This February, the most popular stars in the game of basketball will climb out of the ruins left by the Golden State Warriors and take a break from serious competition. This yearly mid-season reprieve, the All-Star Weekend, is three days of pure, shameless spectacle with no effect on the actual season’s outcome. Detractors often criticize the weekend as meaningless pageantry, but for fans it can be a hoops extravaganza that shows their favorite players’ skills on a world stage.
This year, All-Star Weekend will take place from February 12 through the 14 in Toronto, home to the world’s most streamed rapper Drake, and, to a lesser extend, the Toronto Raptors. The NBA, always at the forefront of sports technology, will be providing a few different ways to watch the events both online and off. Whether you want to see the flashiest dunks or the most glamorous scrimmage ever, the All-Star Weekend is must see TV for hardcore basketball fans.
How to watch online
TNT, TNT Overtime (Android, iOS)
The big ticket events
All-Star Weekend is packed with events, commentary, and all sorts of media moments. Not all events are equally impressive, however, and basketball fans may not want to spend their entire weekend glued to the screen. Here are some of the most important events to watch for.
NBA Celebrity Game (Friday, February 12, 7 p.m. ET)
All-Star Weekend is all about fun and games, and games don’t get much more fun than this. Two teams of celebrities hit the court for a round of basketball that is less-than-beautiful, but certainly amusing. The Celebrity Game has the potential for rare and wondrous moments like Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler dunking on Nick Cannon. In honor of Toronto hosting the events, the game will be played between Team Canada, coached by Canadian cultural ambassador Drake, and Team USA, coached by perennial Celebrity Game MVP/comedian Kevin Hart. Can Drake draw up an inbounds play as quickly as he writes rhymes? Will player-turned-coach Kevin Hart turn out to be a coaching savant, a sort-of less funny Steve Kerr? These questions and more will be answered on Feb. 12.
Rising Stars Challenge (Friday, February 12, 9 p.m. ET)
Established stars like Lebron James and Steph Curry play the most refined form of basketball, but there are a lot of great young players in the league who, while still finding their legs, can pull off some impressive moves on the court. The Rising Stars Challenge is a venue for up-and-coming players to show their skills in what amounts to a mini All-Star Game. Teams are divided along international lines, with players from the U.S. competing against international prospects. Two players from the Minnesota Timberwolves, Karl Anthony-Towns (USA) and Andrew Wiggins (international), the number one picks from the previous two drafts, will be playing against one another in a battle that will test whether a team divided against itself can stand.
The most interesting story, however, will be the matchup between Towns and New York Knicks rookie/Internet sensation Kristaps Porzingis, who will also be playing for the international team. Many in the media have talked about Porzingis as a potential challenger to Towns for Rookie of the Year, so their matchup could be intense and might even influence voting for the year-end award.
Saturday Night competitions (Saturday, February 13, 8:30 p.m. ET)
The highlight of Saturday night is a series of three skill-based competitions where players get to show off their athleticism and talent. It’s sort of a small, basketball-centric Olympics. The three events are the Skills Challenge, the Three-point Contest, and, of course, the Slam Dunk Contest.
The Skills challenge is a multi-stage obstacle course that tests players abilities to dribble, pass, and shoot. In past years, entrants were typically guards, smaller players with agility that centers and forwards weren’t known for. Today, however, larger players like Anthony Davis and Demarcus Cousins are known for their finesse, so the upcoming skills challenge will include them as well as expected guards like Patrick Beverly and CJ McCollum. The exact changes, if any, that will be made to accommodate this new lineup are unclear; it seems likely the entrants will be divided into guard/big pairings.
Once a rarely used technique, the three-point shot has become one of the most valuable tools in the NBA, as a focus on analytics has driven teams to score with increasing efficiency. Some of the most exciting players in the league today are three-point specialists, and the three-point shootout will bring them together for a night of sharpshooting not seen since the O.K. Corral. Realistically, the league may as well give current champion Steph Curry the award right now, but it will be fun to watch the league’s other top shooters try to steal his crown.
The oldest and most famous of the challenges dates back to ’76, when the now-defunct ABA held a dunk contest during halftime of its All-Star Game. Dr. J conquered with a legendary dunk, launching himself from the free throw line to the basket. The ABA is gone now, having merged with the NBA shortly after the ‘76 season, but the Dunk Contest continues to draw viewers — and lately, inspire Vines — to this day. The contest has always been a showcase for athleticism and creativity, with players twisting their bodies into all manner of shapes midair in the hopes of making history.
The All-Star Game (Sunday, February 14, 8:30 p.m. ET)
At last, the main attraction. Two teams representing the Eastern and Western conferences will clash in a game where fundamentals and defense generally take a backseat to egos and flashy moves. All-Star games are rarely beautiful, but it’s to be expected when you throw more than 20 of the biggest stars onto two teams with little time to prepare. That doesn’t mean the games are boring, however. Watching superstars try to one-up each other (even when they’re on the same team) is fun, and it leads to decadent performances such as the historic duel between Lebron James and Kobe Bryant in 2011.
The starting lineups for the All-star game are voted on by fans, while the league coaches vote on which players fill out the reserves. This year, despite a few notable snubs — neither Damian Lillard nor Dirk Nowitzki made the cut — the lineups are a murderers’ row of talented players, with more than a few future Hall of Fame entrants playing. The coaches this year are five-time champion Gregg Popovich (San Antonio Spurs) for the West and Tyronn Lue (Cleveland Cavaliers), who recently finished his fifth game as a head coach, for the East.
|Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers||Lebron James, Cleveland Cavaliers|
|Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors||Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks|
|Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder||Paul George, Indiana Pacers|
|Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder||Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors|
|Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs||Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat|
|Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors||Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls|
|Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors||Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons|
|Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers||John Wall, Washington Wizards|
|James Harden, Houston Rockets||Chris Bosh, Miami Heat|
|DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings||DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors|
|LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs||Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks|
|Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans||Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics|
Among the many storylines to follow will be the clash between reigning MVP Steph Curry and Lebron James, considered the greatest player in the world for much of the last decade, whose reputation has taken a bit of a hit as Curry has ascended. These two faced each other in the NBA Finals last year and may very well do so again this year. Expect both men to put up huge numbers.
In a much-criticized move, the NBA has also announced that singer-songwriter Sting will perform during the halftime show. So, there’s that.
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