All-Star Weekend had it all: a million Giannis dunks, a broken replica airplane, all the Currys, and many more highlight moments. Here are the most important things our team of experts saw in Charlotte, North Carolina:
Dirk and D-Wade's last All-Star dance
Dirk Nowitzki made sure that commissioner Adam Silver's decision to bring him and Dwyane Wade to Charlotte as special roster additions ended up more celebration than just ceremony. Nowitzki checked in for Team Giannis with less than a minute to go in the first quarter and stroked back-to-back 3s -- one from 29 feet, one from 33 feet -- before the horn sounded.
Wade started the second half for Team LeBron alongside LeBron James and threw a vintage alley-oop off the backboard for James to finish with a slam to bring back some Miami memories for the pair that won two rings together. Before the fourth quarter, Nowitzki and Wade were honored at center court and presented with framed All-Star jerseys by the team captains.
"The game is in good hands so it's easy to walk away right now," Wade said.
-- Dave McMenamin
Davis: 'I never said Boston wasn't on my list'
Anthony Davis speaks about his desire to play and explains that he never said the Celtics weren't on his list of teams that he wanted to be traded to.
LeBron's team-building exercise
Nine years ago, LeBron James chose to leave Cleveland and team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the shores of Biscayne Bay, creating a team that won two championships and reached four straight NBA Finals. This summer, James needs to find someone to do what he did back then: choose to come play with him and turn his team into a championship contender.
He needs to find his next Dwyane Wade.
That was what made this weekend so compelling. James drafted a team littered with players who have been linked to playing alongside him -- either joining his Lakers as free agents this summer or via trade (in the case of Anthony Davis, as recently as within the past two weeks).
By virtue of his selections, the name Team LeBron was quickly, and sarcastically, replaced by "Team Tampering."
-- Tim Bontemps
The Greek Freak rises
With Curry leading a two-on-one fast break, the two-time MVP bounced a high pass to Antetokounmpo over Kevin Durant's head as the Milwaukee Bucks' young star threw down a dunk that left the Charlotte crowd in awe. For Curry, it was just another special moment in a weekend filled with them on a super-sized bounce pass that the All-Star Game had never seen before.
-- Nick Friedell
Steph will likely make Seth pay up on 3-point bet
Steph Curry clarifies the terms of his bet with brother Seth and says he will probably make Seth pay up on their 3-point contest wager.
A dunk contest in need of some tweaks
There's no way to "fix" the NBA's dunk contest, because the fundamental problem is reality competing against the memory of past years where the missed dunks and failed props have faded, leaving only the best dunks as a legacy. Nonetheless, two small tweaks could produce a more satisfying dunk contest.
1. Carry first-round scores forward
One of the most frustrating parts of the dunk contest is that the best dunks -- including the very best of Saturday night, Hamidou Diallo scaling Mt. Shaq -- don't count toward the final result because first-round scores aren't carried forward to the final round. That makes no sense.
When you praise Vince Carter's historic 2000 dunk contest, odds are you're remembering two of his first-round dunks (a 360 windmill that prompted TNT commentator Kenny Smith to yell "Let's go home!" and a between-the-legs dunk off a bounce pass by then-teammate Tracy McGrady that Carter capped with his famous point to the sky) rather than his final dunk, a two-hander from just inside the free-throw line that earned his lowest score all night (48).
So why shouldn't Diallo's perfect 50 have counted toward winning the actual competition? At a minimum, we should carry scores from the first round over to the final. Better yet, I'd suggest letting all four dunkers have three or four dunks and picking the winner among them rather than having two separate rounds.
2. Eliminate the minimum score
More aggressive adjustments to the scoring have been suggested, but in the name of simplicity I think an easy tweak would be taking out the minimum score of 6 per judge. That doesn't punish players harshly enough for missing dunks, since they'll still score at least a 30 (and both Miles Bridges and Dennis Smith Jr. scored better than that when they ran out of attempts Saturday night).
Additionally, utilizing all 11 scores from 0-10 would give judges more room to properly reward the very best dunks. When the scores are condensed, there's little variation. Half of the 10 completed dunks Saturday scored a 50. Back in the 1980s, a score of 50 was rare. In their famous 1985 dunk contest, Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins received a combined three 50s out of 18 dunks in the three-round format used at the time. Making 50s less common will also make them more meaningful.
-- Kevin Pelton
Anthony Davis' stunning news conference
When All-Star media day began Saturday morning, it was unclear if Davis would even show up.
