NBA All Star Weekend New Orleans 2014 – State Farm All Star Saturday Night!

After a completely stunning opener last night at the Compass BBVA Rising Stars Challenge match up; where TEAM HILL (142) took it out over TEAM WEBBER (136) in a clinic of fundamental skills and ultimately a game where viewers such as myself were left wondering if this really WAS a team predominantly of rookies and sophomores! It certainly makes for exciting NBA seasons to come, knowing that these are the young men who will be entertaining us for the next few decades! Today however, is one of my favourite parts ofย NBA All Star Weekend (Ok, ok I know I’m saying that a lot in these round up posts so far but…) as it’s the carnival aspect that comes with All Star Saturday Night and the heart warming experience of top quality league players getting together to do what they do best; and raise money for some worthy charities at the same time. Players are divided into EAST and WEST conferences and are appointed a team captain and a charity of the team’s choosing is nominated to become the recipient of that teams’ winning efforts for the evening. A revamped format and team aspect for 2014, makes it a camaraderie filled event with conference matching against conference. This year TEAM EAST will be Captained by Pacers top talent Paul George, playing for charities the American Heart Foundation and UNICEF – nice to see some international benefit from their selection too! TEAM WEST this year will be captained by Golden State Warriors pocket rocket Stephen Curry; who was picked to be the one to watch in the Foot Locker Three Point Contest, after nailing three consecutive half court shots in the East/West shoot around practice this morning. TEAM WEST supports charities Teach For America and Wounded Warrior Project to benefit from their winnings this evening.
TEAM WEST Captain: Stephen Curry.
TEAM EAST Captain: Paul George.
A total of $500,000 will be donated among the charities by the end of the night; as the two teams comprising of the leagues shining stars, face off in four skills based contests for the chance to win $100,000 per event for their charity. Including events: the Sears Shooting Stars Contest, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three Point Contest and the jewel in the Saturday Night Crown – the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest, featuring outlandish leaps, theatricality, assistants and even more unbelievable dunks!
In the Sears Shooting Stars Contest; players shoot from four locations of increased difficulty each time, with both teams attempting to make all four shots in numeric order, in the fastest time possible. The team line-ups were as follows:

Featuring top brass ballers Bosh, Curry, Durant and Hardaway JR; they were joined by legends and in two cases their fathers, in Tim Hardaway Sr, Dell Curry, Hall of Famers Dominique Wilkins and Karl Malone; with stunning talent from the WNBA in Diggins, Hammon, Cash and 2013 WNBA Rookie of the Year: Elena Della Donne. Commentators Grant Hill, Chris Webber and Kevin Harlandย had a chuckle at Malone’s newly found ‘guns’; while KD made a skill statement early with his TEAM DURANT winning by taking their total shots in 60 secs for the West, leaving TEAM CURRY in their wake. TEAM HARDAWAY took their shots for the East within 85 secs, but were smashed by TEAM BOSH, winning between the East teams in a scorching 35 seconds. As TEAM DURANT and TEAM BOSH faced off in the ‘Battle Round’; it took 31.4 seconds for Chris Bosh and his team to dispatch with the West and take out the Sears Shooting Stars contest for two years straight. Bosh speaking to MC Nick Cannon post-contest praised his teammates for bringing their skill; and that he really just wanted to win it again this year.ย Making it East 1, West 0.

 

The Taco Bell Skills Challenge pits two teams per conference against each other in a timed obstacle course relay competition consisting of dribbling, passing and shooting skill challenges. Featuring many of the cracking players from last night’s Rising Stars game, the teams were as follows:


It was a fierce competition with Lillard, MCDubs and Oladipo keen to show what they were made of! Proving to be enough, MCDubs and Oladipo took out the best time at 43.3 seconds trumping the East conference teams; whilst in the West Conference Lillard and Burke creamed it at 40.6 seconds for the best team of all teams in the knock out rounds. Heading into the ‘Battle Round’; Eastern MCDubs/Oladipo faced off against Western Lillard/Burke – by a tenth of a second over MCdubs/Oladipo at 45.2 seconds, Lillard and Burke ended up winning the Skills Challenge making it the second year straight for Lillard; bringing thousands of dollars of College Scholarships for the West’s charity recipients: Teach For America. Tying it all up in the events with East 1, West 1.

