In the afterglow of Saturday night's amazing dunk contest, a group of sportswriters were trying to remember every moment of the incredible display. The problem is that the event had happened a bit too recently, and too many of the groundbreaking efforts of eventual winner Zach LaVine and runner-up Aaron Gordon were slight variations on their own work. Gordon (who, by the way, got the decision on this scorecard) used the Orlando Magic's mascot in three of his efforts. There was no immediate word on how Stuff The Magic Dragon was compensated.
"Me and him are like best friends now, me and Stuff," Gordon said.
Anyway, it became difficult to separate one miraculous feat of gravity defiance from the others. In an effort to do so, one writer offered the following on Gordon's third dunk: "You know, the one where the mascot was rotating around on the hoverboard."
Two thoughts occurred to me at that moment. First, we are living in the future. Second: We're supposed to take anything that happened this weekend seriously?
Searching for meaning is a very human thing to do, and it is natural after the lead up to the 65th-annual All-Star Game, in Toronto and outside of the United States for the first time. The weekend is the second biggest event on the NBA's calendar, behind only the Finals, and it is a massive undertaking from a planning perspective. At no other point in the season do you get so many of the league's most powerful people, both from the NBA's offices and the player pool, in the same city at the same time.
But please remember: The weekend is a show, and little else. Russell Westbrook was the MVP of Sunday's game, sure, but before you say that it is proof that he never takes a game off, remember that he tried to throw a pass to himself off the backboard (it hit the rim and deflected away) in the first quarter. Before you assume that the cold will keep superstars from signing in Toronto indefinitely, remember that the opportunity to win and the chance to earn as much money as possible are almost always the biggest factors in free agency, not the ancillary stuff. (Exception: Shaquille O'Neal going from the Magic to the Lakers in 1996, but even that was as much about maximizing his earning potential away from the court as anything else.)
That is all to say that making grand pronouncements about the status of anything following the weekend is maybe a reach. It was a fun, cold weekend. Let's not take it too far past that statement of fact.
The Weekend in Dunks
The dunk contest was the best part of the weekend. You had the defending champion, LaVine, whose grace and hang time made him look unbeatable last year. And you had Gordon, who had the edge in power and creativity. His last dunk, which netted him a 47 and opened the door for LaVine to win the contest in the second overtime round, was a fine example of that: a reverse dunk in which the Magic forward put the ball behind his head, cocked it down below his legs, and finished with incredible force, his head basically in line with the rim. It was the contrast of the two dunkers that made it special, as well as the evenness.
"If I knew it was going to (go into overtime rounds), I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50," Gordon said. "We would have been here all night. I didn't know it was going to be like that."
"We were looking in our bag of tricks. Ain't nothing left," LaVine said. "I just found a little piece of dust."
That piece of dust was a between-the-legs dunk from a half-step over the free-throw line; we should all be so resourceful.
Really, Saturday night went as well as it could. The three-point contest was thrilling, with Klay Thompson uncorking a perfect final rack to topple his Splash Brother, Steph Curry. And in the maligned skills competition, Minnesota rookie Karl-Anthony Towns came from behind to beat Boston's Isaiah Thomas in the final, with Towns' fellow big men in the contest, led by bon vivant DeMarcus Cousins, mobbing him after the win.
"I'll definitely be talking some trash to Ricky," Towns said of his Minnesota teammate Ricky Rubio. "He doubted me since the beginning."
It was hard not to fall for Towns this weekend, who admitted his "heart was beating out of my chest." Rookies are adorable.
The Weekend in Entertainment
"What a performance by Walk The Moon," was tweeted as a sarcastic rebuttal of the NBA's entertainment options all weekend. How a league could so badly miss the mark on that front, with as many in-demand fans as it has, is bizarre. Did anybody know that WTM's (that's what the cool kids call them) "Shut Up And Dance" was anything but a song that popped up out of the ether, engineered by the radio deities to be playable on every format? People actually wrote that song? Fascinating.
