SALT LAKE CITY – Soon enough, we’ll zero in on some of the storylines percolating around the league like Kevin Durant in Phoenix, the Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving dynamic in Dallas, and the chase for the top seed in the East.
We’re past the midway point of the season with the conclusion of the 72nd All-Star weekend and ready to focus on the stretch run.
But let’s first take a little time to reminisce on 10 of the standout moments from a stellar NBA All-Star weekend in Salt Lake City:
1. Welcome Back to the Dunk Contest
This seems like the perfect place to start since it appears Mac McClung revived an All-Star event that had lost some luster over the years. McClung technically isn’t in the NBA, but maybe we all needed to witness the G Leaguer’s sheer hunger Saturday in the AT&T Slam Dunk Contest to remind us just how fun this event can be.
McClung is on a two-way contract with Philadelphia after signing the deal Tuesday from the Sixers’ G-League affiliate, the Delaware Blue Coats. Surely, he opened eyes in that organization with a performance that might help him to stick.
Asked after the event how it felt to have saved the dunk contest, McClung laughed.
“I don’t know if that is true,” he said. “I don’t think I [understand the magnitude of what happened]. I haven’t been around my phone or anything yet. I’m sure the internet is going nuts.”
The packed crowd inside Vivint Arena certainly did, as McClung scored perfect 50s on all but one of his dunks to win the contest over Trey Murphy III of the Pelicans in the final round.
McClung (6-2, 180 pounds) pulled on his Gate City [Va.] high school jersey and completed a 540-degree spinning dunk on his final attempt to whip the crowd into a frenzy as well as the NBA stars sitting courtside. McClung joins 1986 dunk contest winner Spud Webb as one of just two players 6-foot-2 or shorter to log scores of 50 on three attempts in a single dunk contest.
Fittingly, Sixers legend Julius Erving – the very first dunk contest champion – awarded McClung with the newly-named Julius “Dr. J” Erving trophy. Highlighted by McClung’s monster showing, State Farm All-Star Saturday Night generated more than half a billion video views in the first 12 hours after the event, according to the NBA. The 520-million views over that span are the most-ever for an All-Star Saturday Night and continued to grow throughout the weekend.
2. All-Star Draft Successful
If trepidation existed going into the NBA’s first All-Star Draft televised in a live segment just before tipoff, team captains LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo assuaged that with an entertaining segment full of fun and laughs.
Antetokounmpo appeared prepared, carrying a notebook into the draft process, while James entered with a sheet of paper. Yet the Milwaukee Bucks star committed one of the funniest gaffes of the process when he tried to select Ja Morant with one of the picks designated for reserves, before he was informed the Memphis star was actually a starter.
Antetokounmpo eventually landed Morant with the No. 2 selection from the pool of starters.
The captains took turns drafting from the pool of 22 players, starting first with the 14 All-Star reserves, and finishing with the eight-man group of All-Star starters.
Interestingly, Utah’s Lauri Markkanen and Cleveland’s Donovan Mitchell ended up on the same All-Star team (Team Giannis), after being essentially traded back in September for one another.
Nursing a sprained wrist, Antetokounmpo played just 20 seconds, landing an early dunk before leaving the game.
James played the first half, but the league announced he would not return for the second half due to a right hand contusion.
3. Top 3 Together On Stage
The top three scorers in NBA history embraced on a stage during a halftime ceremony Sunday honoring James. Dwyane Wade introduced James, before second-leading scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and No. 3 scorer Karl Malone joined the new scoring king on stage.
James stood in the middle, with Malone and Abdul-Jabbar flanking on the right and left, respectively.
James passed Abdul-Jabbar on Feb. 7 to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.
4. Joker Makes History
Reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokic became the first player in NBA All-Star history to celebrate his birthday as an All-Star starter.
Interestingly, Jokic, 28, was the one delivering the gifts like this dime to LeBron James in the first quarter.
5. Silver Shows Off Next-Gen Tech
The NBA All-Star Tech Summit always introduces something mind-blowing, and on Friday commissioner Adam Silver took the reins in unveiling new personalized options that will soon enhance the live game streaming experience.
The option that caught everyone’s attention was a feature that will allow fans to scan their own avatar into a live NBA game through the NBA App, with the ability to replace a player on the floor. Silver demonstrated the feature with NBA broadcaster Ahmad Rashad, inserting the latter into a Utah Jazz game for a rim-rocking dunk in transition.
As cool as that feature was, you can expect even more in the future for customized experiences, a wider selection of alternate languages, celebrity commentary, and even the ability to transport the game to virtual locations.
