TORONTO – When the players cleared the court at the Air Canada Centre on Sunday night, the NBA all-star fun continued.
Cheerleaders and just about anybody else with a pass that got them down there crowded onto the hardwood for photo ops or just to savour the moment.
All-star weekend is a party. The game is secondary. And like most good parties, nobody wants to leave.
For those keeping count, the West won 196-173 in a game that erased the existing all-star records for most points by one team (163) and total points by two teams (321). Defence had been left at the border.
While Kobe Bryant waved goodbye, a new generation of NBA stars showed off their party tricks.
West coach Gregg Popovich called the all-star experience “a joy.”
“It’s the most fun I’ve ever had at an all-star game just because of the predominant group of the young talented kids coming up like the new stars and watching them interact with each other was a thrill for me,” said the veteran San Antonio Spurs coach.
“We had fun at practice the other day. They’re just a fun-loving group and they enjoy each other, as much as they enjoy the game. So it was a lot of fun for me. And dinner at night wasn’t bad either.”
Watching the week, one had to marvel at the NBA which invaded the city like a horde of Visigoths. From charity functions to player appearances, the league pulled out all the stops.
Sting did his part, delivering a solid halftime show, albeit one that might not hit the NBA’s younger fans.
Despite the frigid weather, Toronto showed its heart when it comes to hoops.
“I think everybody got the feel of the energy that we witness every single night when we play as Raptors players,” said Toronto forward DeMar DeRozan, who helped demonstrate that with several highlight-reel dunks. “I think all the guys really got insight on how in-tune the city of Toronto and all of Canada is to basketball.”
Added teammate Kyle Lowry: “Toronto, I think we put ourselves on the map a little bit around the world.”
Perhaps, but this weekend is unlikely to boost future travel to Toronto in February given the Ice Station Zebra conditions. Not that February was a high-volume month for tourists to start with.
While the weather was a topic on everyone’s chapped lips, the all-star game produced plenty of other storylines.
There was Bryant’s all-star farewell, Russell Westbrook’s back-to-back MVPs after a 31-point outing and Paul George’s 41-point performance, one off Wilt Chamberlain’s league record. Given George’s long road back from a horrific leg injury, it was a pity he did not get the trophy.
“It would have been a special moment to win it. But really, it was really just about coming here and just enjoying being with these guys, man, and having a good showing,” George said.
Saturday night’s skills competition was a doozy with Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon raising the bar on big air and originality. Even the skills challenge was entertaining as the bigs took on the guards.
Drake gave Torontonians a reason to puff out their chests.
“This is the best game with the best players, finally in the best city in the world,” he said as he introduced the players.
And there was validation from LeBron James.
“Thanks for welcoming our league with open and warm arms,” he said of Toronto and Canada. “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,” he added.