NEW ORLEANS -- NBA All-Star 2017 was relocated at the last minute from Charlotte to New Orleans, marking All Star weekend’s third visit to the Big Easy in the last nine years.
And even with Mardi Gras going on at the same time as the NBA All-Star 2017, New Orleans did not disappoint, playing host to numerous memorable moments this weekend.
Here are 10 of our favorite memories from the weekend that was in New Orleans …
1. Jamal Murray saves the world
On Friday night during the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, a Canada native, provided a late flurry of buckets to help the World team come from behind and defeat Team USA, 150-141.
The two teams traded leads throughout the first half, as Team USA briefly edged ahead in the second half behind strong play from Charlotte Hornets big man Frank Kaminsky, who finished with a team-best 33 points to lead Team USA.
But then Murray got hot, and no defender could stop him. Murray scored 18 of his game-high 36 points in the last 7 minutes, including a barrage of late 3-pointers.
“I was just shooting like I normally shoot,” Murray said later. “I wasn’t trying to think about MVP or how many points I had, I was just playing.”
It’s not like he had much of a choice.
“It was easy for [Murray]” down the stretch, said World coach Mike Brown. “Every time he’d get the ball, his teammates were yelling, ‘Don’t pass, Jamal! Don’t pass!’”
2. Passing of Celebrity Game torch
No Kevin Hart, no problem.
For the first time in years, the Celebrity Game was without four-time MVP Kevin Hart, who “retired” from the game following last year’s contest. In his absence, a new champ emerged. Former NBA D-Leaguer Brandon Armstrong, who has risen to prominence on social media with his spot-on impressions of NBA players, broke out his best imitation of an NBA star, finishing the game with 16 points and 15 boards to win MVP honors and lead the East to an 88-59 win.
Last year’s MVP, Win Butler from the band Arcade Fire, went for 22 points and 11 boards for the East, and the West was led by Romeo Miller, who scored 18 points. Fifty-nine year old Brazilian legend Oscar Schmidt, widely thought to be the greatest basketball player to have never played in the NBA, drained his first jump shot attempt.
The fan favorite was clearly Jarrius Robertson, a local 14-year-old with a chronic liver disease who hit his only field goal attempt, bringing the crowd to its feet.
3. Bigs show they have skills
The big men managed to hang on to their edge.
After Karl-Anthony Towns won last season’s skills challenge, New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis -- who at 7-foot-3 is the tallest player in the NBA, tied with Detroit Pistons center Boban Marjanovic -- posted a perfect final round and was able to knock off Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward to win the 2017 Taco Bell Skills Challenge.
Porzingis made the finals after narrowly beating out Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins in the first round and Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic in the second round, despite Jokic playfully veering into KP’s path on a layup attempt. Local favorite Anthony Davis was eliminated in the first round by Jokic. Hayward advanced from a field of guards that included the Washington Wizards’ John Wall, the Boston Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas and the Phoenix Suns’ Devin Booker.
In the finals, Porzingis and Hayward were virtually tied coming down the stretch, but Porzingis sank his first attempt at a 3-pointer to win the contest.
For the second year in a row, guards weren’t able to get it done. Maybe this whole small ball thing is overrated?
4. Thrilling Three-Point Contest finish
With the Golden State Warriors raining 3-pointers on the rest of the NBA, it wasn’t much of a surprise that the NBA’s last two Three-Point Contests were won by Golden State guards Stephen Curry (2015) and Klay Thompson (2016).
But with Curry sitting this one out, the burden to keep the title in the family fell to Thompson, who went last in the first round and immediately found himself dealing with some tough competition.
The contest opened with Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker scoring 19 and Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving, who won it in 2013, besting that with a 20. After Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon managed a whopping 24 points, Thompson knew to advance to the championship round he’d need at least 19 to force a shootout. But Thompson finished with 18, narrowly being eliminated.
In the final round, Walker’s 17 was a good score, but Gordon and Irving each scored 20, forcing a shootoff. In the extra frame, Gordon kept sizzling, putting away Irving, 21-18.
5. Big Sager Strong donation
Following the Three-Point Contest, there was a surprise announcement from TNT’s Ernie Johnson that the three Three-Point Contest finalists would have a chance to raise money to support cancer research for the foundation of the recently passed Craig Sager. Turner Sports, Foot Locker and the NBA would collectively make a $10,000 donation for each 3-point shot made by Walker, Irving and Gordon during a special one-minute round.
As the rules were explained, TNT’s Reggie Miller quickly hopped up from the broadcast table and took the floor, joining the trio of terrific shooters. When Miller asked for more help, a collection of celebrities and athletes poured forth, including James Harden, DeMar DeRozan, Candace Parker, DJ Khaled, Anthony Anderson and Michael B. Jordan.
