When LeBron James became the youngest-ever NBA All-Star MVP in 2006, he said during the trophy presentation: “I’d like to thank the fans for voting me in as a starter”. Twelve years later, he sounds similar, maybe just a little more thoughtful: “It’s always been my fans who voted me in. For 14 straight years, my fans have voted me in as an All-Star starter, and it’s been up to me to go out and let them know and show them, listen, I appreciate that, and here’s what I’m going to give to you every time you vote me in”. He plays similarly, too. LeBron again won All-Star MVP, leading his team to a 148-145 victory Sunday. He finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. LeBron said: “Every night I step on the floor, I have to lead my guys or prove to myself that I’m still able to play at a high level. I feel great”. The 12-year gap between LeBron’s first and last All-Star MVP – he also won in 2008 – is the longest in NBA history. It tops the 10 years between Michael Jordan’s first (1988) and last (1998). Players’ effort in this exhibition game comes and goes, but LeBron appeared invigorated. When LeBron’s team trailed by 15 in the second quarter, he checked in and quickly led it back into the lead. When his team fell behind by 13 midway through the fourth quarter, he again led a spirited comeback. He hit the go-ahead bucket. Despite playing a game-high 31 minutes, his intensity lasted all the way through the final buzzer. His coach, the Raptors’ Dwane Casey, said he asked LeBron whether to foul or defend on the final possession while up three. LeBron said defend. “If he says that, or any great players say that, you want to go with them because it was their idea, their belief, and he had it,” Casey said. “…He got the guys jacked up and juiced up as far as wanting to get a stop”. LeBron and Kevin Durant swarmed Stephen Curry, who couldn’t shoot and could barely pass. Curry’s team didn’t even get a shot off:
LeBron added: “As you can hear in my voice, that tells how competitive it was”. Again, his message echoed 2006: “We’re competitors, and our competitive nature kicked in and said let’s get some defensive stops”. A lot will get made about the format change, and it might have mattered. But maybe LeBron is just uniquely capable of dominating and embracing of this stage all these years later.
When Paul George and LeBron James took the Staples Center floor as teammates in the NBA All-Star game on Sunday night, the millions of Lakers fans tuning in hardly noticed the team logos on their black jerseys. Sure, James still plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers and George is a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. But in their purple-and-gold dream world, where all these years of bad basketball and free agency failings finally come to an end, the soon-to-be free agents will join forces and spend the next few years returning glory to the once-proud franchise. They’ll recap all the supposed bread crumbs that have been left behind along the way, including the growth of James’ business dealings in Los Angeles that were clearly a prelude to his arrival; the recent purchase of a $23 million Brentwood home; George’s childhood spent 90 minutes from here in Palmdale, Calif., and how his well-chronicled interest in joining the Lakers has to mean he’ll sign that maximum salary contract top executive Magic Johnson will be offering come July.
The awkward dynamic was there for all to see even on Saturday, when Lakers fans who paid $10 to sit in the bleachers at media day chanted “We want Paul” while he spoke with reporters about his free agency future. George took it in stride at his assigned station, but his Thunder co-star who was two tables away, Russell Westbrook, wasn’t about to let this kind of recruiting go unchecked. “That’s out,” he hollered after interrupting himself mid-sentence to address the crowd that was some 100 feet away. “Paul ain’t going nowhere; it’s over for that.” The chanting stopped. “See how quickly they silenced,” Westbrook said with a grin. “It’s a long ways until the end of the season,” George explained. “There’s no awkwardness (being in LA amid all the Lakers speculation). I’m a Thunder (player), and that’s all there is to it. I’m not one foot in, one foot out. I know what team I’m representing, and I know what our main goal is. There’s no awkwardness. This organization knows what’s important to me, and that’s all it is. They know what’s important to me.” No one can blame Lakers fans for daring to dream, but history hasn’t been in their favor when it comes to this sort of free agency swooning – even when players like George have the local connection that so many see as an advantage. The irony of it all? James and George both have teammates who fit that bill.
Philadelphia 76ers star J.J. Redick defended himself on Sunday after the emergence of a video in which he appeared to use a racial slur to address NBA fans in China. In an online video compilation of NBA players sending seasonal greetings to fans celebrating Chinese New Year, Redick appears to refer to “chink” fans. Redick said: “I just want to wish all of the NBA chink fans in China, a very happy Chinese New Year”. Redick responded to the controversy on Twitter early Sunday, blaming a verbal slip for his use of the word. “Just saw a video that is being circulated of me wishing a happy new year to NBA fans in China,” Redick wrote. “Clearly I was tongue tied, as the word I purportedly said is not in my vocabulary. I’m disappointed that anyone would think I would use that word. I love and respect our friends in China.” Redick joined the 76ers this season, the latest stop on a career that has included previous spells with the Orlando Magic, Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers.