A delusional thought crashed over me today. I don’t know how else to say this (thankfully, it’s not like this take will be easily searchable and forever connected to my name on the permanent database that is the internet) but here goes: I am excited for All-Star Weekend. I am excited for the actual event, the Rising Stars Game, the dunk contest, the 3-point contest, and even the Skills Challenge. Basically, everything but the celebrity game. You should be, too. Here are five things to look forward to this weekend, the one that will—speak it into existence—return All-Star to its former glory.
Friday night: The Rising Stars Game
The opening game exists to reward young standouts and increase their exposure. This year, though, a handful of the Rising Stars are already headlining playoff hopefuls.
Trae Young and Luka Doncic are All-Star starters. Doncic runs the top offense in the league. Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant are the leading scorers for the Grizzlies, who are four games ahead of the Trail Blazers for the eighth spot in the West. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the Thunder’s top scorer. Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn play major roles for the overperforming Heat. And finally: ZION! WILLIAMSON!
Plus, young players care. The men on this list are already vicious and hyper-competitive. Maybe Jaxson Hayes will even live-subtweet the event. If you’re not familiar with Devonte’ Graham because of the shortage of nationally televised Hornets games, be ready for this:
Saturday night: Newbies in the 3-point contest
If there’s a silver lining to not having Klay Thompson or Steph Curry (or Seth Curry) in the 3-point contest, it’s the new players that will take their places. Joe Harris’s win last year was the most heartwarming story of the weekend. This year, Duncan Robinson, Davis Bertans, Devonte’ Graham, Zach LaVine, and Trae Young are participating for the first time.
They’ve also added a new wrinkle to the contest, which I am calling “the Trae Young rule” because “the NBA is fixing this event so Trae Young will win” was too long. In addition to the normal rules (four racks with balls worth one point each; one rack of the player’s choice with balls worth two points each), there will be two balls set up 6 feet behind the 3-point line. These shots are worth three points each. When the kids who grew up watching Curry enter the league, the NBA will push it back to 12 feet. Until then, put your money on Young.
Saturday night: Dame D.O.L.L.A. is performing
Damian Lillard won’t participate in the 3-point contest, but he’s still performing on Saturday as Dame D.O.L.L.A.—an acronym for “Different on Levels the Lord Allows.” My dream scenario is that he uses his time on stage to complain about NBA referees. Last week, Portland lost to Utah after the refs missed a blatant goaltend by Rudy Gobert. Since the league isn’t willing to amend it, Lillard could address the error in front of thousands of fans and on live television.
According to Spotify, one of his most popular songs is “Run It Up” from his 2017 album, CONFIRMED. Lillard raps, “I’m the Daddy Mac / Mac Daddy with hoop and rapping.” Someone calling themselves Daddy Mac and Mac Daddy is absolutely enough for me to watch his performance.
Sunday night: The new All-Star game format
The league changed the rules for the All-Star game to honor the late Kobe Bryant. Via NBA.com:
“Team Giannis and Team LeBron will compete to win each of the first three quarters, all of which will start with the score of 0-0 and will be 12 minutes long. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the game clock will be turned off and a Final Target Score will be set. The Final Target Score will be determined by taking the leading team’s total cumulative score through three quarters and adding 24 points. … The teams will then play an untimed fourth quarter and the first team to reach the Final Target Score will win the NBA All-Star Game.”
It’s not as confusing as it sounds: The first three quarters will act as any NBA game, except the score restarts at zero (?) for some reason. If Team LeBron scores 30 points in the first, 30 in the second, and 30 in the third, its score entering the fourth will be 90 points. From there, the clock is turned off, and the first team to the target score wins; the target score is the leading team’s point total plus 24. In this case, if Team LeBron was in the lead, the target score would be 114.
Hopefully, this will encourage more competition late in the game, as will the fact that the game is a tribute to Kobe. More broadly, All-Star Weekend will be touching because it’s the first time that the league has gathered since Kobe’s and David Stern’s deaths. Expect it to be filled with many remembrances.