Pick any of the four major North American sports and you’ll find (at best) mixed reactions when it comes to the excitement level surrounding All-Star weekend. Personally, I’ve been more of a skeptic than a believer in years past, largely due to the games themselves. I mean, considering only one of the four (Baseball) brings a level of defensive intensity to the table (and that’s by default), can you really blame me?
I get it, though. It’s not exactly supposed to be an intensified experience. With the amount of money being thrown around these days (particularly NBA wise) combined with the potential of a player getting hurt in a rather meaningless game, going through the motions and putting on a show makes much more business sense than pulling out a playbook. Just ask the NFL’s non-guaranteed-contract way of life as to why the Pro Bowl is an annual dud.
The NBA Bottom line: No other All-Star Weekend is more tailor made for Social Media, for better or for worse. Jaime Foxx wouldn’t be hanging out behind an NHL bench, MLB doesn’t have plans to get Justin Bieber any at bats, and Common likely won’t be holding a clipboard on an NFL sideline anytime soon. How about that first step from Andre De Grasse, though! Wait, he did play last night, right?
— Mike Nelson lll (@thethirdjersey) February 17, 2018
Nevertheless, it’s not my intention to put a damper on the weekend’s festivities. There’s always room for optimism. Even with the hit-and-miss history of the Dunk and 3-point contests, I think we’re all well acquainted with just how much they can deliver. More importantly, though, the season’s first 57 games have put the vast majority of Raptors fans in too good of a mood to let negatively seep in before the show starts.
Besides, this city’s connection with All-Star Saturday night only brings back fond memories. In case your Raptors/NBA fandom is new, look no further than (arguably) the top two Saturday nights of all time (more on those in a sec). Furthermore, the new drafted format for Sunday that’s put Dwane Casey on opposite sides of Lowry and DeRozan also has a chance to provide a few episodes of intriguing comic relief.
But about those aforementioned and historic Saturday nights:
I realize MJ’s Dunk battle with Dominique Wilkins in ’88 puts up a fight in any conversation for supremacy. It’s a flashback that will never lose its star power. Which means it was only fitting that Vince Carter incorporated elements of each when he made jaws drop in Oakland back in 2000 (Tracy McGrady was no slouch, either). It then made even more sense that the best one since took place on Toronto soil 16 years later.
Any other nominees? Feel free to suggest a contender that can match any of the big three. Blake Murphy’s recent piece at Dime On UPROXX would be a good place to refresh your memory.
Now, all this reminiscing brings a few thoughts to mind. Cause up until the Raps’ culture change extended long enough to believe in, I can only assume that Vince’s takeover of the Dunk Contest still sat on any Mount Rushmore of memorable moments. Well, at least for those who weren’t still holding a grudge. With this season in mind, let’s see if I can call this correctly.
The New and Improved Mount Rushmore: Most Memorable Moments in Raptors’ History (in no particular order; you be the judge):
1. The hours after the Raps tied their 2015-16 playoff series with the Cavs at two games apiece. I’ve never seen this city more alive after a basketball game. Any thoughts that T.O. couldn’t hang with the elite were all but erased. Well, at least until everybody sobered up.
2. The split seconds before Dell Curry’s inbound pass to Vince Carter in Game 7 of the 2001 Eastern Semi-Finals. The potential series-winning shot may have clanked but that was a point in time where fans were just happy to be there. I remember parts of that season vividly. With the Raps squarely playing the role of this city’s third fiddle, it was like how an underground hip hop group just dropped a classic album and a bunch of friends thought they were the only one who knew about them and they didn’t want it any other way.
3. Damon Stoudamire laid the groundwork, Vince made it official, and Chris Bosh gave us renewed hope in spurts. But the 2013-14 playoff series with Brooklyn gave birth to a brand new movement that hasn’t stopped growing. Ultimately coming up short paled in comparison to how much of a shift took place. Original fans would were always going to be there, but with a five-year gap between postseason appearances, our batteries desperately needed to be recharged. In the process, a new generation latched on, especially with the rest of this city’s sports teams coming up lame at the same time. A perfect storm, indeed.
4. Fast forward to the here and now. Let’s start with a few tweets to emphasize the excitement. Here’s Blake again along with fellow RR writer, Anthony Doyle. Right afer the Raps sealed their seventh straight win on Valentine’s Day:
Related: The Raptors have 30+ assists for the 8th time (6th most in the NBA). They had 30+ eight times over the last five years combined.
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) February 15, 2018
Honestly, as someone who’s been a Raptors fan since the beginning, it’s hard to express just how incredible this season feels.
— Anthony Doyle (@Anthonysmdoyle) February 15, 2018
Crunch time issues, rebounding lapses, and the laughing stock that no Raptor was officially deemed a “rising star” aside, we’re currently in the midst of a dream scenario that very few (if anyone) predicted.
The “Da Bench Mob” factor has been beaten to death, but other than DeMar DeRozan slowly getting brought up in MVP conversations, they really are this story’s co-star. Here’s a few contributions outside of the obvious:
A) There’s so much depth that the bench has all but been able to maintain its mob mentality regardless if a select group of players experience a slump at any given time. They’ve been a rotational backbone and a huge advantage.
B) One of the few ways Masai’s demand to press the reset button was going to come alive, was for everyone to finally trust each other. A production line of players ready to play any role on any given night has made that look easy. Better yet, Casey should have been this section’s lead. His balancing act has been a joy to watch unfold. Even when it’s meant certain players have to get roster crunched in a specific matchup…. Now that’s something I wouldn’t/couldn’t promote in previous years. As for the idea of shortening the bench for the remaining 26 games to get a playoff roation ready, the majority of the mob is forcing the issue for things to remain the way they are.
C) It only makes sense that they rendered the trade deadline a moot point as well. I’ve previously played devil’s advocate and suggested capitalizing on a window with Lowry at the helm might be an avenue worth traveling, but attempting to achieve the best of both worlds with the youth catching up fast enough was the mindset from the start. You can argue that it was a gamble back then but have to respect it now.
But of course, I’ll end this piece by knocking on wood. If we’ve learned anything over the past couple of years, it’s not to let our passion cloud our judgement. It’s a difficult but necessary task. John Wall and Kevin Love will be back, the Celtics will likely get their sh!t together, and the Cavs, well, instead of Cleveland self-destructing, I’m thinking it would be more satisfying for the Raps to conquer demons of their past to get where they want to go in the future. This time with home court advantage swung the other way.
3-point: Devin Booker
Dunk: Dennis Smith Jr.
Skills: Yeah, the NBA can do better than this event.
Who ya got??