Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
(Jesse D. Garrabrant | NBAE via Getty Images)

'It's Literally What I Dreamed Of'

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey and Jalen Williams Soaked Up 2023 All-Star Weekend

By Nick Gallo | Broadcast Reporter and Digital Editor | okcthunder.com

SALT LAKE CITY – He threw down a couple dunks, set up teammates with passes he’d never throw in a regular season game and tried to find the line of how much defense to play, all while his family and friends took in the moment. For Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Sunday night’s All-Star Game was everything he expected in his first time being honored with the opportunity. With a 184-175 win for Team Giannis, Shai even walked away with the bragging rights of being 1-0 in his All-Star career. 

Gilgeous-Alexander was Team Giannis’ third pick during the first stage of the pregame draft, putting him in the top half of the draft board among the reserves as Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James made a show of going back and forth to select their teammates. As the public address announcer called out Gilgeous-Alexander’s name in the pomp and circumstance before the game, Shai humbly waved to the crowd and recognized the cheers from rabid NBA fans who flock to All-Star Weekend every February. During the Canadian National Anthem, Gilgeous-Alexander absorbed something else – that he became just the fourth Canadian player ever to make an All-Star Game.  

After sitting the whole first quarter, Shai started the second frame. Head Coach Joe Mazzulla even drew up some plays with him in the huddle before he checked in. His welcome to the All-Star Game moment was getting blocked by LeBron James at the rim, but on the next possession Shai came down and hit a sidestep 3 on the right wing, his first points as an All-Star. 

Over the ensuing possessions, Shai got into his rhythm – faking like he was going to dunk in transition, then passing to Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam for a throwdown. Gilgeous-Alexander was a conductor, picking up 5 assists in the first six minutes he was on the floor. When he had the opportunity, he went for his too – dazzling the crowd with a back to front between the legs dribble that he capped off with a slam dunk.

When he checked in with just under four minutes to go in the third quarter, Shai tip-toed his Thunder-themed, lightning bolt-adorned shoes through the lane and past the defense for one of his patented lefty layups. A few possessions later, he went straight to the rim and flushed home a two-handed slam. For the game, Gilgeous-Alexander finished with nine points on 4-for-5 shooting, two rebounds and seven assists in just 10 minutes. 

“It was fun,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “I’m just honored to be here, to play with the best players in the world and getting to showcase my skills on this stage.” 

About 36 hours earlier, on Saturday, Gilgeous-Alexander reminisced about his favorite baskets in his NBA career – his first one as a rookie with the LA Clippers against the Denver Nuggets, his game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer against the Clippers last season, and then a game-winner this season against the Portland Trail Blazers, when he cut to the left wing, beat his defender, and hit a baseline jumper. After Sunday’s game, Shai said his 3-pointer on the right wing immediately vaulted into his top five. 

In addition to those first points, this was also Shai’s first time in a game with an Elam Ending. It was the first time he was granted access to that prestigious locker room, to have the honor of belonging to a club only reserved for the top 24 out of the 450 players in this league. NBA legends like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, Bill Walton and Allen Iverson sat courtside to watch him play with his peers. The game of basketball has taken Shai all over the world, granting him experiences he could only fantasize about as a child, and this was one. 

“I think about that almost every day – what my life has turned into and what it was 10-15 years ago,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “It's literally what I dreamed of. I know there's so many kids out there who do the same thing and dream. Hopefully they accomplish them and believe in themselves like I do.” 

Prior to Sunday night, Gilgeous-Alexander was seemingly everywhere in Salt Lake City – making public appearances, signing autographs and holding court at his All-Star practice media availability. The most public-facing thing he did was to show up for his teammates, Josh Giddey and Jalen Williams, at the Rising Stars game on Friday night. Earlier in the day Williams saw his Rising Stars jersey for the first time. It was Shai who was wearing it. 

Sitting courtside, Gilgeous-Alexander snapped photos of his teammates as they warmed up and he took in the four-team mini-tournament without any doubt about who to root for. Giddey and Williams were both drafted to NBA legend Joakim Noah’s team, using their camaraderie to advance to the finals before ultimately falling to Pau Gasol’s team. 

