Winners and Losers from 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend
The 2014 NBA All-Star weekend produced all sorts of memorable highlights, but not always for the right reasons.
During Sunday's All-Star Game, the players treated fans to a plethora of rim-rattling dunks, ankle-breaking crossovers and gravity-defying passes. The only fans left wanting more on Sunday night were defense enthusiasts, as the teams combined for an All-Star-record 318 points in the East's 163-155 win.
Defense wasn't the only thing leaving New Orleans with a wounded pride. A broken trophy, a historically bad three-point-contest performance and a format change to the final Saturday night event all made up some of the weekend's lowlights.
Click through to see the highs and lows from this year's All-Star weekend.
Winner: Arne Duncan
If there's one thing we learned on Friday night, it's that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan can ball.
The secretary broke the record for most points scored in an NBA All-Star Celebrity Game (20), snared 11 rebounds and dished out six assists, earning the Most Valuable Player award for his efforts.
He played four years at Harvard and four years in the Australian Basketball League, so his hoops credentials were well established coming into the game. But after fans voted actor/comedian Kevin Hart as the MVP in the 2013 celebrity game, Duncan wasn't leaving anything to chance this time around.
The 6'5" Harvard product pounded the boards early, showed off a nifty mid-range jumper and, most impressively, dished out a no-look assist to the WNBA's Skylar Diggins for his final dime of the game. The MVP appeared to be all but a formality.
Hart's fans appeared to win out at first, voting him MVP for the third straight year, but the actor/comedian quickly deferred the award to Duncan. Here's hoping the secretary's performance inspires President Obama to lace up his shoes next year.
Loser: Kevin Hart
Kevin Hart came into the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game with a reputation to uphold.
The two-time reigning MVP predicted that he'd finish with 36 points, 25 rebounds and 17 assists. That didn't quite come to fruition, to say the least.
Instead, Hart finished with seven points on 2-of-11 shooting, four assists and zero rebounds. He converted a nice lefty layup over three-time NBA champion Bruce Bowen in the fourth quarter, but it was too little, too late for the diminutive actor.
With 1:15 left in the game and Hart's team down two points, Romeo Miller stripped him of the ball, effectively ending the West's chances of a comeback. After fans voted him MVP for the third straight year, he couldn't bring himself to accept the award and gave it to Arne Duncan instead.
While Hart's new movie, About Last Night, seems to be winning over critics, his failure in the celebrity game earns him an All-Star weekend "loser" distinction. He earns props, however, for his brilliant faux postgame press conference.
Winner: Andre Drummond
In the NBA Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night, Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond made clear that he's one of the league's brightest young players.
The UConn product wasted little time, notching 17 points and 11 rebounds for Team Hill in just 12 first-half minutes. He finished with 30 points and a Rising Stars Challenge-record 25 rebounds (including 14 offensive boards), breaking the mark set by San Antonio Spurs center DeJuan Blair (23) in 2010.
Drummond single-handedly gathered three more offensive rebounds than all of Team Webber. He also finished just three boards shy of Team Webber's total (28).
In an offense-heavy, defense-light game like the Rising Stars Challenge, it's often difficult for big men to get going. The little guys tend to dominate the action, as evidenced by Kyrie Irving in 2013 or the Dion Waiters-Tim Hardaway Jr. mano-a-mano showdown this year.
The Pistons center wasn't fazed by the guard-heavy format, as he gobbled up just about every missed shot for a rim-rattling dunk. His record-shattering performance helped him take home the Rising Stars Challenge MVP award, which, as you'll see on the next slide, wasn't without minor complications of its own.
Loser: The Rising Stars Challenge Trophy
Note to the NBA: Next year, it might be wise to spend more than $4.99 on your Rising Stars Challenge MVP trophy.
As BBVA president and COO Angel Cano turned to hand the award to Andre Drummond after his record-setting performance on Friday night, the top half of the trophy rolled off the base and tumbled to the floor. The look on the faces of Trey Burke, Victor Oladipo and Tim Hardaway Jr. said it all.
Thankfully, the Detroit Pistons center couldn't help but be amused by the moment.
"It happened last year, too, so I wasn't expecting anything less," Drummond told reporters after the game. "Usually a slipup happens every year with the trophy. So I wasn't too shocked about that."
