LOS ANGELES -- LeBron James handpicked his team and then carried it to victory in a 148-145 win for "Team LeBron" over "Team Stephen" on Sunday in the first playground-pick-em-style NBA All-Star Game.
James had 29 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and several key plays down the stretch to secure the win and his third All-Star Game MVP.
The new format, which Kevin Durant said was introduced to "change the narrative of the All-Star Game being a joke," was a smashing success.
"For me to be the captain of the team, Steph [Curry] being the captain of his team, and us doing that, that draft was something that hadn't been done before," James said. "The great thing about our commissioner [Adam Silver], he's absolutely OK with trying something new, to change the format, and it definitely worked out for everybody. It worked out not only for the players, not only for the league, but for our fans, for everybody. It was a great weekend, and we capped it off the right way."
James' step-back 3-pointer over Joel Embiid with 1:30 remaining tied the game at 144. James followed that with a layup off a feed from Kyrie Irving with 34.5 seconds left to put his squad up for good, 146-145.
"I played with him a few times," Irving said. "I cut back door, Russ[ell Westbrook] was driving, I saw the opportunity. I saw, before Russ even passed to me, LeBron was going to circle to the rim and [is] one of the best finishers at the rim. So it was kind of an easy drop-off to give us that lead.
"We've done it plenty of times before, so nothing new."
James' roster -- he revealed the draft order of his starters as Durant first, followed by Anthony Davis, then Irving, then DeMarcus Cousins -- took a little while to jell. Team Stephen led by as many as 15 points in the first half. Team LeBron cut it to three headed into the fourth quarter, but Team Stephen pushed the lead back to 13 with 6:20 remaining before former Cavs teammates James and Irving helped mount the comeback.
"It was phenomenal," James said of playing alongside Irving. "It was phenomenal. Anytime you're able to get back and play with one of your old teammates, and as great as he is, we all know that. The flashiness, the ballhandling, the ability to shoot, it was just great to get back on the floor with him. It was a great moment, for sure."
James, 33, was the oldest player in the game yet was involved in perhaps the most acrobatic highlight: a two-handed reverse dunk caught off an alley-oop from Westbrook.
"Listen, I respect the younger guys, and I love them," James said. "They're the next crew, for sure. They've got to keep this thing going. What I take pride in is taking care of my body. ... Making sure I'm available every night and continue to get better and better. I don't really take it as [playing against] a young guy, 'OK, I need to show him that I'm still able to do this. I need to continue to show myself,' you know, because every night I step on the floor, I have to lead my guys or prove to myself that I'm still able to play at a high level. I feel great."
James addressed the crowd before tipoff and made a statement about the game's locale that will surely be remembered when he can opt out of his contract and become a free agent in July.
"Los Angeles is a great city," James said.
He doubled down with more love for L.A. following the game.
"I think L.A. is a perfect place to host All-Star Weekend," he said. "And we know the traffic. We understand that. But traffic is traffic and ... but L.A. can accommodate that. It's built for stars. It's built for entertainment. It's built for cameras and bright lights, and it's a great place for it."
The All-Star MVP is determined by nine votes from media members and three fan votes. The league runs an online poll for MVP, and the top vote-getter receives two votes, while the second-place vote-getter receives one. James received 11 out of 12 votes, with Damian Lillard of Team Stephen receiving the other vote from the fan poll.
It had been 10 years since James won his previous All-Star MVP, when he had 27 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in a 134-128 win by the Eastern Conference in New Orleans. He also won the All-Star MVP in 2006 in Houston, registering 29 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals in a 122-120 win by the East.
James' third All-Star MVP ties him with Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal for second all time. Kobe Bryant and Bob Pettit each won the award four times.
"I just always felt like I could be a part of this league and make a difference and make an impact," James said. "From my very first All-Star up until now, I just try to get better and better and not only show myself but show my peers and show everybody that I belong. It's always been my fans who voted me in. For 14 straight years, my fans have voted me in as an All-Star starter, and it's been up to me to go out and let them know and show them, 'Listen, I appreciate that, and here's what I'm going to give to you every time you vote me in.'
"So it's just a good time to be alive, I can tell you that, and play this game that I love."
In the lead-up to the game, James' recent sociopolitical commentary in an Uber advertisement hosted by Uninterrupted and featuring Durant and ESPN's Cari Champion caused a stir when Fox News host Laura Ingraham said James should "shut up and dribble."
James, in turn, used the attention the All-Star Game generates to respond to Ingraham's criticism by furthering his message of equality.
"To be an African-American kid and grow up in the inner city with a single-parent mother and not being financially stable and to make it to where I've made it today, I think I've defeated the odds, and I want every kid to know that and everybody to know that the youth, they can do it as well," James said Saturday.
On Sunday, James approached several NBA legends in attendance -- Julius Erving, Bill Russell, Jerry West and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar -- to share his appreciation for their leading the way on social issues before him.
"I just thanked them," James told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne. "I thanked them for giving me the platform to do what I do today. They did it in a time when it wasn't warranted, and people shunned them for it.
"And I'm doing it in a time when people are trying to shun me for it, too. But it's not stopping us. We have a platform, I have a platform, and I thanked Dr. J, Russell and Jerry West. Those guys are unbelievable -- Kareem. They've done so much. So I just thanked them for it."