Great, competitive basketball is the most appropriate tribute to the late Kobe Bryant, an 18-time NBA All-Star.
The 2020 NBA All-Star Game received a facelift that perfectly embodied what the game is supposed to be—a contest between the greats of our time. Although the new format of the game was initially brushed off by fans as complicated and confusing, it turned out to create one of the best All-Star games in recent memory.
In the past, the ASG has followed the format of a typical NBA basketball game: the team with the most points at the end of four 12-minute quarters wins.
For years, fans have been complaining that the ASG was boring and pointless. They were right. Some of the world’s top athletes weren’t trying, especially on defense. Teams were individually racking up scores upwards of 200 points.
It made sense that nobody would try—there was no incentive to win. Sure, an All-Star MVP award is nice, but having fun in a casual game with your peers is better. Plus, nobody wants to get injured in a game that means nothing when it comes to playoffs.
The NBA has been trying to shake up the game for a few years. In 2018, it debuted team captains instead of simply pitting East against West. It also had each team select a charity to play for. In 2019, the NBA televised the captains drafting their teams after fans showed interest in the process.
Finally, in 2020, it seems like the NBA has struck gold with the new game style. According to this new format, the first three quarters of the game are played essentially as mini games, with the score resetting after the end of every 12 minutes. The winner of each quarter wins $100,000 for their chosen charity.
For the fourth quarter, the scores from the first three quarters are tallied up and 24 points are added to the leading team’s score. The game clock is turned off, and the first team to reach that score wins the game and $300,000 for its charity.
This year, the first quarter went to Team LeBron, while Team Giannis took the second. The third quarter ended in a tie. The final target score was set at 157 points, and it became an exciting next-shot-wins scenario. Eventually, Team LeBron took home the trophy with Anthony Davis hitting the winning free throw.
The updated format made each quarter winnable and gave both teams a reason to play competitive basketball. Usually, All-Star games don’t get even slightly competitive until deep in the fourth quarter, but each quarter had a clear purpose this year.
The added bonus of playing each quarter for charity also increased the desire to win. It would look terrible for players to not give their full effort when a huge sum of money was on the line for the youth of Chicago, and this could seriously impact their futures.
By winning the game and the first quarter, Team LeBron won $400K for the Chicago-based charity Chicago Scholars. 200 of the students in the organization were present to watch Chicago-native Davis hit the game-winning shot.
“It feels like we hit the lottery...this is bigger than basketball,” Jeffery Beckham Jr., an executive with the organization, told the Chicago Sun Times.
Although Team Giannis lost the game, it still won $100K for another Chicago-based charity, After School Matters. Giannis additionally announced on Monday via Twitter that the charity would be receiving another $100K on behalf of his team, which included stars like Joel Embiid, Kemba Walker, and Jimmy Butler.
This new format encouraged defensive effort, which brought about some of the most exciting moments of the game. Defensive stops are everything when your shots aren’t falling in the Elam ending method.
Fans saw this effort when Giannis had two huge blocks on the opposing captain, LeBron. Kyle Lowry made one of the game's greatest efforts when he took a charge from James Harden. Without the call, Harden would have hit the game-winning three-pointer.
With a first-to-157 style, the format was reminiscent of a pickup basketball game. There was no garbage time. By the end of the fourth quarter, literally every shot mattered. The score was 156–155 when Davis made the game-winning free throw, showing that any singular possession could win the game.
The game was played with playoff-like intensity. It was compelling for fans to watch players accustomed to being their team's primary scoring option play with and against other go-to guys.
The game also served as a tribute to Kobe and his daughter Gianna, further motivating the players to win. Every player on Team Giannis wore 24 for Kobe, while every player on Team LeBron wore Gianna’s number 2. The Elam Ending, in which 24 points were added to reach a final score, was originally suggested by Chris Paul. This key feature further exemplified Kobe’s influence.
Kobe Bryant was the ultimate competitor, famous for his work ethic and drive for success. This carried over to the 2020 All-Star Game. It seemed like every player wanted to honor him by competing hard on both ends of the court and striving to win.
Be sure to follow @BCGavelSports for all of the latest updates on Boston College athletics.