ATLANTA (WNCN) — It has been a while since we were able to see the NBA’s best talent all get together under one venue and put on a show.
The NBA put on a condensed All-Star Weekend this year due to COVID-19 and used the evening to highlight and donate to Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
The usual Friday-to-Sunday affair all took place on Sunday, with the league’s skills competition kicking off the evening followed by the three-point contest.
If you’ve casually watched the NBA’s All-Star Weekend over the years, you’d expect the dunk contest to come next, right?
No, instead, the NBA began the All-Star game next and let the young guys fly for the dunk contest at halftime of the game. It was a brilliant idea and it remains to be seen if the NBA will continue this format going forward.
Former Duke Blue Devils Jayson Tatum, Zion Williamson, and Cassius Stanley were among those competing on Sunday night, with the first two in the NBA All-Star game, while Stanley showed off the bounce in the dunk competition. Tatum also competed in the three-point contest.
Tatum and Williamson shared the court as teammates for the first time for the handpicked ‘Team Kevin Durant’ as they faced off against LeBron James’ handpicked team. Both emerged as starters in the contest and made the most of the opportunity.
Williamson, who is averaging 25.6 points per game this season for his New Orleans Pelicans wasted no time getting thrown into the action. His teammates looked to throw him alley-oops early and often. It was almost like they dreamed of throwing alleys to Zion. He caught a few of them, but others he mishandled.
Either way, it was great to see his high-flying, power-dunking ability on display in his first All-Star appearance.
Williamson played 14 minutes and scored 10 points on the night.
Jayson Tatum showed off his scoring ability in this one, scoring 21 points on the night in just 17 minutes of action.
Tatum, who is averaging 24.9 points per game for the Boston Celtics this season, competed against teammate Jaylen Brown and the two made sure they traded buckets to tease each other about in practice.
Competing in the three-point contest earlier in the night likely kept him warm and ready to go as he wasn’t shy about getting shots up in the game.
Tatum was dunking, nailing long-range jumpers and also getting others involved as he had seven assists on the night.
Team LeBron, however, arguably had the NBA’s best assortment of talent on one team and appeared to overmatch Team Durant in a 170-150 win for Captain LeBron James and company.
Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo took home the Kobe Bryant Most Valuable Player award and was a perfect 16-of-16 from the field, an unprecedented All-Star game feat.
A three-point barrage by Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard (eight made threes apiece) also helped power the team to a win.
The NBA’s dunk contest featured three of the league’s youngest high flyers. Competing against Stanley was Portland Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons and New York Knicks forward Obi Toppin, all three of which are no older than 23 years old.
Stanley got the contest rolling with a flashy “Eastbay” dunk, setting the tone albeit a bit of an underwhelming affair.
Stanley, who arguably had the best dunk of the night only got a 44 for a dunk he and others believed to be worth the perfect 50 score.
The Indiana Pacers guard, who has yet to dunk in an NBA game, threw an alley to himself before leaping and taking the ball through his legs and effortlessly flushing it.
On his second dunk, Stanley was gearing up for what looked like an even flashier dunk than his first. Unfortunately, he couldn’t quite pull it off and settled for a much simpler-looking slam and didn’t get a good enough score to push him through to the finals.
Stanley received a 37 on the second dunk and finished third in the contest.
The NBA used the jam-packed event to highlight Historically Black Colleges and Universities and leading, and up-and-coming Black men and women.
The Clark Atlanta University Philharmonic Society performed the Black National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” written by University alumnus James Weldon Johnson.
Team LeBron earned a total of $750,000 for its charity, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, while Team Durant donated $500,000 to the United Negro College Fund.
Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University’s (FAMU) Marching 100 performed during introductions for Team LeBron while Team Durant was introduced with a performance from Grambling State University.
The court played on in Atlanta’s State Farm Arena featured designs from HBCU students and the Beats headphones worn by players were designed by Elijah Rutland, a student at FAMU.
The NBA says the court design – created in collaboration with HBCU alumni from various schools – is “vibrant and energetic, incorporating icons representing the best of HBCU academics, music and campus life while connecting back to the celebration of the game at center court.”
Seven-time Grammy Award winner and Shaw University alumna Gladys Knight sung the National Anthem.
The league partnered with United Negro College Fund (UNCF), Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), National Association for Equal Opportunity (NAFEO), and Direct Relief’s Fund as well as presenting partners AT&T, MTN DEW, and Taco Bell to provide an evening of HBCU exposure and raise awareness around the disparate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color.