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Sports

Star-Studded Toronto Was Perfect City to Host Marquee NBA Event

Toronto is on a wave, and the entire city seized the moment of All-Star Weekend. Shit is hot up in the 6, boy.
February 16, 2016, 4:23pm
Photo by Mark Blinch/Reuters

When the only complaint about All-Star Weekend is the weather, it's safe to say that the entire spectacle was a resounding success.

It's cold in Toronto. You might have heard about it. In fact, the extreme weather was brought up by players at nearly every media availability throughout the weekend.

READ MORE: All-Star Wrap: Dunks, Drake, and Kobe

Five years ago, this weekend would have looked very different. It all comes down to timing, and in this instance, the timing was perfect. Toronto is, to put it bluntly, on a wave, and the entire city seized the moment.

"Toronto's just a fun city and has such a great culture, great people and did a great job of hosting the All-Star Game," Warriors star Stephen Curry said at the end of the weekend. "So I'm sure it will be—back down the road—it will be a special time."

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From Drake and Michael Jordan's exclusive party at Casa Loma, to Future kicking it with players, musicians, and journalists at GQ's party, to Tory Lanez's homecoming show at the Danforth Music Hall, White Vegas spent the weekend feeling itself. It certainly didn't hurt that the Monday afterward was a holiday on both sides of the border. "I'm going to Real Sports," yelled Charles Barkley to a crowd as he exited the arena Sunday night. Real Sports is a two-floor bar littered with big-screen TVs that's situated steps outside the Air Canada Centre, frequently attracting players from the city's sports teams.

No other league mixes athletes with celebrities and musicians quite like the NBA. On Drake's 2010 song "Thank Me Now", he said: "I can relate to kids going straight to the league / When they recognize that you got what it takes to succeed" and "Damn, I swear sports and music are so synonymous / Cause we want to be them, and they want to be us."

Drake has done his part to raise Canada's international profile. —Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Drake's roles as both the most popular rapper on earth and the Raptors' global ambassador has only added to this phenomenon, and wherever you looked this weekend, there was some sort of celebrity involvement. That peaked at the aptly named celebrity game, where Drake coached Team Canada to a 74-64 win over Team USA. He even took the time to receive the key to the city from Toronto Mayor John Tory. Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista and two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash were Drake's assistant coaches. The celebrity game was the first event, and it really helped set the tone for the weekend.

Drake's superstardom, and the success of other Canadian musicians, has helped raise Canada's profile. At one point in December 2015, 7 of the top 10 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 were by Canadians, as Drake, Justin Bieber, The Weeknd, Shawn Mendes, and Alessia Cara dominated the charts. All of those artists are either from Toronto or cities nearby, and that doesn't even do justice to the countless creatives who work night and day to bolster the city's reputation as a thriving cultural hub.

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"I love Toronto," said Trail Blazers breakout star CJ McCollum. "It's really cold right now but the food is really good, the people are really nice. It's good to play in a city like this with that much culture and diversity."

Toronto isn't just a city on the upswing in terms of music and culture, but in sports as well. When a Toronto team is doing well, you feel a certain energy in the city. That energy has especially been felt this past year. The Raptors are in the midst of what should be their most successful season ever, the Blue Jays captivated the city and were two wins away from the World Series, Toronto FC made the playoffs for the first time in its history, and shit, even the Maple Leafs seem to be moving in the right direction. Good things happening to each of the city's biggest sports teams at the same time is unheard of in Toronto.

"I think everybody got the feel of the energy that we witness every single night when we play as Raptors players," said Raptors All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan. "I think all the guys really got insight on how in tune the city of Toronto and all of Canada is to basketball."

If All-Star Weekend was a roller coaster, then Saturday night was the big drop, as there were photo finishes in all three competitions. After falling off the pace early, rookie big man Karl-Anthony Towns came from behind to beat Isaiah Thomas in the skills challenge. Golden State Warriors guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson traded triples, with the latter coming up with the win in the three-point contest. And, of course, there was Zach LaVine barely edging Aaron Gordon in what many are calling the best dunk contest ever.

One of the lasting images of 2016 All-Star Weekend.—Photo by Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

"I think we put ourselves on the map a little bit around the world," said Kyle Lowry, who started his second consecutive All-Star Game.

The All-Star Game itself was a more relaxed affair, and a fun way to end the weekend. Between Kobe Bryant's sendoff, Lowry and DeRozan getting massive cheers, and Russell Westbrook willing himself to the MVP award once again, there were more than enough storylines to keep fans engaged. It's only fitting that the night ended with Curry taking a deep, and we mean deep, triple as the fans were urging him to shoot.

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"Coach Popovich wanted us to shoot or one of us to shoot, and thankfully it went in and kind of finished the game off with a bang and caused some excitement," said Curry.

So, yeah, it was a pretty cold couple of days. But that was the only complaint documented this entire weekend. And for a city and fan base perceived to have long been an afterthought in NBA circles, that'll do.

Toronto is the fourth-largest city in North America, and its two most successful teams (currently) are the only Canadian teams in their respective leagues—that helps create a nationwide fan base. Throw in a burgeoning arts scene, some of the trendiest neighbourhoods on earth, and copious name checks from the most popular musicians around, and you have a city primed to thrive in the coming years. All-Star Weekend was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg in terms of what this city is capable of and what it can achieve going forward.

With the NBA trying to grow the game internationally more than ever, holding All-Star Weekend in a thriving and culturally-diverse city that's rich with celebrities and the only non-US market in the league was a slam dunk. Toronto was the perfect city to showcase the league's biggest and brightest stars.

"Even though the weather wasn't as warm, the arms and the love from everyone here has been well received," said LeBron James. "Toronto did a hell of a job of putting on a show."

Shit is hot up in the 6, boy.