— NBA (@NBA) February 17, 2023
6. Year 2 of the HBCU Classic
Traditional Bayou Classic Rivals Grambling State and Southern University met up in the mountains for the second annual HBCU Classic, with the Tigers topping the Jaguars 69-64 on the strength of Shawndarius Cowart’s 19 points.
The NBA and AT&T donated $100,000 to each institution for academic, athletic and wellness resources for students in both organizations’ ongoing effort to support Historically Black Colleges and Universities. But the overall exposure is what proved priceless, as the game tipped off in front of a national television audience and preceded the State Farm All-Star Saturday Night events.
In celebration of the #NBAHBCUClassic presented by @att, the @nba and @att donated $100,000 to both Grambling State University and Southern University‼️#NBAAllStar pic.twitter.com/LEBJ8ebJGB
— NBA Cares (@nbacares) February 19, 2023
Grambling State coach Donte’ Jackson called the game “a recruiting tool for national exposure for us.”
Southern coach Sean Woods agreed.
“We’re getting more TV exposure. So, you’re starting to see really big time games,” he said. “With the transfer portal now, we’re getting transfers coming in from Power 5 schools. The talent pool is rising in our league.”
NBA All-Stars Paul George, Damian Lillard and Zion Williamson even showed up during pregame to dap up players in the Grambling State locker room.
7. Grand Theft Alvarado Calls His Shot
Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado drilled a drifting 3-pointer Friday that sealed a 25-20 win for Team Pau [Gasol] over Team Joakim [Noah] in the Rising Stars Game on the way to earning recognition as the Most Valuable Player.
The most eye-popping aspect of Alvarado’s performance was the fact he called the game-winning shot on a dinner wager with Donovan Mitchell, who was sitting courtside.
“What you wanna bet [that if] I take the last shot, I make it?” Alvarado asked.
Seconds later, splash.
Alvarado poured in 14 points in his team’s semifinal matchup against Team Deron, before hitting the game winner in the championship. Alvarado scored five points in the title game.
“I’d be lying if I say I had this in my mind,” he said. “I believe in myself 100%. I believe in myself out of this world, but this is something I didn’t even think of or even dream of. For me to just do this and accomplish this from the Georgia Tech days and all that, it just built my journey.”
Undrafted out of Georgia Tech in 2021, Alvarado is averaging 9.1 points in his second season with the New Orleans Pelicans.
8. HOF Finalists Announced
Colleague Steve Aschburner nails it here when explaining that no fewer than five of the men announced Friday as finalists for the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2023 are undergoing this process for the first and likely last time.
Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker, Pau Gasol and Gregg Popovich appear to be first-ballot locks.
“These types of recognitions, which are an amazing honor, they come along when you do things very well for a long time and when you love what you do,” Gasol said.
In all, the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame announced on Friday the selection of five coaches and seven players from the North American and Women’s Screening committees.
9. EJ Drops Bars — Again
TNT’s Ernie Johnson cited every player on the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team during last year’s NBA’s Legends Awards and followed up with another classic Sunday at the 2023 Legends Brunch in honoring former Celtics great Bill Russell, who died in July at the age of 88, with his ‘NBA Story’ poem.
“A regular guest is not with us this year,” Johnson said. “He approached every game in his life without fear. We’re thankful for 88 years of Bill Russell. This league’s greatest champ. Equal parts grit, and hustle. Pause now, and let silence alone fill the air. Bill’s table this morning has one empty chair.”
Beautiful, as usual, hitting all the right notes.
10. NFL Star Shows Off Versatility
Seattle Seahawks receiver DK Metcalf took home MVP honors in Friday’s 2023 Ruffles NBA All-Star Celebrity Game by scoring 20 points with 10 rebounds and four blocks to lead Team Dwyane [Wade] to an 81-78 win over Team Ryan [Smith].
Metcalf scored buckets. But athleticism and an array of dunks won over the crowd.
Known around the NFL for possessing a rare combination of size, speed, and strength, Metcalf (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) flashed all that and more in front of an audience of NBA players, who appeared to be genuinely impressed by what they saw.
Who could blame them?
Back in 2021, Metcalf clocked a time of 10.36 in the 100-meter dash during the USA Track and Field Golden Games against world class track and field athletes looking to qualify or the Olympic Trials.
Each celebrity team also included a WNBA All-Star. Phoenix’s Diamond DeShields represented Team Ryan, while Dallas Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale played on Team Dwyane.
* * *
Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Warner Bros. Discovery Sports.