately nice, no matter how little defence was involved.
8:42 p.m.: Westbrook tries to throw a pass to himself off the backboard, but it hits the rim and bounces away. There will be a lot of miscues in the name of showmanship tonight.
8:50 p.m.: Raptor guard DeMar DeRozan checks in, the first reserve into the game, as Eastern Conference coach Tyronn Lue tries to get the crowd on his side.
8:54 p.m.: DeRozan does a 360-degree spin before dunking. The defence is taking a rest. Everyone seems really chilled out right now.
9:01 p.m.: Atlanta Hawks organist Sir Foster is here, and he’s playing Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean?” Wonderful.
9:03 p.m.: The East leads 43-40 after a quarter. A score this close is normal at this point in an All-Star game.
9:06 p.m.: Unicyclist Red Panda, a halftime staple at NBA games, is here. She flips bowls onto her head while unicycling. This is my third time seeing her this weekend. What do I win?
9:10 p.m.: The NBA is learning to prize smaller players, with more speed and shooting skill. The Eastern Conference is currently playing four big men. This is not a real game.
9:12 p.m.: Sir Foster is now playing Drizzy’s “Hold On, We’re Going home.”
9:16 p.m.: Kevin Hart is shown on the big screen. He will not go away this weekend. I’m not going to see Ride Along 2 out of spite, and for other reasons.
9:20 p.m.: Guy Fieri is sitting next to Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander and model Kate Upton at courtside. One of these things is not like the other.
9:25 p.m.: Bryant gets the ball, and James gets matched up on him. For the first time tonight, someone actually tries to play defence. James claps his hands in anticipation of the battle, and forces Bryant into a missed jumper.
9:28 p.m.: Bryant turns back the clock with a turnaround jumper over Carmelo Anthony. That was pretty, and vintage Kobe.
9:29 p.m.: Paul George throws an alley-oop pass to nobody. Like, nobody was even close.
9:35 p.m.: Oh, a travelling call. So the referees are paying attention.
9:36 p.m.: Kyle Lowry strips Westbrook to end the first half, and runs excitedly to the bench to celebrate. So maybe they’ll try in the second half. It’s 92-90 for the Western Conference. Dr. Naismith is rolling around in his grave.
9:41 p.m.: Carmelo Anthony draws the short straw, and has to introduce Sting.
9:48 p.m.: Sting sings “Every Breath You Take.” Perhaps they chose him because this song contains the lyric “every game you play,” and basketball is a game and…Yeah, I don’t know.
9:52 p.m.: Well, Sting was underwhelming, but no less whelming than the first half of the game.
10:06 p.m.: We’re off with the second half. There’s a quiet murmur in the stands, reminiscent of a Maple Leafs game.
10:10 p.m.: Westbrook has hit three three-pointers early in the quarter, and the Western Conference is now up by 16 points.
10:17 p.m.: Washington’s John Wall throws a bounce pass between his legs to James, for a dunk. That was actually legitimately nice. Not so nice: Kobe airballs a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar-aping skyhook.
10:18 p.m.: A dance routine, performed by giant inflatable mascots. You really cannot go wrong with inflatable mascots.
10:25 p.m.: A nice sequence for DeRozan, as he gets a runway for a double-pump dunk, and then hits a sweet reverse layup. All in all, it has been a quiet night for the two Raptors.
10:28 p.m.: On cue, DeRozan misses everything on a three-pointer. And then Wall blows a dunk. This is interminable. After three quarters, it’s 145-136 for the West.
10:32 p.m.: The Amazing Sladek’s performance—he’s a man in his late ‘50s who stacks chairs on top of each other and balances on the top—is the best thing that has happened in hours.
10:38 p.m.: The West is up 163-145. They have a slight chance of getting to 200 points. Dare to dream.
10:45 p.m.: A long, long alley-oop pass from Lowry to DeRozan for the best hometown moment of the night. Sadly, we are not going to get a dramatic finish.
10:46 p.m.: Multiple media reports have Vin Diesel down by the Western Conference bench. Sure, why not?
10:47 p.m.: Aaron Gordon, who finished second in Saturday night’s dunk contest, is still getting cheers for the incredible dunk he did, jumping over the Orlando Magic’s mascot and putting the ball under both of his legs before slamming. It might have been the highlight of the whole weekend.
10:51 p.m.: Detroit centre Andre Drummond throws a pass to himself, and is called for a travel. I think it’s time for all of us to go home.
10:58 p.m.: The big screen airs a Valentine’s Day kiss cam, which ends with a man mouthing, “It’s my sister.” It has been that kind of night.
11:00 p.m.: With 66 seconds left, Bryant checks out for the last time. He hugs each player on the floor, and acknowledges the crowd. The fans serenade him with a “Kobe” chant, which is nice.
11:02 p.m.: It’s 196-173. Stephen Curry drills a halfcourt shot just before the buzzer for maybe the most fun moment of the evening. A great All-Star Saturday is followed by a very boring main event. So it goes. Westbrook is the MVP.
11:14 p.m.: “It was a joy. It was the most fun I’ve ever had at an All-Star Game,” says Western Conference coach Gregg Popovich. He was referring to the group of young players, however, and not the merits of the city. Sorry, Toronto. You’ll have to get your external validation elsewhere.
11:24 p.m.: James has become the leading scorer in All-Star history, one point ahead of Bryant. “It means absolutely nothing,” LeBron says.
11:26 p.m.: “Toronto did a hell of a job of putting on a show,” James says of Toronto, although he laments the weather. He’s from Akron, Ohio! This shouldn’t be that jarring to him.
11:46 p.m.: “It was fun. I had a blast playing with those guys, laughing and joking on the bench,” Bryant says. “I had a great time. I had a great, great time.” This weekend was all about Bryant, and it should end with him.