THANDO CELE

The National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star Weekend is an annual American weekend-long entertainment festival that is usually held in the second week of February. It consists of a vast number of exhibition games, basketball events, and performances from artists and comedians alike during the course of the weekend, all building up to the finale of the festival: the NBA All-Star Game, which takes place on the Sunday night. This year’s version of the All-Star Game took place in Toronto at the Ricoh Coliseum (home of the Toronto Raptors) and was the first time that the All-Star Game was held outside the US.

This year’s NBA All-Star Weekend kicked off on Friday 12 February, with the highlight of the evening being the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game that saw a matchup of Team Canada vs Team USA. It was hosted by Canadian rapper Drake and four-time Celebrity Game Most Valuable Player (MVP) and stand-up comedian Kevin Hart. It featured 21 players, including actors Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Anthony Anderson, O’Shea Jackson, Jr., Joel David Moore and Tom Cavanagh, and TV hosts Nick Cannon and Terrence Jenkins. The game also included four NBA legends in Chauncey Billups, Muggsy Bogues, Tracy McGrady and Rick Fox, as well as Elena Delle Donne and Tammy Sutton-Brown of the WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association).

Saturday night’s finale came in the form of the Slam Dunk Contest. This competition showcases the creativity and athletic ability of some of the league’s youngest, best dunkers. The competition is always judged rather subjectively, according to the unique preferences of the individual judges. After each dunk (or attempted dunk), competitors are awarded a mark out of 10 from five judges, giving a possible high score of 50. The 2016 final was contested between Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic and defending champion Zach LaVine of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Close comparisons were drawn between NBA legends Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins. LaVine defended his title against Gordon, after multiple rounds of sudden death.

The grand finale of All-Star Weekend is, of course, the All-Star Game between the East and West Conferences. The starting five players from each conference are chosen by fans, and the two guards and three frontcourt players who receive the most votes, from each conference, are named the All-Star starters.

Kobe Bryant, of the Los Angeles Lakers, topped the ballots this year with 1 891 614 votes, earning him his 18th All-Star selection in his final season in the NBA after 20 years with the Lakers. Bryant beat out the 2015 leading vote recipient, Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference, who was second this year in total votes with 1 604 325. Other players named in the Western Conference starting five were the Oklahoma City Thunder duo of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs.

LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, with 1 089 206 votes, was the leading player in the Eastern Conference, earning James his 12th career All-Star selection. Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat was also named a starter to his 12th career All-Star Game, with a total of 941 466 votes. Rounding up the Eastern Conference starting lineup were Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors, Paul George of the Indiana Pacers, and Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks.

The West improved their record over the East, winning the game 196-173. The match-up saw Russell Westbrook named MVP for the second time after a performance of 31 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals and a number of highlight reel plays.

The overall score in terms of All-Star Game wins is 37-28 in favour of the Eastern Conference.

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