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How the NBA did the All-Star Game ‘the right way’ and had an actual contest

Team LeBron’s LeBron James, a forward with the Cleveland Cavaliers, holds the MVP trophy after his team defeated Team Stephen in the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday in Los Angeles. James scored a game-high 29 points in a 148-145 victory.
Team LeBron’s LeBron James, a forward with the Cleveland Cavaliers, holds the MVP trophy after his team defeated Team Stephen in the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday in Los Angeles. James scored a game-high 29 points in a 148-145 victory. AP

The NBA All-Star Game had become a joke.

It had become a bad pick-up game where trying to stop an opponent was not encouraged.

The games were called unwatchable by many, which was not a god way for the league to be viewed in its annual showcase of its best players.

So the NBA changed the format, had captains pick their teams from either conference and threw in a bigger financial incentive ($100,000 to players on the winning team, $50,000 to the losers).

With that, Team LeBron rallied to defeat Team Stephen 148-145 Sunday at Staples Center.

Team LeBron captain LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers made the go-ahead layup with 34.5 seconds to play and was the game’s MVP with 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. Team LeBron played swarming defense in the final seconds, trapping Team Stephen captain Stephen Curry to prevent him from even attempting a game-tying 3-pointer.

From timeouts being called for strategy, to the defense being played at key moments, the All-Star Game actually looked like an NBA game. Ditching the traditional East vs. West format and going with a fantasy-style draft created a buzz that had been lacking as there were questions about who was picked first and last, and the thinking behind James’ and Curry’s selections.

“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,” James said. “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.”

The push to change the All-Star came after years of complaints about players not taking the game seriously. There were big scoring numbers being put up, but with players not even attempting to stop each other, not much stock was put into the statistics.

Players and coaches believe the format change helped the game become more competitive.

“I thought tonight was a great first step of going forward of how we should approach the All-Star Game,” said Team LeBron coach Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors. “We’re a shining light around the world, as far as basketball is concerned. Coaches, AAU coaches, high school coaches, coaches in Italy, all looking at our game and saying, hey, no disrespect to the Harlem Globetrotters, and that’s not a good narrative, that’s not a good description for our great game because we’ve got too many great coaches, too many great players, developmental coaches, and we put too much time and effort to lose the image that we’ve built up.”

Curry said the new format brought an positive energy to the game.

“I think the new format really just gave us an opportunity to hit the reset button and take ownership of the game and understand that there’s a way to do it to up the level of competitiveness and intensity a little bit,” the Golden State Warriors guard said. “... Put on a great show and have an actual game and not just up and back, the olé defense, just watching basically a pseudo dunk contest.”

James and Curry said they wouldn’t mind being captains again if given the opportunity. Each got the most votes from fans in their respective conference to earn the role.

More importantly, they hope the way the game was played will carry over to next year’s game in Charlotte.

“Hopefully (Sunday) will set the tone for years to couple of how to do it the right way,” Curry said. “How to appreciate the opportunity we have to play in front of the world, basically, and celebrate what it means to be an All-Star, because I think that’s why we’re all here.”

Jason Jones: @mr_jasonjones, read more about the team at sacbee.com/kings.

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