NBA All-Star 2018: Celebrity quotient, competitive sport in marquee game lays out template for others to emulate
The manner in which NBA has combined dollops of entertainment without compromising on the best virtues of basketball for the All-Star game remains an object lesson for other sports to emulate.
The NBA All-Star 2018 game between Team LeBron and Team Stephen had a dramatic climax, what with the former pipping the latter to the post in a 148-145 verdict. Yet it must be said that the contest wasn’t as gripping all through.
The flow of play moved in fits and starts, and particularly because several unforced from both sides. In games of this kind where players are drawn from several different sides and practice time restricted, coordination and communication is always a problem.
Team LeBron, trailing for the most part of the game, turned the tables on Curry’s team, simply because they never gave up: in fact, they raised the level of performance to hustle their opponents in the dying moments which brought fans to the edge of their seats.
LeBron James himself was in terrific form every time he came on to play and picked up the MVP award for his 29 points, the most by any player. Curry, for some reason, played very briefly and couldn't make as big an impact.
Some tentativeness was evident in both sides, as much because of the big occasion as because of lack of rapport with fellow teammates. It took a while for the action to be revved up, so to speak, which is when the game came alive.
But for spells of brilliance — individual and collective — from either side, the game would hardly have lived up to the hoopla and hype built around it. However, the aura of the occasion made the actual play inconsequential to fans.
The evening was star-studded as All-Star contests are meant to be, but not only because of the players who took the court. The celebrity quotient was high everywhere, making it as an event to remember for die-hard fans — present in the Staples Center arena or watching it on TV.
Among former basketball players, there were legendary names that even modern fans would identify with, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal and Michael Jordan among them, not to mention those playing the game.
Jordan, arguably the greatest player of all time, got a rousing reception from the packed stadium even in a brief appearance. The appeal of these former greats was tribute to the manner in which the NBA has built up the legacy equity of the league and the sport.
Among high profile celebrity aficionados who were not professional basketball players there was thespian Jack Nicholson — a die-hard fan — Kevin Hart, Snoop Dogg, Beyonce, DJ Khaled and also Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft and current owner of Los Angeles Clippers.
The manner in which NBA has combined dollops of entertainment without compromising on the best virtues of basketball remains an object lesson for other sports to emulate.
What is particularly impressive is how the sport is projected for fitness, competitiveness and entertainment to players and fans. These attributes are then brewed to create a legacy value of basketball that has grown quite spectacularly across the world in the past few decades.
The All-Star game was the highlight of the hectic weekend obviously, but lagging not too far behind in significance — though not as high profile — was the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders (BWB) endeavour.
In this, budding hoopsters drawn from across the globe are exposed to competitive games among themselves apart, of course, from experiencing the All-Star weekend, and perhaps most importantly, talent scouts from different teams in the NBA.
One favourable decision by a talent scout could lead to the all-important signature which could redefine a young player’s future, so there is a lot at stake in this event even though only one, two — or none — may be chosen from the players assembled.
This year there were 67 participants — including girls — in the BWB. Three were to be from India, though only two — Sejin Mathew and Prince Pal Singh finally made it. The third, Pushpa Senthil Kumar had to miss out because of visa issues.
Of the two boys, Prince twisted his ankle while playing on Sunday and had to be taken to hospital, though NBA India coach Mark Pulles said such injury was "commonplace" and the youngster should be back in action soon.
On the sport’s growth in India, Pulles expressed happiness at the progress, saying it was in line with NBA’s vision and benchmarks. The gospel of basketball, Pulles said, was being spread rapidly at the grassroot level, and the NBA academy was helping in fine-tuning talent to global standards.
India features as top priority nation for the NBA, and according to sources, a big push for the sport is in the offing. A pre-season game — featuring the biggest stars — played in the target market/nation is usually seen as the best trigger to boost interest.
According to sources in the NBA, it would have happened later this year, but for infrastructure not being up to standard yet. "But we see it definitely happening next year," he said.
If timelines are met, this could be a game-changer for basketball in India.
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