WITH various issues besetting the NBA and in the aftermath of the deaths of former commissioner David Joel Stern (age 77) and all-time Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe bean Bryant (age 41) last month, this was one controversy that the NBA did not need to have – an anomalous manipulation of the scores of the judges in the second and final dunk-off of the NBA Slam Dunk Championship – the last of three All-Star Saturday events – held at the United Center in Chicago last Sunday morning Manila time.
Okay there were the bright spots, such as the following:
Yesterday, Team LeBron went 3-0 since a new format for the NBA All-Star Game was instituted in 2018, beating Team Giannis, 157-155, in a heart-stopping thriller that had never been seen in a midseason showcase for a long time.
The pre-determined winning score was 157 points after the team bannered by Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokuonmpo grabbed a combined 133-124 advantage over unit powered by the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James through three separate 12-minute quarters but the team with the lead needed to score 24 more points – the number as a tribute to the late Kobe Bryant, who met his tragic death in a helicopter crash last January 26 – in the fourth quarter without any time limit to complete. Bryant had spent his entire 20-year NBA tenure with the Lakers while wearing No. 8 from 1996 to 2006 and No. 24 from 2006 to 2016 before calling it quits.
Team LeBron won the first quarter, 53-41, but Team Giannis topped the second frame, 51-30, as both teams earned $100,000 each for their chosen Chicago. The third quarter was deadlocked at 41-41, thus carrying over the $100,000 at stake to the fourth and final period, where Team LeBron outpointed Team Giannis, 33-22, to win the hotly-contested exhibition.
In the end, Team LeBron earned $400,000 for the Chicago Scholars while Team Giannis secured $200,000 for the After School Matters charity.
With his Team LeBron ahead, 156-155, James’ Lakers star mate and Chicago native Anthony Davis canned the second of his two free throws off a hooked foul by pint-sized Kyle Lowry (where was Davis’ defender inside the paint?) to seal the victory for his squad.
Earlier, two calls went against Team LeBron’s way that prolonged the contest.
With Team LeBron ahead, 154-153, a goaltending call against Team Giannis off a James layup was overturned following a challenge. Thereafter, there was the delayed charging foul called against Houston’s James Harden after The Beard barged into Lowry before connecting on a triple that would have wrapped up the hostilities right then and there as Team LeBron was ahead, 154-153, at the time.
In the end, it was still Team LeBron that emerged triumphant. The LA Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard topped the winning outfit with 30 points, seven rebounds and four assists in just 20 minutes of service. Leonard, who went 11-for-18 from the field, including 8-for-14 from three-point range – one trifecta short of the All-Star record of nine held by new Clippers mate Paul George – earned the first-ever Kobe Bryant hardware that goes to the All-Star MVP.
James (9-20 FGA, 5 rebounds and six assists in 19 minutes) and his banana-boat friend from Oklahoma City Chris Paul (8-13 FGA, 7-11 3FGA and six dimes in 26 minutes) netted 23 markers apiece and Davis finished with 20 points (9-16 FGA), nine boards, three steals and three blocks in 20 minutes.
For the losing Team Giannis, four players scored 20 points or more – Antetokuonmpo, 25 (and 11 rebounds); Boston’s Kemba Walker, 23 (5-11 3 FGA); Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, 22 (and 10 reebies), and Utah’s Rudy Gobert, 21 (10-11 FGA and 11 boards).
For the first time in a long, long time, I enjoyed watching the All-Star Game to the final seconds.
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On All-Star Saturday, Team USA scored a 151-131 decision over Team World in the Rising Stars Challenge (featuring the NBA’s rookie and second-year players) behind Charlotte’s Miles Bridges, who scored 20 points (8-12 FGA, 3-7 3FGA, 1-2 FTA) – including 13 in the third quarter when the Americans overcame a 10-point (81-71) halftime deficit with a 44-24 turnaround – and netted five rebounds, five assists and three steals in 20 minutes off the pines.
Team USA was paced by Golden State’s Eric Paschall with 23 points (10-13 FGA, 1-1 3FGA, 2-3 FTA) off the bench. Six other players on the 10-man roster – all limited to 20 minutes each – also scored in twin digits. Cleveland’s Collin Sexton chipped in with 21 points (9-14 FGA, 3-6 3FGA) off the pines, followed by Atlanta’s Trae Young, 18; Miami’s Chicago-born Kendrick Nunn, 16; New Orleans’ Zion Williamson, 14 (7-11 FGA); Memphis’ Jaren Jackson Jr., 12; and Memphis’ Ja Morant, 10.