Hardaway Jr. put the icing on the cake by grabbing the microphone from Craig Sager's hands and saying, "ESPN Not Top 10." That's not the way the NBA wanted to wrap up its Friday night events during All-Star weekend, one would imagine.
Winner: Chris Bosh's Half-Court Shooting
That's exactly what happened during the Shooting Stars contest that kicked off NBA All-Star Saturday night.
In the contest, a team of three shooters—a current NBA player, a former NBA player and a WNBA player—must drain buckets from 10 feet out, at the top of the key, from three-point range and, finally, a half-court shot. Each player is assigned to one of the first three shots, and they all rotate to attempt the half-court shot.
Bosh struggled with the three-point shot, going 1-of-4 in Round 1 and 1-of-5 in the final round of the competition. He quickly avenged himself in both rounds, however, by drilling each half-court attempt on his first try.
Team Bosh triumphed over Team Hardaway, which consisted of Tim Hardaway Jr., Tim Hardaway Sr. and Elena Delle Donne, to win $100,000 for charity. And at least for one night, Bosh stole the title of "Best Half-Court Shooter in the NBA" from Curry.
Loser: Joe Johnson's Three-Point Shooting
The Eastern Conference would like a redo on its choice of Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Johnson for the Three-Point Contest.
Despite the addition of the new "money-ball rack," Johnson finished with a grand total of 11 points on the night, the lowest of any player in the competition.
ESPN.com's Kevin Pelton put Johnson's struggles into a historical context:
Johnson put together the slowest round since Sam Perkins scored an 8 in 1997, leaving his final four shots on the table. Johnson's clutch ability can't come into play if he never even attempts those shots. Add in a 1-of-5 performance on his money rack and Johnson had the night's worst score.
The seven-time All-Star, who ranks 45th in the league in three-point shooting percentage (.390), simply couldn't find the range on Saturday night. Atlanta Hawks guard Kyle Korver would have been a far superior choice for the East.
Winner: The Slam Dunk Contest Field
For the first time in nearly a decade, the 2014 NBA Slam Dunk Contest was chock-full of star-level talent.
It featured a Most Improved Player (Paul George), a Rookie of the Year (Damian Lillard), a No. 1 overall pick (John Wall) and a former dunk contest champion (Terrence Ross). According to Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver, it was the first dunk contest with three All-Stars since 1988.
Despite the shortcomings of the new format, the contest itself featured a handful of memorable dunks. The East's double alley-oop off the shot clock in the freestyle round set the tone for the night, but the West wouldn't go down without a fight.
Between Damian Lillard's 360 windmill jam and Ben McLemore's theatrics-heavy dunk over Shaquille O'Neal in the battle round, the West came out swinging. The East punched back, though, as Paul George slammed home a vicious through-the-legs 360 and John Wall threw down the dunk of the night, leaping over the Washington Wizards' G-Man for a reverse pump slam.
Wall's dunk inspired Magic Johnson, one of the judges of the event, to declare, "the dunk contest is back!" Let's just hope the NBA can continue attracting marquee talent to its marquee Saturday night event.
Loser: The New Dunk Contest Format
Based on the reaction from NBA players, fans and bloggers, whoever thought up the new format for the Slam Dunk Contest needs to go back to the drawing board.
Instead of the old format, which pitted each dunker against one another to crown a champion, this year's contest featured a conference-on-conference battle. After the new "freestyle" round, in which all three dunkers from each conference had 90 seconds to pull off as many dunks as possible, the "battle" round had dunkers facing off one-on-one in a loser-gets-eliminated matchup.
What's so bad about that? The East swept the battle round, 3-0, meaning all six dunkers pulled off only one dunk. Instead of then pitting Wall, George and Ross against one another to crown an ultimate champion, fans voted on the "Sprite Slam Dunker of the Night." It was the definition of anticlimactic, in other words.
Deadspin's Samer Kalaf called it "hot garbage" and a "huge f-----g disaster." "The format got in the way of some phenomenal dunks," ESPN.com's Michael Wallace wrote. Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver said the "current format has the potential to ruin any field."
Fans and writers weren't the only ones irked by the new format. A number of NBA players tweeted their dissatisfaction on Saturday night, which could bode poorly for the league's chances of attracting top talent moving forward.
Sports on Earth's Shaun Powell suggested finding a sponsor to raise the stakes, making the grand prize a "winner-take-all $1 million prize." Even adding a final round after the "battle round," in which the winning conference's three dunkers go mano-a-mano for the "Slam Dunk Champion" trophy, would be an improvement.
