2021 NBA All-Star Game shootaround: Deep threes and MVPs

Photo of Giannis on the Bucks
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Though shrouded in controversy, the NBA’s decision to host the 2021 All-Star Game in Atlanta, Georgia prevailed amid a pandemic — and it looked a lot different than years previous. For one, the display of some of basketball’s biggest stars was cut short. Instead of six events stretched across three consecutive days, only four headlined the half-day showcase: the NBA Skills Challenge, the Three-Point Contest, the Slam Dunk Contest and All-Star Game. Here are some of The Daily Californian’s sports staff’s biggest takeaways from the 2021 NBA All-Star Game.

Given the COVID-19 precautions set in place and an initial reluctance from players to participate, were this year’s NBA All-Star events worth it?

Ryan Chien: In the context of donating a portion of the proceeds to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and COVID-19 relief, then yes. Kudos to the NBA for raising more than $3 million; that in itself made it worth watching. But for any reason beyond that, I’d have to disagree. No matter the precautions set in place, encouraging celebratory gatherings and travel during a pandemic is dangerous. But the reality is that money talks — specifically when it comes to ad revenue. After all, the NBA is a business first and foremost.

Justin Kim: I thought it was worth it because all the events were enjoyable to watch, there were robust health safety protocols and the players seemed to be having fun. Did you see Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James on the sidelines? The game also raised lots of money for HBCUs and gave these colleges some very much-deserved exposure.

Kabir Rao: As much as I enjoyed tuning in to the events and trying to find some semblance of normalcy alongside the TNT crew, I don’t feel it was worth it. The platform that the weekend provided for HBCUs was inspiring, but knowing in the back of my mind that many players, themselves, didn’t want to be there just put a damper on things.

Conner Parker: At first I was skeptical. I initially found myself agreeing with James’ lack of excitement and many players’ concerns about bringing all of the best players to a possible COVID-19 super-spreader event. However, after seeing all the precautions that the NBA took and the work that the league did to promote HBCUs, I became convinced that this year’s All-Star game was definitely worth it.

Unlike recent years, the NBA dunk contest was held during halftime. What were your overall impressions of the format and performance by the participants? Did Anfernee Simons deserve to be crowned this year’s champion?

RC: Given the time constraint, the dunk contest was solid. With few fans in attendance, the hype was nowhere close to last year, but at least Kenny Smith was there to commentate. Since Simons was the most consistent, I thought he rightfully deserved the trophy. But Obi Toppin and Cassius Stanley combined for some of the more impressive dunks of the night.

JK: I thought the format was necessary, as there simply wasn’t enough time to do a full-blown dunk contest. Also, the event and its participants haven’t been super intriguing over the past few years, so I didn’t mind seeing the contest shortened. I thought Simons’ win was valid, but Stanley should have definitely got the best score on his first dunk.

KR: It felt rushed. I was surprised by how much the dunkers put together on such short notice, but the lack of fans, props, teammate cameos and a fourth participant stripped the event of the theatrics we’ve become accustomed to seeing. Simons’ bounce was ridiculous and Portland should rightfully celebrate his victory, but I’m not so sure he’d win in a more normal year.

CP: This format was a fun change to normal All-Star festivities, but it did feel very rushed. Because the contest was held at halftime this year, there were fewer dunkers and fewer dunks. Simons did deserve to win, but the lack of a crowd reaction due to the limited number of fans in attendance made it seem like a letdown.

Relative to past NBA All-Star games, what score would you give this past Sunday’s game on a scale from one to 10?

RC: Despite the game missing some of the league’s biggest stars — due to COVID-19 and injuries — the players put on a great show. With 10 being the most entertaining All-Star Game, I’d give this one an eight. Some of my favorite moments included Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard sinking halfcourt three-pointers with ease, Antetokounmpo dedicating his All-Star Game MVP trophy to Milwaukee and Jaylen Brown proudly representing Cal, his alma mater, with 22 points on the evening.

JK: If last year’s game was a 10, I would give this Sunday’s game a seven. It was still entertaining to watch as I loved seeing Curry and James team up, but the deck was stacked against team Durant. If Kevin Durant and Joel Embiid were playing, it likely would have made for a more entertaining game.

KR: I’ll go with a six. The way that the NBA made the whole weekend work amid a pandemic was impressive, but we should’ve expected nothing less from Adam Silver after seeing his bubble architecture last summer. Seeing Curry and James play for the same side certainly fulfilled a basketball wish of mine, but beyond that, the game itself felt one-sided from the start.

CP: Five. Compared to more recent All-Star games, this one was average. Of course, the exception is last year’s game, which featured new adjustments to the game’s rules and resulted in a unique hyper-competitive contest that went down to the wire. The Elam Ending remained this year, creating a target final score for both sides, but failed to lead to the same level of competition due to the players’ unwillingness to attend the event in the first place.

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