Team LeBron defeated Team Giannis 157-155.
Team LeBron’s charity, Chicago Scholars, won $400,000. Team Giannis’ charity, After School Matters, took home $100,000.
Kawhi Leonard won the first Kobe Bryant All-Star game MVP award.
Another winner? How about the sport of basketball, the NBA and critics of All-Star games everywhere?
Thanks to a new format that featured charities benefitting by whichever team won each quarter, plus the first usage of an Elam Ending, the United Center featured a fourth quarter whose intensity might make Michael Jordan smile.
Man, that was fun. They fixed the NBA All-Star game. It still seems surreal.
Anthony Davis sank the second of two free throws after Team Giannis coach Nick Nurse used a second coach’s challenge — and third of the fourth quarter overall — to finalize matters.
But not until — deep breath here — Giannis Antetokounmpo dived for a loose ball; Kyle Lowry took two charges; Antetokounmpo blocked Davis twice and LeBron James once at the rim; officials called back-to-back offensive fouls, one of which felt like a makeup call; and players argued with officials like the NBA Finals, or maybe playground bragging rights, were at stake.
“Throughout the whole fourth quarter and at the end of the game, everybody was like, ‘That was pretty damn fun,’” James said.
That it was.
In an interview with NBC Sports Chicago last month, NBA commissioner Adam Silver credited Chris Paul for bringing him the idea to incorporate the Elam ending, which establishes a target score rather than using a clock to discourage late-game fouling. Paul returned the compliment.
“The good thing about our league is we’re always adding new things and trying to figure out from our fans what they like,” Paul said.
Silver and the league introduced their own twist by making the target score 24 points more than the leading team after three quarters — a nod to Kobe Bryant’s number — and having the quarter-by-quarter charity winners.
Actually, nobody won the third quarter. It ended tied despite Nurse and Team LeBron coach Frank Vogel trading timeouts in the waning seconds to try to win the quarter.
“Every quarter from a coaching standpoint was really fun,” Nurse said.
Several players likened the ending intensity to that of a playoff game. How much did the Elam Ending benefit the ramp up in effort?
After three quarters of lob dunks, behind-the-back passes and uncontested 3-point shots that featured 55.5 percent shooting, the teams combined for 35.5 percent shooting in the fourth quarter.
“The end was amazing,” Nurse said. “Offensively, it was hard to get anything started. Even first passes were being denied. It felt like the end of a playoff game, which was really cool.”
Fans greeted it as such, standing down the stretch. What better way to honor Bryant’s legendary competitiveness than the way this one played out in the waning minutes?
That it was Davis who sank the winning free throw seemed a fitting end to honor the legacy of Chicago basketball that had been on display all week and then intensified with a beautiful pregame tribute to the city narrated by the rapper Common.
Davis, who attended Perspectives Charter High School, is the latest in a long line of stars this city has produced.
“Listen man, Chicago is right up there with one of the top cities in the world with producing some of the greatest basketball players to ever play this game,” James said. “You’ve even got Ben Wilson, who was on his way to being a star and obviously we know the story about that. So you got it all the way from grade school-era through high school through college and then so many pros and so many Hall of Famers.
“KG (Kevin Garnett) is about to go into the Hall of Fame soon. The great Isiah Thomas. DWade (Dwyane Wade) at some point will go into the Hall of Fame.”
That James cited Wilson, the late Simeon star gunned down on the eve of his senior season, showed the ultimate respect to this city’s rich heritage. A heritage that was honored by a competitive ending that would make anyone playing on playgrounds from Margate Park to Murray Park proud.
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