From the city streets to the subways, brands like Adidas, Nike, and the NBA itself have New York City plastered in advertisements and other imagery in preparation for Today’s All-Star Game. While the Rising Stars Challenge at Barclays Center got things underway on Friday night, the festivities really kicked off on Saturday evening in Brooklyn with the NBA All-Star Saturday, and I was fortunate enough to be in attendance.
The last time I was at Barclays Center was for a college tripleheader that featured the Patriot League’s Loyola-Maryland facing off against Fairfield. Similar to Ari Kramer’s experience earlier in the year, the arena was nowhere close to buzzing and was a shell of its normal rambunctious night life.
Saturday was a completely different story. Immediately after stepping out of the heavily branded train station at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, fans were greeted by the giant white security tent and immense oculus of the Barclays Center.
Inside the arena, fans from all over the world gathered to watch some of the NBA’s best go head to head in a wide range of skills competitions. The two most talked about events of the evening: the 3-point competition and slam-dunk competition.
The first two events, which consist of the Degree Shooting Stars and Taco Bell Skills Challenge competitions, little more than a light appetizer. Fans were still filing in during the former, and during the latter, it was obvious the players themselves weren’t taking it seriously.
But everything changed the second Stephen Curry started burying 3-pointers during the shooting competition, culminating in an electrifying final round, turning an otherwise lulled crowd at the Barclays Center into actual participants. Curry has entrenched himself as one – if not the — best in-game shooters on the planet, as evidenced by his 51 point explosion against the Dallas Mavericks earlier this month.
But even in light of Curry’s sterling reputation as one of the game’s premier snipers, entrenched two years ago when he set the NBA record with 272 3-pointers in a season, performance on Saturday was something else, as the lanky gunner drilled 13 straight 3-pointers in the final round to seal his championship.
Curry’s effort on Saturday was a statement that he is one of the purest shooters of our time. His ability to effortlessly sink the 3-pointer was on display, and he made it look easy, while his splash bros. partner Klay Thompson looked like your average-Joe.
After being infused with new life from the 3-point competition, the crowd was primed and ready to go for the slam-dunk competition. And while Sam Perkins may be skeptical about Zach LaVine’s performance, it was one for the ages.
After so many years of the competition, most dunks have been done to death, leaving many fans thinking they won’t ever see an original slam again, which has led to an emphasis on showmanship among presentations. “The Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo did a great job in terms of his presentation, having several models enter the arena with him, carrying the Greek flag and fans. Unfortunately, his execution was seriously lacking, which surprised many, considering his hype and general athleticism.
The runner-up Victor Oladipo started off red-hot, singing Frank Sinatra’s classic “New York, New York,” with his 360-degree (maybe 540-degree) reverse jam, but did not have enough left in the tank for the finals.
But LaVine was nearly perfect on every slam, combining the showmanship of both Oladipo and Antetokounmpo, the skill of legends like Dr. J and Michael Jordan, and the nostalgia that the common fan loves. To top it off, LaVine’s love for the 1990s classic, Space Jam was on full display as the rookie rocked a Tune Squad jersey on his first dunk. LaVine set the tone early, throwing down a between the legs jam off a self alley-oop to record a perfect 50 on his first dunk of the night.
LaVine’s impressive night continued to drop jaws around the arena, threw down several other high-flying between the leg dunks sending the fans into a frenzy every time.
By the end of it, the All-Star Saturday experience is a worthwhile one. Fans get to see some of the NBA’s best players at the moment, and some of their rising stars doing what they do best. And while the branding aspect of it has a large role, the show put on by the players and the league is one unmatched by other professional leagues.