Team Giannis vs Team Lebron: 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.”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.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.