Nelly Furtado did not quite channel the Las Vegas Posse singer who mistook O Canada's melody for that of O Christmas Tree, but she came close. And Sting's performance at halftime of Sunday's main event was, well, a performance by Sting. It was perfectly fine, and not at all in line with the league's fan base, although the referees seemed to like it.
You are cool, NBA. It is OK to act like it.
The Weekend in Drake
After rumours that he would introduce the starters on Sunday night, Aub could only be bothered to spit out a few lines in praise of Toronto before becoming the designated hugger on stage. It was bizarre, and is not going to quiet the murmurs that he and the Raptors are not as close as they once were.
Really, Drake's weekend was all about jackets. On Sunday night, he wore a loud coat that had "Farewell Mamba" written on the back. Tasteful. On Saturday, he wore a pink jacket, which… well, I actually kind of liked it, but it was bold. And on Friday night, he wore a blue blazer with gold buttons as John Tory presented him with the key to the city.
He went on to coach the Canadian team to a win in the celebrity game, which made him about as qualified as Tyronn Lue to coach the Eastern Conference all-stars.
In the end, however, the weekend was less OVO-infused than anticipated.
The Weekend in Cold
Andre Drummond said on Saturday that he had to think twice about leaving his hotel to get food. It was cold. These things tend to happen in February. Next.
The Weekend in Border Wars
Win Butler is from a suburb of Houston. His band, Arcade Fire, is from Montreal, which he has called home since 2000. After being named MVP of the celebrity game for his Charles Barkley-like performance, Butler decided he should make a political statement.
"I just wanna say it's an election year in the U.S.," Butler started, "and the U.S. has a lot it can learn from Canada—health care, taking care of people, and I think…"
"So we're talking about celebrities and not politics," ESPN host Sage Steele said, cutting Butler off. "Congratulations on your MVP!"
Is it possible for both to be right and wrong simultaneously? The celebrity game is the silliest part of a silly weekend, and using it as a soapbox sort of undermines whatever point Butler could have had. Nonetheless, most left-leaning people would say that the content of Butler's point was undeniably correct.
As for Steele, she was right to point out the ridiculousness of using that stage as a pulpit, but whatever Butler was about to say, it was going to be innocuous. We were not getting any sort of Kanye-styled pronouncements. There was no real need to cut him off.
The Weekend in External Validation
Since the Raptors' birth in 1995, many fans (and sometimes those within the organization) have been battling an inferiority complex. They have been striving to feel as if they really belong in the league. It makes sense as the Raptors are the only Canadian team in the NBA, were unceremoniously dumped by one franchise face after another, and have had to deal with talk of taxes, weather, customs and cable television packages conspiring to keep free agents out of Toronto.
Again, this weekend was never getting Kevin Durant to sign here, and the league's stars did not enjoy the weather. However, the weekend went fine.
"First of all, to the people of Toronto, Canada, and all of Canada as a country, thanks for welcoming our league with open and warm arms," LeBron James said on Sunday. "Even though the weather wasn't as warm, the arms and the love from everyone here has been well received.
"Toronto did a hell of a job of putting on a show, and it was an honour."
Ultimately, the Raptors' performance in April and May was always going to mean more to players around the league than the city's performance in February.
The Weekend in Kobe
In the end, it seemed like the league wanted the weekend to be about Bryant more than it actually was. We did get to see some fun one-on-one battles during the game—James slapping the floor when he drew Bryant on a defensive assignment, Kobe going one-on-one against his old championship running mate, Pau Gasol—and the NBA certainly took pains to remind us that this was Bryant's last hurrah. He got two pre-game montages, including one in which several all-stars spoke of Bryant's meaning to them.
There were no real signature moments for Bryant on the court, however, which is a fitting tribute to his last NBA season. There was no equivalent of Bryant going right at Michael Jordan in 1998, in what was thought to be Jordan's final All-Star Game.
"Michael was still Michael. I mean, it was '98. I mean, he was that guy. I'm 20 years in and it's different," Bryant said. "These kids, they're so many generations removed from that, that it's not even about that anymore because they've literally grown up watching me since the age of seven. So it's different than when I went at Michael."
Watching Bryant cede to anything, even time, is still bizarre to witness.