CHARLOTTE -- With a second straight Team LeBron comeback and another All-Star Weekend in the books, let's roll through some thoughts and observations from on the ground in Charlotte.
It's no one's fault when an All-Star Weekend goes down as a dud. The weekends' legacies typically depend on the excitement of the events themselves, and it was always going to be tough to live up to last year's All-Star classic between Team LeBron and Team Steph, but 2019 in Charlotte was underwhelming.
The game was fine, but between a quiet crowd all weekend and a disappointing dunk contest, it's tough to leave Charlotte feeling like you witnessed something special. What was the defining moment of the weekend? Hamidou Diallo dunking over Shaq? Jayson Tatum's half-court shot to win the Skills Challenge? The appreciation for Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki was awesome, but the weekend left something to be desired.
Kevin Durant earned All-Star MVP honors for being the best player on the winning team but, as has become the norm this season, Giannis Antetokounmpo was by far the best player on the court, finishing with 38 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, and a steal on 17-of-23 shooting in 27 minutes.
"I had my name on that MVP until the third quarter," Antetokounmpo said after the game. "They got hot and took it away from me."
A few interactions over the course of one weekend doesn't make an expert on the pulse of a community, but if one common perception was confirmed in Charlotte, it's that - in the basketball world - North Carolina is college country.
Multiple Uber drivers on Thursday mentioned they completely forgot All-Star Weekend was in town until they started picking up arriving media members at the airport, most locals prefer to talk Duke or UNC rather than Hornets ball, and college alumni from the state (like Danny Green) got noticeably warmer welcomes from the crowd than their peers.
It doesn't help that the Hornets aren't exactly a team on the rise. They sit seventh in the East at 27-30, have Kemba Walker's free agency to deal with this summer, and struck out on the trade deadline after being linked to some impact names. All-Star hosts usually have some upward-trending momentum to celebrate, whether authentic or not. However, Buzz City lacked ... buzz.
The weekend did little to quiet the #FreeKemba movement.
Media in attendance took note of the time Durant and Kyrie Irving spent together during Saturday's All-Star practice and scrambled to capture their one-on-one game towards the end of the session. The interaction likely meant nothing, but if the pending free agents join forces this summer, that practice deserves at least a note in the oral history of their partnership.
Because of his involvement in Friday's Rising Stars game and Saturday's skills contest, Luka Doncic was one of the few players present at both media day sessions, holding availability at least four times in two days due to his post-event responsibilities.
Unlike most young players who've faced similar situations, Doncic's crowds barely seemed to dwindle over the course of the weekend, creating a circus-like atmosphere around the teenage sensation.
The timing caught media and some of the league's power brokers off guard, but the New Orleans Pelicans' decision to fire general manager Dell Demps didn't surprise anyone. Though some bad luck played a factor, the club drafted horribly, mismanaged assets, assembled ill-fitting and imbalanced rosters, and generally squandered seven years to build around a transcendent talent under Demps' leadership.
Anthony Davis handled his trade request horribly, and Pelicans PR had to steer the conversation away from the off-court drama during Davis' media availability Saturday, but the stench around the team this weekend was of the franchise's own creation.
With the Kings finally starting to figure things out this season, the consensus at All-Star Weekend is that the Pelicans are on a shortlist of organizations vying for the title of most dysfunctional.
The biggest pop of the weekend from a seemingly apathetic crowd might've been for Allen Iverson, who was one of the legends on hand and was recognized during a stoppage in play Sunday. Even Michael Jordan, who brought the crowd a bit of life when he emerged to hand All-Star duties off to Chicago late in the fourth quarter, couldn't get the crowd as fired up as The Answer did.
The irony of His Airness passing the torch to Chicago (and the Reinsdorfs) wasn't lost on anyone, but many media and fans were equally puzzled by how little we saw of Jordan. Aside from an NBA Cares event, the Legends Brunch, and the aforementioned moment with Chicago Bulls president Michael Reinsdorf to cap the weekend, Jordan was nowhere near as visible as most assumed he would be, at least from a public perspective.
All-Star Weekend has become a prime battleground in the sneaker wars, and with a couple new players at the table, this year was no exception.
Laceless basketball shoes were all the rage for Nike and Adidas, which launched the tech-heavy Adapt BB and N3XT L3V3l, respectively, in Charlotte. Puma debuted its Uproar Hybrid, which features a different colorway for each foot.
Meanwhile, New Balance's marketing of Kawhi Leonard's newly unveiled debut signature shoe with the brand, the OMN1S, got everyone's attention for how perfectly it captured Leonard's all-business approach. "It portrays who I am as a player," Leonard said of the promotional video at media day Saturday. "They want me to be me."
Ironically, the weekend seemed to bring out a more outgoing version of Leonard.
One of the cool things about All-Star Weekend is that fans and media alike usually get to see a more laid-back, personable, and natural version of these larger-than-life stars. A perfect example came during halftime on Sunday, when many players could be spotted among the courtside crowd taking in J. Cole's performance.
"That's my favorite rapper," Damian Lillard told reporters. "I was planning on getting out there either way, but I heard (LeBron James) say, 'Coach, we're gonna head out there and watch it,' and everyone kind of just went right after him, so that was an easy decision."
Team LeBron coach Mike Malone added some color to the anecdote at his postgame press conference.
"What really happened was I was in the coaches' locker room, and LeBron asked if the team could go out and watch the J. Cole concert, and I said 'Listen, I'll let you go watch the concert if you promise to get your ass back in transition,'" Malone said.
The motivation worked, as Team LeBron outscored Team Giannis 96-69 in the second half after trailing 95-82 at halftime.
Anthony, son of former NBAer Greg Anthony, is one of the top recruits in the 2019 class and is projected as a top-10 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Anthony didn't have his best game Thursday, but you can tell he's operating at a different level than his peers with the way the point guard controls and sees the game.
Irving appeared to take his Team USA coaching duties fairly seriously at Friday's Rising Stars Challenge. While Team World's honorary coach, Nowitzki, calmly enjoyed most of the action from the bench, Irving hilariously paced the sidelines and gesticulated with every big play. He even mastered the timeless coaching art of forcefully applauding every possession, regardless of whether it was a successful trip down the floor or his team just needed some encouragement.
A lot of what happens across the NBA's 29 arenas, from a game-ops perspective, is familiar, so whether it's All-Star Weekend or The Finals, minor details here and there can really make a difference in the viewing experience. To that end, the baskets seemed to be mic'd-up more than usual for the in-arena crowd Sunday, so that every bounce off the rim or swish of the mesh really popped throughout the Spectrum Center. More teams should do this.
Friday's Rising Stars Challenge, meanwhile, began with an introductory video hosted by Bill Nye, which became a science lesson on how stars are formed.
On a completely random game-ops note, forget the played out Kiss Cam or Dance Cam - fans at Bojangles' Coliseum were treated to the Lion King Cam during Saturday afternoon's All-Star practice. If you haven't witnessed this rarity in person, the camera cuts to parents in the crowd with small children, and those parents are encouraged to lift their kids like Rafiki presenting Simba while "Circle of Life" blares over the speakers. This needs to catch on in arenas everywhere.