Playing Through a Pandemic: 2021 NBA All-Star “Weekend” Review
March 18, 2021
Despite criticism from fans, coaches, and even players, the NBA held its annual three-point contest, dunk contest, skills challenge, and All-Star Game on Sunday, March 7, in Atlanta, Georgia.
This year’s version of the event was certainly different. Typically it is known as “All-Star Weekend,” but this year the All-Star events took place in just one day. In addition, this forced the NBA to cancel the Rising Stars Game, which showcases the top first and second-year players, as well as the traditional celebrity game. “It just didn’t feel the same this year, the whole event felt somewhat forced,” said Jack Spitalny ’22.
The NBA was able to use the All-Star game to help raise money to benefit historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), with the league donating over $3 million and both teams raising $1.75 million for HBCU college funds. The Portland Trail Blazers’ Robert Covington, an alumnus of HBCU Tennessee State University, was also selected to participate in the Skills Challenge, the first action of the night.
Indiana Pacers forward Damontis Sabonis won the Skills Challenge this year, a slight surprise considering the event is usually won by a guard. Next, there was the Three-Point Contest. This year’s contest was especially exciting as it featured Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry, who is considered by many to be the greatest shooter of all-time. Curry ended up taking home the victory, defeating the Utah Jazz’s Mike Conley in the final round by just one point.
After Curry took the narrow victory in the Three-Point Contest came the actual All-Star game. Team LeBron and Team Durant took the floor, but with an asterisk: Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant, captain of Team Durant, was not able to play. He did draft the team (as LeBron drafted his), but a hamstring injury kept him sidelined. The night did not come without a COVID-related challenge, as Philadelphia 76ers players Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, set to play for Team Durant and Team LeBron, respectively, were not able to play after getting their hair cut by a barber who tested positive for COVID-19 shortly after they saw him. Since all players were required to stay in their hotel room until the night started, neither player came in contact with any of the other participants, thus avoiding a possible outbreak. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, there have been no positive tests stemming from All-Star weekend. A COVID-19 outbreak among the league’s best players would have been problematic, to say the least.
At halftime of the All-Star game came the Slam Dunk Contest, featuring New York’s Obi Toppin, Portland’s Anfernee Simons, and Indiana’s Cassius Stanley. Simons edged out Toppin in the final round and took home the victory, with three first-place selections to Toppin’s two. This year’s contest featured players that the average fan may not know, which affected the quality of the event. “The dunk contest carries a lot less anticipation when it doesn’t feature star caliber players,” stated Adrian Duval ’22.
In the game, LeBron’s team won without much of a fight, with a final score of 170-150. Milwaukee’s Giannis Antentokounmpo won the game’s MVP trophy after scoring 35 points without missing any of his 16 shot attempts. The night was filled with some awesome highlights, including the aforementioned Steph Curry and Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard taking turns hitting threes from near half-court.
Holding the All-Star events was certainly a controversial move, but in the end, it was something NBA commissioner Adam Silver was willing to risk, as he had faith in the league’s coronavirus protocols. The second half of the NBA season kicked off on March 10th as the sports world continues to play through the pandemic.