CHICAGO — I had the pleasure of covering my first All-Star Weekend thanks to SB Nation, and the experience was truly a blast. While the Bulls have their major problems, it was still fun to be in the scrums for Zach LaVine and Wendell Carter Jr. (he wants to be back after the break) during their respective media days, and former Bulls star Jimmy Butler was entertaining as always. Jimmy still loves Chicago, and he got a ton of love from the fans before the All-Star Game.
It helped that the All-Star events themselves were terrific, from Buddy Hield winning the 3-Point Contest to the epic dunk-off in the Slam Dunk Contest to a genuinely thrilling All-Star Game. Here are some final thoughts from the weekend.
- I’ve admittedly had very little interest in the All-Star Game in recent years, but Sunday night’s game was incredible, thanks in part to the format changes that were a hit. While the start of the game looked like the typical no-defense affair, it steadily got more competitive as the game went on, with the fourth quarter turning into a full-blown playoff atmosphere. There were charges drawn (Kyle Lowry is a madman), replay reviews, complaints to officials, highlight-reel defensive plays and a crowd that was hanging on every move. While close fourth quarters in All-Star Games often bring out the competitiveness, the entire fourth quarter and most of the second half featured guys going all out. It surely helped that there was charity money on the line, with the members of each charity going wild in the crowd behind one of the baskets. It added another element of excitement to the event, and we saw strategy and ATOs at the end of the third quarter in an attempt to win the frame.
- There was some controversy about the how the game ended on an Anthony Davis free throw, which was a bit anticlimactic. That’s the nature of the Elam Ending and needing to hit a specific point total to win. There was mixed reaction from the players afterward about ending the game on a free throw, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the NBA looks to make a slight tweak next year to address this. If they don’t, though, it’s not a big deal.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo may be on a Bulls rival, but he’s turning into one of my favorite players in the NBA, and it’s not just because we’re both Greek. Not only is he incredible at basketball, but his attitude, effort and general demeanor make him easy to root for. He helped set the tone during the game itself and was a delight in his postgame press conference, praising Bango (Bucks mascot) and even taking a shot at James Harden. Speaking of his postgame press conference, Kemba Walker had the best look of the night:
Kemba has an incredible green robe on pic.twitter.com/KPmvz2uROg— Jason Patt (@Bulls_Jay) February 17, 2020
- The Kobe and Chicago tributes before the All-Star Game were terrific, though I wish I could’ve actually been able to see the videos live! For some reason the panel of the scoreboard I was facing (I was in 327) wasn’t used for the intros, so that was a bummer. Of course, the videos were online soon enough, and they were really well done. Magic Johnson and Jennifer Hudson did a great job with their Kobe tributes, and the Chicago video showed the rich basketball history of the city. Of course, that doesn’t include the current Bulls.
- We knew there was little Bulls representation coming into All-Star Weekend, but it truly was stark just how little they had to do with the festivities. LaVine and Carter did their thing, while Lauri Markkanen (I saw him in the bowels of the UC and damn he’s tall), Coby White and Cristiano Felicio (there may have been others) took part in some other events across the city, but there was basically no public management presence at all. Nothing from ownership. Nothing from the front office. They didn’t even do the owner hand-off for next year’s game in Indianapolis. This is almost certainly because it would have resulted in humiliation, as we saw from the now-infamous LaVine “First Take” appearance. When Adam Silver thanked the Reinsdorfs after the All-Star Game, there was very little reaction, though I did hear a smattering of boos. Sad.
- Michael Jordan also had very little presence. He was briefly involved in the Chicago tribute and had a special birthday party, but there was little else that I noticed. Maybe he didn’t want to bring too much attention to himself given all the Kobe tributes or maybe he just didn’t really care. Whatever the case, a short speech or even a quick appearance on the scoreboard would’ve been neat.
- I thought LaVine handled the “First Take” situation and the fallout pretty well. I know Zach has his flaws, but I kind of feel for him at this point given the Bulls’ terrible situation. He’s still putting in the work and doing his best to put the Bulls on his back. He has a competitive mindset and is going to go down fighting. I’ve grown more appreciative of Zach LaVine this season, flaws and all. It’s too bad he couldn’t show out at the 3-Point Contest.
- While LaVine had a larger crowd for his media day, as well as fans in the background watching, Carter’s media day crowd was smaller as he was in the back corner of the setup at Wintrust Arena. This made for a more intimate setting and gave the media present the ability to ask him some pointed questions about his role (we’ll have more on this in a future post about Carter). He acknowledged how difficult the blitzing defense can be when it comes to conditioning. Offensively, he admitted a desire to expand his role as a playmaker and talked about his strategy when it comes to shooting jumpers, noting a desire to shoot two or three 3-pointers per game and explaining that he turns down open mid-range shots because of analytics and the desire to find a better shot.
- Carter also talked openly about Jim Boylen, even laughing when he was asked a question about Jimbo’s coaching before giving this answer: “Jim is definitely a different coach from what I’ve had. He shows a lot of passion. He speaks what’s on his mind. At first we didn’t get along as well as I would’ve thought, but then I got to know him and he just wants us to be great. He really cares for us, he really wants us to play well, so that’s kind of how I feel about him. I love him now, you know, he’s one of my favorite coaches I’ve ever had. I’m just looking forward to going on with him for years to come.”
- Carter noted that part of that #carefactor involves Jimbo coming in late at night and also rebounding for him when he’s putting up shots. Okay then!
- The Slam Dunk Contest was great theater, though I certainly don’t understand the TikTok thing (get off my lawn). I don’t think it was quite up to the level of LaVine vs. Aaron Gordon and 50s are handed out too liberally these days, but it was close, there weren’t many missed dunks and the controversy at the end had the crowd up in arms. Jumping over guys may have lost some novelty as the contest wore on, but Gordon jumped over Tacko freaking Fall and completed that last dunk on his first try. He got robbed on that one. Also, shoutout to Pat Connaughton’s dunks and even Dwight Howard, who brought back Superman and turned it into a Kobe tribute. The Dwyane Wade meme is also priceless:
Dwyane Wade calculating the score he needed to give Aaron Gordon to make sure Derrick Jones Jr. won pic.twitter.com/S8rAD5a4sw— bluewirepods (@bluewirepods) February 16, 2020
- Zion Williamson bent the rim at the Rising Stars Challenge! I then saw him after the game as I was heading to the media room, and he stopped and happily took a picture with a few kids, surely making their night in the process. Zion is already a superstar and a young guy who clearly loves what he’s doing.
- The Chicago skyline court is awesome and should stay:
Hey Bulls, leave the skyline up the rest of the season please and thank you. pic.twitter.com/jxYW8WCuNU— Adam Abdalla (@AdamAAbdalla) February 17, 2020