City of Charlotte, NBA Put on Spectacular Show for All-Star Weekend
By Sam Perley
The largest sporting event in the history of Charlotte came to an electrifying close on Sunday evening, although the memories and highlights over the last several days will surely be talked about for many, many years to come.
Things kicked off on Friday night with two WNBA legends, Dawn Staley and Sue Bird, going head to head as coaches in the Celebrity All-Star Game at Bojangles’ Coliseum. Staley’s ‘Home Team’ edged out Bird’s ‘Away Side’, 82-80, with comedian Famous Los scoring 22 points on his way to MVP honors.
Hours later, Team USA took down Team World, 161-144, in the Rising Stars Challenge, with Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma, racking up a game-high 35 points and six rebounds to take home the MVP. Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons led Team World with 28 points, five rebounds, six assists and three steals in the loss.
Saturday night, Boston’s Jayson Tatum drained a half-court shot to narrowly steal the Skills Challenge title away from Atlanta rookie Trae Young. Brooklyn’s Joe Harris then outdueled Golden State’s Steph Curry – a Charlotte native – and Sacramento’s Buddy Hield in the finals of the Three-Point Contest. Both Tatum and Harris were the first from their respective franchises to win these competitions.
Charlotte got its first taste of Hornets representation with Miles Bridges in the Dunk Contest in the final spectacle of the night. The rookie finished in third place and failed to advance to the final round, but not before dawning a Larry Johnson jersey and throwing down a powerful, reverse 360-degree jam in route to a perfect score of 50 on his second attempt.
Oklahoma City rookie Hamidou Diallo took home the Dunk Contest crown, joining Desmond Mason (2001) as the only other player in franchise history to accomplish this feat. New York’s Dennis Smith Jr. and Atlanta’s John Collins finished in second and fourth, respectively.
But the main attraction of the three-day showcase was undoubtedly the All-Star Game itself on Sunday night. One of Charlotte’s own in Kemba Walker started the event for the first time in his eight-year NBA career, marking the first time a Hornet player had done so since 1999.
“It meant a lot. Being a starter for my first time in Charlotte, what more can I ask for?”, said Walker, who finished with four points and game-high eight assists. “I thought we put on a great show tonight as a whole. I thought the fans enjoyed it. It was a really exciting time. This whole weekend was just phenomenal. Definitely appreciate the city of Charlotte for all the love and support they've showed.”
Team LeBron rallied for 178-164 win over Team Giannis, with Kevin Durant taking home the All-Star MVP for the second time in his career (2012). Durant is the first Warrior to win the award since Rick Barry did so in 1967.
NBA legends on hand ranged far and wide with Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, Julius Erving, George Gervin, Kevin Garnett, Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller and countless more in attendance. Celebrity figures from outside the basketball word included chief Guy Fieri, rappers 2 Chainz, Gucci Mane, Migos, Fat Joe, Ludacris and Carolina Panthers players Cam Newton and Greg Olsen
“It was amazing, man,” added Walker. “It was amazing. I know we had so many huge names here over the weekend, but as an individual, I felt like the city supported me a lot, and I really appreciated that throughout this weekend.”
And amazing it was. In between the competitions, it was all about giving back. NBA Cares, Basketball Without Borders and Jr. NBA were just a few of the phenomenal causes this weekend bridging the sporting and community worlds. Player-to-fan interactions were immeasurable (particularly with young fans), with many getting the rare opportunity to see their heroes up close and personal for the first time ever.
It was a long time coming for a city that loves its Hornets and basketball. Despite losing the opportunity to host the event two years ago because of unforeseen circumstances, the organization rallied and regrouped, determined to put on an extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime affair when the timing was right.
All-Star Weekend will be back next year from Feb. 13-15, 2020 in Chicago, which will host the event for the first time since 1988. For those who make it up to the Windy City, here’s hoping it’s just as fantastic a show as NBA fans witnessed in Charlotte.