One thing is clear after Saturday night: The new dunk contest format needs to undergo some Pierre-the-Pelican-esque surgery.
Winner: The All-Star Game Musical Performances
The NBA set a new standard for All-Star Game musical performances on Sunday.
Pharrell Williams kicked things off with a rousing medley to usher in the All-Stars. He brought his own cast of all-stars with him, namely, Nelly, Snoop Lion, Sean "Diddy" Combs, Busta Rhymes and Chad Hugo, the other half of N.E.R.D.
The way Pharrell seamlessly segued between his own hits and those of the other stars, including Nelly's "Hot in Here," Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" and Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines," made this a performance to remember.
Basketball fans and writers tweeted their appreciation en masse. ESPN.com's Kevin Pelton said, "I don't know how he did, but Pharrell just brought back the dunk contest," while SB Nation's Tom Ziller said Pharrell's show "already washed the Dunk Contest mess away."
The halftime show didn't pack any less of a punch, with New Orleans-based Trombone Shorty being joined on stage by Dr. John, Gary Clark Jr., Janelle Monae and Earth, Wind & Fire. Before the halftime show, Shorty told Billboard that the focus was "to have a big party, the way we do here in the Big Easy."
Loser: The East Coast
Remember when the All-Star Game was supposed to start at 8 p.m. ET?
Due to Pharrell's 20-minute all-star medley, the game tipped 55 minutes after its scheduled 8 p.m. start. Throw in the halftime show from Trombone Shorty and friends, and the game itself didn't wrap up until roughly 11:15 p.m. ET.
The late start left East Coast viewers with a particularly hairy conundrum: stay up and watch the end of the game, despite facing an early wake-up call for work the next morning, or catch the highlights the next evening after work?
For what it's worth, viewers also had to choose between watching the All-Star Game, The Walking Dead and True Detective, not to mention NBC's prime-time Olympics coverage. Sticking to the originally scheduled start time could have helped viewers navigate those tricky decisions.
Winner: The NBA's Future
The NBA's youth movement was on full display during All-Star weekend, which should have new commissioner Adam Silver feeling just peachy about his league's future.
Whether it was Andre Drummond's rebounding dominance during the Rising Stars Challenge, the virtuoso dunks by Paul George, Ben McLemore and John Wall in the Slam Dunk Contest, or the All-Star Game MVP award won by 21-year-old Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving, it's clear the NBA is teeming with elite young stars.
Consider this: The oldest player among the Western Conference All-Stars' starting lineup was 25-year-old Stephen Curry. A 25-year-old (Kevin Durant) and a 24-year-old (Blake Griffin) combined for 76 points during Sunday night's festivities.
As CBSSports.com's Ken Berger wrote, "Sunday's All-Star Game marked the beginning of a shift in the NBA's tectonic plates of talent." Between Irving, Griffin, Durant, George, Kevin Love, James Harden, Anthony Davis, John Wall and Damian Lillard, the NBA's 25-and-under crew appears well equipped to carry the torch once Kobe Bryant and LeBron James pass it along.
All-Star weekend was a three-day reminder of why it's great to be an NBA fan. Given what transpired over the weekend, the league's future looks exceptionally bright.
Loser: The NBA's Elder Statesmen
All-Star weekend was largely forgettable for the few players above the age of 30 in attendance.
You've already read about Johnson's three-point contest struggles, but he wasn't much better during Sunday's All-Star Game. The 32-year-old Brooklyn Nets guard finished with five points on 2-of-7 shooting (including 1-of-6 from downtown) in just 10 minutes.
Dwyane Wade was effective in small bursts, but East coach Frank Vogel limited his minutes due to his lingering knee problems. The 31-year-old Miami Heat guard scored 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting in 12 minutes of playing time.
In the West, Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki played a team-low eight minutes and was the only player on either side to be held scoreless. San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker only played 11 minutes, finishing with four points on 2-of-5 shooting.
Parker, Nowitzki, Johnson, Wade and Kobe Bryant were the only five All-Stars selected above the age of 30, and Bryant couldn't even participate due to his ongoing recovery from a fractured lateral tibial plateau in his left knee.
It was the first time that Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan, who have a combined 39 All-Star selections to their names, each missed out on joining their peers at All-Star weekend since they came into the league in the late '90s.