Toronto-born Rowan Alexander (RJ) Barrett Jr. of New York topped Team World with 27 markers (11-17 FGA, 5-6 FTA), followed by Memphis’ Brandon Clarke, another Maple Leafs native from Vancouver, with 22 (11-15 FGA). Dallas’ sophomore phenom Luka Doncic out of Slovenia, Berlin, Germany-born Moritz Wagner of Washington and Oklahoma City Thunder’s Ontario-born Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, each contributed 16 scores and Wizards rookie Rui Hachimura from Japan collected 14 points (7-11 FGA), seven rebounds and four assists in 20 minutes as a starter.
Miami’s Bam Adebayo beat Indiana’s Domantas Sabonis in the finals of the Skills Challenge for the first of two Heat players to emerge victorious on All-Star Saturday (Feb. 16 MT). No controversy there.
Sacramento’s Buddy Hield defeated Phoenix’s Devin Booker (a late replacement for Portland’s Damian Lillard in the three-point shootout and All-Star Game due to a groin injury) in the finals of the Three-Point Shootout, 27-26, with a final two-point conversion just before the event buzzer sounded. Washington’s Latvia-born frontliner Davis Bertans finished third in the final round with a score of 22. In the preliminary round among eight participants, the Bahamas-born Hield and Booker shared the leadership with 27 points and Bertans slipped into the three-man finals with 26.
The format was tweaked to include an extra pair of green-colored balls worth three points each in the event sponsored by Mountain Dew (that’s why it was colored green). No controversy here.
Then there was the highway robbery in the slam-dunk competitions to conclude the All-Star Saturday festivities.
Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon lost to Miami Heat wingman Derrick Jones Jr. in a mind-boggling double dunk-off, getting rob for a second time in the event.
Gordon chalked up perfect 50 scores in all of his previous five stuffs until the final one, when he was edged by Jones, 48-47, when three of the five judges – identified as Dwyane Wade, former Chicago Bull Scottie Pippen and American actor Chadwick Aaron Boseman – gave him a score of only nine each in his final stuff to go with his two perfect 10s despite jumping over 7-foot-5 Boston Celtics rookie Taco Fall.
On the other hand, Jones, who went first in the second and final dunk-off, got two nines and three 10s in his final jam.
Wade, a Chicago native who spent most of his NBA career with the Miami Heat and won three title rings with the franchise before retiring in the summer of 2019, was the last of three judges voting nines, looking far in the air to do some mental counting – as shown in a video – before finally settling a nine for Gordon that sealed the latter’s doom.
There were already so many speculations about conspiracies and collusions going the rounds of the league and here’s one that is out of the bag.
Why would Wade not let Jones win when Jones is currently a member of the Heat, his old team, and what better present could there be for the birthday boy who turned 23 exactly on that day?
Worse, an attempted collusion was exposed when American rapper-actor-writer-activist Common (formerly Common Sense), one of the five judges in the dunk contest, later squealed that they had intended to give Gordon also a 48 for another tie. But something went awry and all hell broke loose because one chose to look the other way while honoring Jones in the process.
This was another controversy that the NBA did not need to have with so many other important issues for the league to tackle. The foremost of which is the NBA’s continuing feud with China as a result of Houston Rockets executive Daryl Morey’s divisive tweet in support of the anti-Chinese government protesters in Hong Kong last October that resulted in a loss of millions of revenues for the league and will likely lead to a reduction in the amount of the NBA salary cap for the 2020-21 season by around $1 million per team.
The Slam Dunk Dunk Championship has had some controversies in the past.
In 2016, Zach LaVine, then with Minnesota but now with Chicago, beat Gordon in another dunk-off in the finals in what many felt should have gone to the Orlando Magic forward after the event stretched to six dunks.
In 1988, when the All-Star festivities were held at the old Chicago Stadium, it was Dominique Wilkins who was the victim of a hometown decision, losing to the Bulls star Michael Jordan in the Slam Dunk competitions.
Wilkins was ahead of MJ after the first dunk of the two-stuff finals but in the second and final jam, Wilkins was given a low score so that MJ would be able to catch up and eventually capture the event before a home crowd.
‘Nique never joined the Slam Dunk event again.
Perhaps Gordon should do the same. And he has already publicly declared: “It’s a wrap. I feel like I should have two trophies, you know what I mean? It’s over for that.”
Yes, the farce should never happen again.
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