While the NBA has always been a league that lacks parity and survives on the accomplishments of a few superstars, this season is still unprecedented. The media’s coverage of the NBA throughout the last year makes it seem as if the Golden State Warriors and Stephen Curry are the only team and player that have any import. While both deserve significant praise for their historic exploits, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that this season has witnessed exceptional play from teams and players across the league. The NBA All-Star Weekend helps recognize outstanding players who are not always talked about. Even though the voting process is flawed and the festivities often leave more to be desired, the NBA All-Star Weekend is an important occasion that simultaneously celebrates current success and past greatness. Although the NBA has now resumed play, here are three highlights of the 2016 NBA All-Star Weekend that made it one of the most entertaining in recent memory.
Verizon Slam Dunk Contest:
The 2016 dunk contest was arguably one of the best in the history of the competition, and was certainly the best since Vince Carter stole the show as a member of the Toronto Raptors in 2000. While the event featured dunks from Zach Levine, Aaron Gordon, Andre Drummond and Will Barton, the contest will be remembered for the extraordinary head to head matchup between Levine and Gordon. Following his sensational performance in last year’s dunk contest, Levine returned to defend his title. In an unbelievable display of athleticism and creativity, Levine adroitly executed numerous emphatic dunks and ultimately improved upon his incredible performance from a year ago. If it weren’t for Aaron Gordon, Levine would have cruised to victory. However, once the contest reached the final round, Gordon and Levine saw themselves pitted against each other in a heavyweight matchup that brought back memories of Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins. For a few breathtaking minutes, the basketball world watched in awe as Gordon and Levine put on a dazzling display of dunking ability. Ultimately, Levine won the contest with a between the legs dunk from just inside the free throw line, making him the first participant to win back to back contests since Nate Robinson in 2009 and 2010. While it may be difficult to improve upon this contest next year, Levine and Gordon succeeded in making the event relevant again.
Foot Locker Three Point Contest:
The 2016 three-point contest was one of the more entertaining in recent memory. While the competition started out with a star studded group of sharpshooters including Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, James Harden, Khris Middleton, Kyle Lowry, CJ McCollum, Devin Booker and JJ Redick, the best part of the contest was certainly the final round. Following a preliminary round that witnessed scores ranging from 13 points to 22 points, the top three shooters, Curry, Thompson and Booker, all faced off in the final round. After Booker racked up a respectable but surmountable 16 points in the final round, the stage was set for the Splash Brothers. Although Curry’s score of 23 would have been enough to win most years, his fellow teammate saved his best for last. With the spotlight on him, Thompson rose to the occasion and posted a phenomenal score of 27, sinking every shot of the final rack. Even though Curry was unable to defend his title, Thompson’s win marks the first time in the history of the contest that two teammates have won in consecutive years. Add this to the ever growing list of triumphs for the Golden State Warriors over the last two seasons.
NBA All-Star Game:
While the final event of the weekend did not provide as many jaw dropping moments as its predecessors, the All Star Game was still very entertaining and provided a great end to one of the best All-Star Weekends ever. The game witnessed a remarkable number of record setting or near record setting performances by both teams. Although the West blew out the East by a score of 196 – 173, both teams broke the individual team scoring record of 163. In addition, the 369 combined points shattered last year’s All-Star Record of 321. The East were led by an exemplary 41-point performance from Paul George that was one shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s All-Star Game record. On the other side, Westbrook earned the All-Star Game MVP award with 31 points, becoming the first player to win the award in back to back years. Even though Kobe Bryant’s 18th and final All-Star Game performance was as underwhelming as this entire season has been for the Lakers, he was certainly honored appropriately throughout the evening. This was certainly Kobe’s night, but Curry did not let NBA fans forget who this year is really about. At the very end of the game with the score out of reach, Steph Curry nailed a 40-footer and refocused fans’ attention back to the Warriors and their quest for 73 wins, punctuating an exciting and memorable All-Star Weekend.