This crew managed to make 13 threes in a minute, guaranteeing a donation of $130,000. Curry, the two-time reigning Kia NBA MVP, then stepped forward with the chance to hit a halfcourt shot to get the donation bumped up to $500,000. But after Curry narrowly missed several attempts, Shaquille O’Neal helped Sager’s son dunk a ball, and the Sager Strong Foundation donation was raised to $500,000.
6. Saturday night flights
This year’s Verizon Slam Dunk contest started with several memorable stunts: DeAndre Jordan leaping over DJ Khaled and his turntables, while Aaron Gordon eventually converting a dunk after the ball was dropped from high in the air via a drone.
But in the end, it came down to two explosive leapers: Indiana Pacers swingman Glen Robinson III and Phoenix Suns rookie Derrick Jones Jr., both first time participants in the contest.
Both Robinson and Jones specialized in leaping over people, as Jones began by jumping over several of his Suns teammates, while Robinson, the son of the former NBA All-Star, jumped over people in several different dunks, including his All-Star teammate Paul George.
Ultimately, Robinson won his first Slam Dunk contest title. But with last year’s champ Zach LaVine out due to injury and Gordon getting knocked out so early, we can only wait for what might be an even more compelling contest in 2018.
7. A Legendary Brunch
While so many All-Star events take place at night, one annual meeting is the Legends Brunch on Sunday morning, where many former NBA greats gather to fellowship and recognize their great works.
Two recent NBA stars were highlighted this season by the National Basketball Retired Players Association, as David Robinson and Grant Hill were singled out for the work they’ve done in their respective communities.
“If you forget your history, you forget who you are,” Robinson said. “I hope the young guys who are playing today realize what they have been given and will take it upon themselves to give back in return.”
“As you honor me, I honor you,” Hill noted. “Follow your own blueprint and inspire others to follow theirs.”
8. A famous announcement
Another terrific All-Star tradition is the annual revelation of which former players have made the cut as finalists for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
With Hall of Famers such as Dominique Wilkins and George Gervin on hand, the names of the latest group of finalists was announced, a list including former NBA All-Stars such as Chris Webber, Tracy McGrady, Tim Hardaway, Sidney Moncrief and Rudy Tomjanovic.
As the five-time All-Star Webber told our Steve Aschburner, even though he never won a title, he has no regrets: “The great thing about sports is, no guarantees. If I would have gone into this with a guaranteed championship, where I was knew it was coming at the end of the process … to me, there’s no sports without perseverance, without getting back up, without being unselfish.
“From calling the [notorious, non-existent Wolverines] timeout to [Lakers clutch forward Robert] Horry hitting the shot [that beat Sacramento in 2002], that’s part of sports. You can’t be around to embrace the best moments if you can’t embrace the worst moments.”
9. Talk, talk, talk
Before we got to see how Russell Westbrook and former teammate Kevin Durant would play as teammates during the 2017 All-Star Game, there was plenty of time to talk about the possibilities. And as we learned on All-Star media day, Westbrook can be as hard to corral off the court as he has been on the court all season.
No matter the questions during his news conference, Westbrook responded by talking about his favorite off-court topic: fashion. And when the questions kept coming, Westbrook just kept talking fashion.
And while it didn’t take place at media day, one of the more amusing subplots of the weekend was Irving doubling-down on his theory that the Earth is actually flat rather than round. When asked about it at the commissioner’s annual All-Star news conference, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said, “Kyrie and I went to the same college (Duke). He may have taken some different courses.”
“In all seriousness,” Silver added, “he was trying to be provocative and I think it was effective. I think it was a larger comment on the sort of so-called fake news debate that’s going on in our society right now.”
10. 'The Brow' does it all
After days of activities and contests and concerts and parties all sorts of other stuff, by Sunday night there was still the matter of the actual NBA All-Star Game.
Davis served as a de facto host all weekend, with his unibrowed visage plastered across a multi-story office building next to the Smoothie King Arena thanks to Nike. And when it was time to play the game, Davis certainly came to play.
He finished with an All-Star Game record 52 points and 10 rebounds in 31 minutes of play, winning the All-Star Game MVP award.
Sure, there were plenty of other moments that will be remembered: Durant and Westbrook ending their frosty relations with a give-and-go alley-oop; Curry hitting the floor to avoid getting dunked on by Giannis Antetokounmpo, who ended up leading the Eastern Conference team with 30 points; Durant finishing with a triple-double (21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists) while Westbrook finished with a healthy 41 points.
But history will probably mostly remind us of “The Brow’s” big night. While he’s struggled to find team success in the NBA thus far, Davis proved that he’s the bankable superstar so many franchises spend years trying to find.
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