“Guys have a great time,” said Giddey. “It's competitive, playing against the best rookies and sophomores in the league. It's always a fun time being at All Star Weekend and when guys are playing hard like they did tonight it makes those events better for the audience to watch.”

Giddey, who wore a flashy blue fur coat to the game, racked up six assists in the semifinal game against Jason Terry’s team full of G League stars and was a plus-20 in an Elam Ending game that had a target score of just 40 points, which Team Joakim reached while Team Jason had 32 points. Meanwhile, Williams got into the action quickly with a dunk, which he mentioned earlier in the day at Rising Stars practice as something he wanted to make sure he did. He needed a photo of himself dunking at All-Star Weekend, and it was Shai who gave him the assist on that just like all the dimes he’s dished to JDub this season. 

“I’m pretty sure I got my picture,” said Williams with a grin. “(Shai sitting courtside) is really cool. It just shows the bond that we all have.”

“Watching Josh and Jalen last night, that was super fun,” Gilgeous-Alexander added. “Seeing them and this type of element amongst the best young players in NBA was super fun and a moment I’m happy for.” 

Off the court, Josh and Jalen were equally as active as Shai, participating in a community event after practice on Friday where they packed bags full of supplies for those experiencing homelessness in the Salt Lake City area. 

Williams made promotional appearances with Adidas and at NBA House, an influencer pad for all sorts of social media content creation, and at All-Star Saturday night he had an extensive meet and greet with five children in the Make-a-Wish program. On Sunday, Williams was in the crowd wearing Gilgeous-Alexander’s All-Star jersey, repaying the favor.

Giddey surprised shoppers at Foot Locker, and then took a hike (okay, drive) up into the mountains for a snowboarding showcase in nearby Park City. Sitting close by to a half-pipe in a bright pink coat and pants, Giddey took in the mountain air as well as some high degree of difficulty snowboarding tricks. 

Just like he was on Friday, Shai was again courtside on Saturday night to take in the Dunk Contest. Gilgeous-Alexander was easy to spot from any section in the arena. There was a massive Thunder logo embroidered into the back of his custom-made jacket, which also read Oklahoma City across the back and Thunder prominently on the front. 

“Myself and Jeff Hamilton collabed on the jacket. I’ve had it for a few years now, but I told myself I wasn’t going to wear it until I made the All-Star Game,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “I wanted to represent the city here at All-Star Weekend and I knew that was a perfect way. I also wanted to make it swaggy.” 

Reacting just feet away from Mac McClung’s internet-stopping performance at the dunk contest, Gilgeous-Alexander got to enjoy the show with fellow All-Stars and even his cousin, current Minnesota Timberwolves guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker. 

“Soaking up the whole week and all the experiences here with friends and family, it's been really fun,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “They keep me grounded. Then my teammates, they're so cool to be around, so fun to be around and make every situation light, make every situation fun. At the same time, they're competitive, so when it's time to lace up their boots, we're ready to go to war. I think being around this group of guys that I like has made my life ultimately happier.”

Gilgeous-Alexander, Giddey and Williams will leave Salt Lake City to sneak in a couple days of rest before coming right back here with the Thunder on Wednesday to play the division rival Utah Jazz for the first time all season on Thursday. With 25 games remaining in the regular season, the team will continue to lean on the off-floor bonds and on-court cohesion they’ve built, taking the wins and losses in stride, with only the goal being to get better incrementally day by day. 

“For myself, (All-Star Weekend) is motivation. I think for the rest of the guys it is too,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “Everyone has dreams and aspirations and I know a lot of the guys on the team have high dreams, high goals, and hopefully they all achieve them like I’m trying to achieve them. If we all achieve them, we’ll be one heck of a basketball team.” 

“We love the game, we love each other and being around each other,” Gilgeous-Alexander added. “No matter what's going on, we have fun playing basketball. We're blessed to be in this situation. We have fun being around each other and we try to enjoy those things.”