One of my favourite contests during All Star Weekend would have to be the Foot Locker Three Point Contest which makes sinking three pointers look like it ‘ain’t no thing’, but c’mon! If you’ve ever tried to make a three pointer yourself, you’ll know that it takes practice and precision. In this contest eight competitors, four players representing from each conference; compete in a two round competition shooting from five locations as they move around the 3-point arc. Four ball racks contain four orange balls and one multi-coloured ‘money ball’ which is worth two points. All orange balls in the racks must be shot before the ‘money ball’ is attempted and even better – the fifth rack is all money balls, baby…so there’s a great opportunity there to bring up any lost points. The Three Point Contest participants are as follows:

All eyes were on Stephen Curry placing him as the man to beat in this event; Lillard was the dark horse that Grant Hill proclaimed could be the one to watch. First shooter of the event and former winner Kevin Love, detailed a cool aspect when speaking to Nick Cannon on the court; that players chose where they placed their ‘Money Ball’ rack – with Love picking his Left Wing where he felt he’d bring some skill, sadly making only 1 shot on the money ball rack in the end. Next up for the West; Lillard, also picking his ‘Money Ball’ rack as the second spot drilled 18 points and sunk 3 of his ‘Money Balls’. Belinelli placed his MB rack in the final position, finishing with 19. Last up for the West, Curry took the same strategy by placing the MB rack last, in his third three point contest appearance; Curry picked up only 16 points, sinking only 1 ‘Money Ball’ from his redemption rack and leaving the contest open to anyone after that point! First time contestant Affalo was first up for the East; placing his MB rack in the redemption position too; bringing 15 points as his total.

Nelly congratulates Terrance Ross as Drake looks on.

Wizards Bradley Beal was swift from the uptake, putting his MB rack in the second position and sinking 2; ending up with a massive 20 points and a huge congratulations from rapper Nelly who was in the crowd; and also a St Louis native like Beal: with commentator Grant Hill stating moments later, that Nelly knows Beal because he used to in fact babysit him. Nice of Beal to hook-up his former sitter with some tix, dontcha think? Uncle Drew Kyrie Irving and reigning three point contest champ stepped up next, placing his MB rack in the fifth position, finishing up with 17 points.

Marco Bellinelli
Bradley Beal

Going into the ‘Battle Round’ Marco Belinelli for the West and Bradley Beal for the East kept their MB rack positions from the knock out round and got to it. Belinelli made a slow start, scoring 19 points all up and bringing a respective number for Beal to beat. Beal replied with a resounding roar by making a stumbling start then drilling every single one of his final rack to create a clutch moment, to come back from his poor(ish) start to reach 19 also; forcing a final tiebreaker round. Bellinelli up for his tiebreaker round, dominated bringing the best number of the evening at 24 three-pointers all up, utilizing the key money ball rack to ensure points at the end of his run. Beal looking determined, approached for his tiebreaker round but wasn’t able to muster the points to topple Bellinelli, finishing with 18 points. Speaking to Nick Cannon following his win Bellinelli said, “I just threw the ball…I was a little bit nervous at the beginning but I just focused on my job; and I’m happy to win the competition“. Making it East 1, West 2.

Pre-Dunk Contest Standings.

A musical interlude provided by Kendrick Lamar followed; and writing this from Auckland, New Zealand – this is a somewhat controversial performance choice, as Lamar was due to perform here at Rapture 2014 at Western Springs last night (15.02.2014) with Eminem and other Hip Hop luminaries; and cancelled without thorough explanation to NZ fans. Local radio station Mai Fm in weeks preceding the gig and All Star Weekend, even encouraged listeners to storm Lamar’s official Twitter and Facebook accounts with warm wishes regarding his ‘impending visit’, in an effort to confuse him about his own schedule! While fun is fun; I completely endorse Kendrick Lamar’s decision to pick Basketball over a 20 plus hour flight! As an NBA fan myself, I would DREAM of having the talent to perform at All Star Weekend…Lamar does, so he did!
Well done I say, as the performance was a polished, commanding and tight set that kept time with the electric feeling leading into the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest.

