Toronto: A Sports Fan's Blog on the NBA All-Star (Feb 2016)
It's no secret that among all North American professional sports, the NBA puts up the best All Star games. I've witnessed a lot in the many years I've been a basketball fan but I was most excited when the NBA declared they were coming to Toronto this year. When it finally came, you could feel the city embracing basketball the way it has embraced hockey and baseball. Basketball was everywhere – the news, social media, TV. Basketball personalities invaded mainstream TV – there was Charles Barkley's guest appearance on Hockey Central and Ayesha Curry's (Steph's Toronto-born wife) appearance on The Social. Basketball heaven had descended upon us!
Although the event officially started on Friday [2/12], I was on it as early as Monday because of the live broadcast from downtown Toronto of "The Starters." Among all the activities, it was probably the one I was most looking forward to. I make sure to catch as many episodes of this show as possible. I just love the energy and vibe, the unique way the hosts analyze the game, always injecting humor in their discussions without putting anyone down. What makes this particular broadcast so special is that the 2 main hosts, J.E. Skeets and Tas Melas, are Toronto natives. After getting their degrees from Ryerson University, they started with basketball podcasts before podcasts became fashionable. One thing led to another and now they have a daily show on NBA TV. The live broadcast during All Star Week was one of the best homecomings I've witnessed. The shows didn't disappoint: the Canada Cup challenge was especially entertaining – a speedskating (without the speed and barely skating) contest at Nathan Phillips Square, battle ax throwing and a poutine eating contest.
Friday, my son Picolo conveniently misplaced my car keys, preventing me from going to work that day. [Good job, Pico! -Ed.] So I had the TV on while working from home – the Rising Stars practice, Media Day and Introduction of the Hall of Fame candidates were on. It was wonderful hearing the NBA crowd's thoughts on the city. My favorite comment, I believe from Kenny Smith, was that Toronto is just like New York City, except cleaner and friendlier, and I couldn't agree more. Although of course there was the occasional quip about how cold it was and nobody believed when they were told it was actually 4 degrees celsius all winter and the city just suddenly turned into the North Pole when All Star weekend started. The Toronto sports media were jokingly lamenting about the timing of this deep chill, saying it would be the final nail on the coffin on the Raptors getting big name free agents like Kevin Durant. It was also amusing to note that the way you can tell a Torontonian from everybody else is in the way Toronto is pronounced. People familiar with the city know that the second T is silent as in Turonno, everybody else says To-ron-to. [Curious about Toronto? For travel tools click here. -Ed.]
It was a pleasant surprise to learn that Kevin Johnson had been nominated to the Hall of Fame. His Phoenix team was one of my favorite teams ever and many, many years ago I had written him a fan letter. (I really did!) He responded with a signed picture and a handwritten note on a Suns letterhead thanking me for the support with the promise of free tickets if I ever find myself in Phoenix. Of course I never got to set foot in Phoenix but there was no doubt in my mind that he wrote that note himself and that he would have followed up on that promise. Public relations seems to be second nature to this guy – he is after all the mayor of Sacramento now.
Honestly, I've always enjoyed All Star Saturday more than Sunday's big game. The only thing I really look forward to on the Sunday event is the intros but it's usually downhill after that. All Star Saturday though is an entirely different story. I thoroughly enjoyed the Skills Challenge. I love that Karl Anthony Towns won. Towns has caught my attention the last few weeks, capped by his dominant performance a few days before the All Stars as the Wolves defeated the Raptors. I'm convinced he'll be better than Anthony Davis, so this kid is in for a paycheck as big as unibrow's. The way he competed and won the Skills Challenge and the support he got from his fellow big men was incredible to watch. The 3 pt contest probably had the most prestigious lineup that I can remember. And as most people have heard by now, the dunk contest was the biggest surprise of all. It was the best All Star Saturday ever and I'm sure I'll find myself watching the replay over and over again.
The Sunday game was Kobe appreciation night, and rightly so. Even non-fans like me would have to admit how much Kobe has influenced the game and its present and future stars. He is a major reason why the NBA is as big as it is now, especially outside North America. His competitive drive is legendary, almost Jordan-esque level, and there is no doubt a personality as influential as him will be missed.
If I had to nitpick the weekend festivities though, there are 3 things I feel would have made it even more special. First, a Vince Carter appearance, especially during the dunk contest, would have made it the perfect All Star Saturday (apparently VC had to attend his daughter's tennis tournament so was unavailable). Second, this lifelong Spurs fan is worried that this will be Tim Duncan's final year and the best power forward to ever play the game deserves to be honored as much as Kobe. It makes me sad to think that he may not be given this opportunity, although with his understated style, this is probably how he prefers to leave the game. And lastly, I wish I had a more active participation in the weekend's revelries instead of just watching from the couch. It was a chance of a lifetime, and I'm afraid I may regret this in the future. I just hope Toronto impressed the NBA honchos so much that they would decide to hold it here again in my lifetime...
[Editor's Note: This is the 1st NBA All-Star Game outside the US in the event's 65-year history and hopefully not the last. Thanks very much to our guest contributor Malou N. of Toronto. Click below to watch highlights. I especially enjoyed the amazing dunks... and the kid's reaction lol!]