NBA All-Star 2020

Revamped format adds intrigue, spice to 2020 All-Star Game

Kobe will be remembered with jerseys, shoes and the +24 score needed to win

CHICAGO — Those who stand still run the risk of falling behind. And with that in mind, the NBA once again is pushing boundaries and possibilities by tinkering with the mid-season showpiece.

The grand experiment and experience will be for you and the participants to judge Sunday when the 69th All-Star Game receives a facelift that might be the envy of all plastic surgeons. Perhaps this was inevitable or maybe even warranted; either way, the game done changed.

Each of the four quarters will stand on their own and the fourth quarter won’t even have a clock. All to spice up the competition, add some intrigue, honor the memory of the late Kobe Bryant and most of all, get folks talking about it beyond the buzzer.

“The format is amazing,” said Giannis Antetokounmpo. “It makes you want to play hard and compete against one another. Each quarter you have the opportunity to win, and it makes it way more competitive.”

The hope is that there will be a considerable uptick in intensity and competition, that the world’s most creative players will put on a show from tip to finish. That would make this game — heavy on emerging and proven stars and heavier on hearts for Kobe — one that could endure.

The evening will likely reflect the depth of respect current players hold for the former four-time All-Star MVP, often idolized by them as kids; some even had the chance to play against him. The Kobe flag waver will understandably be LeBron James, who passed Kobe on the all-time scoring list and spoke to him the night before he died.

“We know he’s watching over us,” said LeBron, who passed Kobe on the all-time scoring list and spoke to him the night before the crash. “For us to be able to honor Kobe and his legacy, it’s a beautiful time. Even in loss, a beautiful time.”

The uniforms for Team LeBron and Team Giannis will be 24 and 2, representing the numbers that Kobe wore with the Lakers and his daughter Gigi wore for her travel team. The shot clock will illuminate when it hits 24 and 8, representing both jersey numbers worn by Kobe with the Lakers. Also, expect more than a handful of players to wear customized sneakers in Kobe’s memory.

“Wearing 24 and LeBron wearing number 2, it’s a big honor,” said Giannis. “I wouldn’t want it any other way representing Kobe and Gigi in the game.”

Here’s the revamped format:

Each of the first three quarters will be, in essence, a 12-minute mini-game. The team that “wins” the quarter will receive a “winning” donation to charity. And the score at the start of the second and third quarters will be reset to 0-0.

But wait! The scores of the first three quarters for each team will be added up and posted to start the fourth. The cumulative score of the team that’s ahead, plus 24 points (Kobe’s uniform number), will be the final target score. The first team to reach that number will win the game, and there will be no clock.

For example: If Team Giannis has 120 points and Team LeBron 118 after three quarters, then the first team to 144 wins. A pickup game, in other words. As an added bonus, the entire fourth quarter will be played commercial-free for the folks watching at home.

“At some point in time, the energy does pick up a little bit,” said Jimmy Butler. “It is supposed to be fun, though. Obviously, nobody wants to get injured. So whenever it does pick up, you’ve got guys out there competing.”

This isn’t the first time the league read the tea leaves and performed some nip and tuck with All-Star Weekend. The concept was born in 1984 with the introduction of the dunk contest, which was generously borrowed from the ABA. Then came expansion in the form of the 3-point contest to make it a two-day event, followed by the skills competition.

For us to be able to honor Kobe and his legacy, it’a a beautiful time. Even in loss, a beautiful time.

LeBron James

The game itself had been mostly untouched until recent years; change became necessary when teams willingly shied away from the concept of defense and didn’t crank up the intensity until deep in fourth quarters. Instead of strictly pitting East vs. West, the game is now a mixture of players chosen regardless of conference by team captains — the leading vote-getters in the East and West, respectively.

By evolving the weekend to cater to the whims of the current style of play and to amplify the talents of today’s players, the league hopes the game will, if nothing else, become accepted by the masses.

This game will also represent a transition of sorts, with a record eight internationals from seven countries: Giannis (Greece), Luka Dončić (Slovenia), Joel Embiid (Cameroon), Ben Simmons (Australia), Rudy Gobert (France), Nikola Jokić (Serbia), Domantas Sabonis (Lithuania) and Pascal Siakam (Cameroon).

“This game has a global reach,” said James Harden. “I think that’s exciting. It give the fans and everyone, little kids around the world the confidence to think they can make it to the NBA. I think the eight non-Americans are showing their countries that you can make it if you’re a little kid.”

The amplification and success of the globalization of the NBA is a reflection of the efforts that the league, and mainly the late commissioner David Stern, made decades ago in a goal to grow the game internationally. Twenty years ago there were only two international All-Stars, Tim Duncan and Dikembe Mutombo. Ten years ago it was four: Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash. Stern will also be honored Sunday along with Kobe.

“We’re going to celebrate those guys and everyone else as best as we can,” said Kemba Walker. “They meant so much to our game. They grew the game so much. We all just have a lot of respect for them.”

Additionally, nine All-Stars are under 24. It marks the most youthful roster of stars since the very first game in 1951. That’s a positive sign for the league, that the game is more than ready to introduce a batch of next-generation players. Dončić will be the youngest at 20, followed by fellow starter Trae Young (21), then Jayson Tatum (21), Brandon Ingram and Bam Adebayo (22), Donovan Mitchell, Devin Booker, Sabonis and Simmons (23).

It’s very likely that most if not all of these players will have multiple All-Star appearances in their prime, which many veterans are happy to see, because it tells them the game is healthy and growing.

“You see so many guys who don’t have the right mindset to be able to sustain a 10 or 15-year career,” said Harden. “The work for them is just now starting. You have to be able to put in the right work and eliminate distractions.”

Of course, the established players in this game aren’t willing to concede their own streak of All-Star Games. With modern technology and also a desire to state fit and healthy, players are stretching their careers a few years longer than previous stars. LeBron is the gold standard for this. At 35, he’s playing at an MVP level and has the Lakers holding the best record in the Western Conference. When the ball goes up Sunday, LeBron will set the record for NBA All-Star Game starts with 16. He’s already the career All-Star Game scoring leader with 362 points.

“I always appreciate it,” he said. “It’s the game that I love. It’s the game that I fell in love with when I was a little boy. So for me to be a part of All-Star Weekend here with all the fans all around the world that we have that support our beautiful game, I never take this moment for granted.”

If he returns next year, LeBron will tie Kobe for second among most All-Star appearances behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 19. Once again, it’s a reminder of the theme for Sunday. Kobe Bryant’s reach was vast and wide, spreading over an entire generation and around the globe.

“Growing up, he was my idol,” said Giannis. “Not just my idol, probably the whole generation, a lot of people my age. For us, he was the Michael Jordan of our generation. He was one of those guys that gave back to the game so much, gave back to the players. A lot of people when they’re so great, they don’t do that. There was a quote that said that talent is worthless if you’re not willing to share it, right? And he was one of those guys that was sharing his talent with us. He’s going to be definitely missed.”

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter .

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