The top flight event of NBA All Star Saturday Night would have to be the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest; in which the aerial displays of balling prowess usually end up on every nightly news sports round up across the globe. In this contest; two teams of three competitors, each team representing their conference, compete in a two round competition. The three dunkers for each competition will have a 90-second time limit for all three of them to compete in a freestyle dunk exhibition, featuring an unlimited number of dunks which are then voted on by a panel of judges leading to a ‘Battle Round’ where a player from each conference squares off head to head for the ultimate in dunk glory! As pictured above, both conferences have great strength in Pacer Paul George for the East and Blazer Damian Lillard for the West; however the West has been considered to be stronger overall in the lead up to Saturday night, as they also have dark dunk horse Sacremento King Ben McLemore on their side. In a commentary interlude with Basketball Legends and well documented rivals; Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal, they detailed their picks to take out the Dunk Contest for 2014. Barkley believed Golden State Warrior Small Forward Harrison Barnes was the man for the job; While Mr. Shazam Shaquille O’Neal praised McLemore to take it out, saying “Ben McLemore’s my guy“.
Judges for the contest were “Doctor J” Julius Erving, Magic Johnson and Dominique Wilkins; as the freestyle round kicked off with an unlimited number of dunks possible in the time limit, with each guy needing to make a dunk; working towards an overall team value from all buckets. East looked typically strong in the freestyle round with West starting slow and warming up to show some posterizing buckets by the end of their round. Showing Nelly in the crowd with compatriot Drake, looking spooked by the West’s showing. Judges say: East is the winner, sweeping the first round and giving them the opportunity to pick who dunks first in the ‘Battle Round’. East picked going second; putting up Lillard for the West to start his three attempts showing strength and consistency.
Ross’s Drake assisted dunk.

 

Canadian Pride!

Terrance Ross from the Toronto Raptors entered with fellow Canadian; Drake, swaggering under the weight of Ross’s Slam Dunk trophy from last year. Ross used the help of Drake to assist in his Dunk attempts to great effect. In the head to head battle, the Judges picked Ross pushing out Lillard from the contest. TEAM WEST Barnes went head to head with TEAM EAST George next up; George dominated his dunks, bringing completely gravity defying video-game styled moves – winning the second round for the East. Next up TEAM WEST McLemore against TEAM EAST John Wall; McLemore was valeted into the court by Shaq and a Royal Crier to proclaim that ‘Shaq-cremento’ now belonged to ‘Ben Shaq-lemore’ and presented him with a new jersey to say so! Ben McLemore proved his place by blasting an amazing dunk after clearing the gigantic seated Shaq (on a gold throne, no less).

Ben McLemore is Shaq’s crowning glory at the Sacrmento Kings.
Wall and his outstanding reverse double-pump dunk!

Not to be out done; TEAM EAST John Wall snapped off a searing reverse double-pump dunk over Washington Wizards mascot G-Man to get the bucket; showing he was just as excited about his dunk as everybody else! Heading to the judges for a very difficult decision; overall the clear sweep winner was the East with Magic stating: “John Wall just brought the Slam Dunk contest back“; bringing it through strongly through for the EAST! I’m a HUGE Magic-man fan, so if Magic said anything nearly as cool as that about me, as he said about John Wall, I’d probably faint then and there!ย The Sprite Slam Dunker of the night in the end went to the incredible Wall for his epic efforts, on the eve of his first All Star Game appearance tomorrow.

John Wall: 2014 Sprite Slam Dunk Champ

Rounding up the evening, it was a HUGE and entertaining night crammed with stars excelling in their skills to the delight of assembled NBA veterans, players, entertainment’s famous faces – and us, the fans. As the TNT broadcast via NBA Game Time finished up; we were treated to a little bit of a love fest between; Shaquille O’Neal, Dominque Wilkins, Charles Barkley and Karl “Mal-man” Malone – with them all giggling and giddy, high on the vibe of another great All Star Weekend populated by a breadth of talent that must make these ‘old boys’ smile…considering they can see the fate of the game they love so well is in very, very good hands indeed.

 

Old Boys Club: (from centre) Shaq, Wilkins, Barkley and Malone.
Bring on the All Star East Vs West Game tomorrow!

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