by Brian Boyles
On the first night of festivities, the Rising Stars Challenge made up in humor what it lacked in effort. Team Hill topped Team Webber, 142-136, in a game dominated by lilting alley-oops, long three-pointers, and a late duel between two young guards.
Detroit’s Andre Drummond grabbed 30 points and 25 rebounds to take home the MVP trophy—which fell apart as the BBVA CEO handed it to the center—but Cleveland’s Dion Waiters and New York’s Tim Hardaway Jr engaged in a shootout that brought the crowd to its feet, All-Stars Kevin Durant and James Harden included. Three-pointer after three-pointer, the shooters traded blows and shoulder shimmys as the rest of the players stood back and watched. They even exchanged five in the middle of the skirmish. That brief flash of competitiveness was proof that, maybe, some tweaks to this game could give us all a better product. Enough young, dynamic players want to prove themselves, and one-on-no one dunks aren’t the best way to market them. Unselfishness and team play aren’t realistic goals, so how to stoke the battles that, though friendly, can showcase new stars?
From the New Orleans perspective, fans now have another reason to hate their rivals in Atlanta: Hawks in-game organist Sir Foster, who is amazing and should be cloned for every franchise. And yes, it was Valentine’s Day, so we got strange mascot-on-human romance skits and clips of Prince’s “Kiss” played three times. Craig Sager was rosy and pink.
Other highlights: Anthony Davis’ first half dunks firing up his hometown crowd; Drummond dominating just on put backs and limp alley oops; the Plumlee Brothers being together and stuff; Mason Plumlee delivering a hard foul on Drummond that laid the big man out; Jared Sullinger’s nine three point attempts; nice back and forth between Damian Lillard and Michael Carter-William. We didn’t get nearly enough of the Greek Freak, but had the honor of closing out the game with a gangly reverse dunk.
On the court after the game, I stopped to watch Commissioner Adam Silver converse with a league official. All of this belongs to the new guy now, who stood in the semi-afterglow with a serious look on his face. It was a change from the comfort Stern exuded regardless of his circumstances.
In the interview room, Waiters beamed as he admitted to screaming “this is my city.” His interview was reminder that these are the youngest guys in the league, not yet used to press room Q&As. Hardaway Jr was raised in the League and has the same voice as his (2014 Hall of Fame nominated) father, but he’s also a young player. “We wanted to do something to get the fans involved. It was kinda dead in there,” he said. Fortunately he and Waiters took into their own hands. Let’s see if a new commissioner helps them along in future games.