The New Orleans Pelicans star's quote isn't exactly a stellar one in the best of times -- and this was far from the best of times. Davis' trade request from before the trade deadline, and the ensuing fallout from it, still hung over the franchise. Davis had left New Orleans' final game before the All-Star break before it ended to get an MRI on his shoulder. His coach, Alvin Gentry, stormed off after his postgame interview when he was asked a second time about Davis leaving. Friday afternoon, New Orleans fired its general manager, Dell Demps.
All of it made what happened after Davis did, in fact, come to the podium all the more amazing to witness. Not only did he speak about everything that had happened over the past few weeks, he did so openly and honestly. He refuted the one major roadblock to his going to the Boston Celtics -- the team with the most assets to trade for him -- by saying they were, in fact, on his list of preferred teams. He spoke openly of what he liked about the New York Knicks. He said he would become a free agent in 2020 no matter where he played.
In short, he answered just about every possible question people have wanted to ask him since this whole saga began.
Kyle Kuzma, the late-first round Rising Star
Looking at the Rising Stars rosters before tipoff was a great reminder of how imperfect the science is of projecting the NBA draft. Watching the game's MVP Kyle Kuzma throw down windmills and hit step-back 3-pointers was easily the most vivid example of that. Kuzma elected to redshirt his freshman year in college and proceeded to play only eight minutes per game his second. In, his third year at Utah, already 20 years old, he made just 13 3-pointers in 35 games, hitting 26.5 percent of his attempts, while converting 60 percent from the free throw line.
Mostly a streaky spot-up shooter in college, not many predicted Kuzma, the No. 27 overall pick in 2017, would emerge as one of the more skilled power forwards in the NBA almost from day one. Watching him get into his pull-up jumpers with the fluidity of a guard in Charlotte again reminded us of the importance of keeping an open mind about young players, even 22-year-olds coming out of college.
-- Jonathan Givony
Get to know Deni Avdija
The 18-year-old Israeli forward was named MVP of the fifth annual Basketball Without Borders Global Camp, held in conjunction with All-Star Weekend. More than two dozen players from the camp, which features top international prospects 18 and under, have gone on to play in the NBA. Expect Avdija to soon join them. He's currently seventh in ESPN's mock draft for 2020 and strengthened his résumé by showing off comfortable NBA 3-point range while running point guard for his team at 6-foot-9.
Inevitably, Avdija's combination of size and skill has led NBA scouts to compare him to Rookie of the Year favorite Luka Doncic. Avdija doesn't have the same kind of high-level club success, having played sparingly for Maccabi Tel Aviv in EuroLeague action. But if Avdija can expand his role in 2019-20 and continues to develop his game, he'll be an interesting option for teams in the top half of the lottery.
The Curry brothers' big bet
Stephen and Seth Curry had a sizable wager on the line that carried ramifications throughout the remainder of their careers.
"Family's obviously big for us and like our support," Stephen said Saturday ahead of the 3-point contest. "So kind of wanted to weave that into the bet, so whoever loses has to pick up the tab for all the tickets any time we play against each other for the rest of our careers. Which, the stakes are high considering how many people show up for our games."
Where was the buzz?
There are points during every All-Star Weekend when the atmosphere inside the arena isn't great. It is, after all, a series of meaningless exhibitions played in front of a crowd filled with many corporate suits. But the atmosphere inside Charlotte's Spectrum Center throughout this weekend was particularly lacking in energy and enthusiasm.
Some of that was aided by what happened on the court. The dunk contest -- which is supposed to be Saturday night's signature event -- was marred by strange grading and several dunk attempts that took multiple attempts to pull off (or, in a couple of instances, failed to work at all).
Then came Sunday's All-Star Game, which was virtually void of emotion or energy for large stretches. Sure, there were a few nice moments -- like when LeBron James caught an alley-oop from Dwyane Wade, or when Dirk Nowitzki hit a pair of 3-pointers to end the first quarter, or when hometown hero Stephen Curry pulled off a 4-point play when he was fouled while making a 3-pointer by Warriors teammate Klay Thompson.
For large stretches of the game, though, you could hear a pin drop. That wasn't helped by the fact that the celebrities ringing the court were not exactly A-listers -- including Guy Fieri being shown midway through the first quarter in an attempt to fire up the crowd.
The one person who could've gotten everyone excited -- Hornets owner Michael Jordan -- was nowhere to be seen. Outside of a 30-second interaction on the court in a mid-quarter break in the second half to celebrate next year's All-Star Game being in Chicago (including Jordan having to shake hands with Bulls president Michael Reinsdorf, the son of owner Jerry), Jordan wasn't part of the game Sunday in any way -- despite this being something NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Jordan worked very hard to make happen.
It was an underwhelming end to an underwhelming weekend -- one the atmosphere in the arena did little to help.