NBA All-Star 2016: One For The Record Books
Holly MacKenzie - Raptors.com
After a weekend of celebration, All-Star weekend in Toronto finished as it started: in the record books. Held in the first venue outside of the United States, and finishing with the Western Conference All-Stars leading the way in the highest-scoring All-Star game in history, the three-day extravaganza was one to remember.
“Toronto, I think we put ourselves on the map a little bit around the world,” Kyle Lowry said.
Sunday closed with the Western Conference All-Stars earning a 196-173 victory over their Eastern Conference counterparts. The night before, Minnesota Timberwolves guard Zach LaVine scored 299 out of a possible 300 points in the dunk contest. The game’s biggest names bid a fond farewell to 18-time All-Star Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook won his second consecutive NBA All-Star MVP award, and Lowry and DeMar DeRozan — Toronto’s two All-Stars — saw their city receive rave reviews from their peers.
“First of all, to the people of Toronto, Canada, and all of Canada as a country, thanks for welcoming our league with open and warm arms,” LeBron James said. “Even though the weather wasn't as warm, the arms and the love from everyone here has been well received. It's been a great All-Star Weekend. This is our biggest stage as far as when you get everyone together. All 30 teams are here, plus our D-League, plus the WNBA, plus you just name it, everything that's associated with [the league[ is here this weekend, and Toronto did a hell of a job of putting on a show.”
There were plenty of highlights during Toronto’s first All-Star game, but nothing that happened on Sunday — not Paul George’s game-high 41 points, nor the crowd’s thundering ovations for Bryant — could top All-Star Saturday. After Vince Carter’s 2000 dunk contest performance helped to put Toronto on the NBA map, it’s fitting that the Air Canada Centre court was rewarded with perhaps the greatest dunk contest to ever take place.
Defending champion LaVine — who was also Friday night’s Rising Stars MVP — and Orlando Magic sophomore Aaron Gordon finished with perfect scores on both of their final round dunks and needed a dunk off to determine a winner. Reaching deep into their bag of tricks, each player delivered another jaw-dropping dunk that again was given a perfect score, making it six consecutive 50s scored in a row. In the second dunk-off, Gordon was given a 47, LaVine managed to pull out another 50 to be crowned repeat champion and everyone in attendance got to witness a handful of dunks that had never before been seen.
Best Dunk contest. Ever!!!
— DeMar DeRozan (@DeMar_DeRozan) February 14, 2016
The dunk contest was absolutely the marquee event, but Saturday night was magical from beginning to end. Timberwolves rookie big man Karl-Anthony Towns had a thrilling upset against Isaiah Thomas in the skills challenge. The 3-point competition had a three-way first-round tie before a splash brothers showdown that ended with Klay Thompson defeating his defending champion teammate Steph Curry and this doesn’t even include the random 3-point contest between Draymond Green and Kevin Hart that somehow ended in a tie. From top to bottom, there hasn’t been a more complete and entertaining All-Star Saturday Night.
Curry didn’t repeat as 3-point champion on Saturday night, but he came to Toronto with a 48-4 record with the Golden State Warriors, as well as lots of memories of an eighth grade spent in the city while his dad was playing for the Raptors.
“I've had a history with Toronto, so I knew the city very well and it was nice to come back,” Curry said. “I think that the real big difference is probably they had to check our passports at the airport. But other than that, Toronto's just a fun city and has such a great culture, great people and did a great job of hosting the All-Star Game.”
The city’s love for Lowry was on full display when he was announced during Saturday’s three-point competition, and the crowd roared louder than for anyone else, including reigning league MVP Curry. Lowry’s 15 points in the first round wasn’t enough to advance into the finals, but the ovation from the crowd left him feeling like a winner:
Sorry fans for the results tonight but thank you for the love and support!!! It was and unreal ovation and made me love you guys even more
— Kyle Lowry (@Klow7) February 14, 2016
In Sunday’s main event, Lowry contributed 14 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and two steals. DeRozan provided his own mini-dunk contest with throwdown after throwdown after throwdown to finish with 18 points.
The weekend was about the appreciation of basketball, not only in Toronto, but across the country. Players mentioned the We The North movement during media availabilities and praised the passion shown by Raptors fans. When DeRozan was asked what it meant to have All-Star in Toronto, the city he’s called a second home for the past seven years, he didn’t need to think before responding.
“It means a lot,” he said. “I’ve always been rooting for this whole city and this whole country to get the recognition that it deserves.”
During Saturday’s dunk contest festivities, Lowry and DeRozan were on the sideline watching intently, with Lowry’s eldest son and DeRozan’s daughter by their sides. The All-Stars were wide-eyed along with everyone else in the building as LaVine and Gordon made dunk contest history. As the two watched their city shine on the NBA’s brightest stage, each wore smiles that seemed permanent. After years of work and dedication, not only was Toronto the host city for All-Star, but also one of the top-regarded teams in the league heading into the final 30 games of the season.
“I think everybody got the feel of the energy that we witness every single night when we play as Raptors players,’ DeRozan said. “I think all the guys really got insight on how in tune the city of Toronto and all of Canada is to basketball. I think all the guys really enjoyed it.”