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NBA All-Star Game is what sport is all about: having fun

Zach LaVine #8 of Team Durant guards LeBron James #6 of Team LeBron during the 2022 NBA All-Star Game. Photo: Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images via AFP

Zach LaVine #8 of Team Durant guards LeBron James #6 of Team LeBron during the 2022 NBA All-Star Game. Photo: Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images via AFP

Published Feb 24, 2022

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Johannesburg - For a variety of reasons, I wasn’t able to obtain a US visa in time to allow me to travel to the NBA All-Star Game in Cleveland last weekend.

I’d done that thing people do when they’re disappointed: “Ah, you’ve got enough work on your plate, the All-Star game ain’t all that big a deal, it’s just an exhibition, the players don’t take it seriously, and the weather was too damn cold, who needs -8º Celsius in their lives?” You know, all that stuff to make you feel better about not being at a show that you really wanted to be at.

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Then came the videos (including Tendai Mtawarira doing a faux scrum with Steph Curry), the photos of the 75 all time NBA greats, Michael Jordan chirping Magic Johnson about going one-on-one (Jordan looked serious about it), the bad dunk contest, the better three-point contest, and Lebron James’ ‘fade away jumper’ to win the game itself.

The All-Star Game is a celebration of the NBA and basketball. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend three, in Toronto (2016), New Orleans (2017) and Charlotte (2019). Each of those were ‘bucket-list’ events in their own right. Toronto was Kobe Bryant’s last All-Star Game; New Orleans is New Orleans (Bourbon Street, a bit of the Mardi Gras vibe, live blues, gumbo and beignets); and Charlotte, the home of Jordan and Curry.

Because in South Africa we’re accustomed to international sport – South Africa versus Nigeria, the Proteas against India, the Springboks versus France – the nature of an All-Star-type exhibition is lost on us. The game itself is not serious, it is an exhibition, and in recent years the NBA has felt the need to change the format. It’s no longer West versus East, it now consists of teams picked by the two biggest contemporary stars – Lebron has been the main man in the last decade – with a somewhat more competitive edge added to the scoring system that pushes both teams to play hard in the last 12 minutes (quarter) of the game.

It has made for good viewing in the last two All-Star Games, which both went down to the last 60 seconds, and on Sunday created the circumstances for James’s winning shot – a tribute, he said later, to Jordan, who almost patented the particular shot in the second half of his majestic career.

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The All-Star Game is a celebration of all that is good about the sport. It has provided the backdrop for the creation of the NBA Africa Game and more recently, the Basketball Africa League, which was announced at a gala event in Charlotte, attended by Jordan.

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It’s about the history of the NBA, the shoes, the clothes, the music, the food (in New Orleans) and fans; Spike Lee in whatever get-up he can fit New York Knicks colours around; Beyonce and Jay-Z and Drake, who every time I’ve seen him at one, always gives off the impression he is desperate to be recognised.

Above all, it’s fun: A reminder of what sport should be about, and – in a world where a teenage ice skater is caught up in a state-run doping programme, a footballer kicks a cat around, or disciplinary hearings about racism supercede the playing of the game – being engaged by sport as fun should be celebrated.

I missed the All-Star Game this year. I’ll be sad about that for a while.

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@shockerhess

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