One of my fondest NBA All-Star memories comes from 2007, when then Golden State Warriors guard Monta Ellis turned the Rookie-Sophomore Game into his personal slam dunk contest.
The second-year guard put on an absolute show, with highlight after highlight leading to a 28-point performance. It was mesmerizing.
As a fan, it felt like the Warriors finally had nice things. Like their time to shine was waiting on deck. Here was the future of the franchise, balling out at All-Star weekend - how could this end in any way other than stardom for both the team and the player?
Of course, the reasoning was fallacious, and the Rookie-Sophomore Game (now dubbed the Rising Stars Challenge) is always full of players who never fully materialize, for teams that are perpetually stuck in the mud.
But you can’t blame me for thinking happy thoughts as Ellis threw down dunk after dunk after dunk.
It’s been a long while since I felt that way on the Friday night of the All-Star Game. The last time a Warriors player competed in the Rising Stars Challenge was five years ago, when second-year forward Harrison Barnes took the court.
The Warriors have moved on to bigger and better things than Friday night. For the most part, they’ve moved on to bigger and better things than Saturday night, though they still show up to splash in some triples at the three-point contest.
Golden State is all about Sunday night now.
I still love the Rising Stars Challenge, even though the game itself is usually mediocre. It’s the All-Star Game’s little brother - fewer stars, fewer highlights, but just as little defense and actual competition - but it invokes that feeling in fans that it evoked in me when I watched Ellis jump off the screen. That’s fun.
Tonight’s game starts at 6:00 p.m. PT, and is televised on TNT. It features a lot of exciting players, most notably Ben Simmons and Luka Doncic, who will both compete for Team World.
But, going back to the Warriors for a minute. Golden State has drawn some criticism for their inability to add young players through the back of the draft who can actually help the team. Last year they drafted Jordan Bell in the second round, who, despite an exciting rookie year, has struggled this season. This year they used their late first-round choice on Jacob Evans III, who is simply not NBA-ready.
The Rising Stars challenge is a reminder that it’s really hard to get top talent late in the draft. Of the 21 players competing this year, 13 were lottery picks. And only one of those 21 players - Rodions Kurucs of the Brooklyn Nets - was still on the board when the Warriors turn to draft came around.
Good players are drafted early. I know, I’m not exactly breaking news here . . .
Before the youngsters tip it off, Charlotte will host the silly event at All-Star weekend: The Celebrity Game, which is at 4:00 p.m. PT on ESPN. There aren’t very many big name Hollywood celebrities this year, but there are a lot of talented basketball players competing. To go next to the Quavos and Dr. Ozs of the world there’s Hall of Famer Ray Allen, former NBA second overall pick Jay Williams, reigning WNBA Rookie of the Year A’ja Wilson, and current WNBA center Stefanie Dolson.
So, there might actually be some good basketball played!
If you’re watching the All-Star Friday festivities, hop in the comments and leave your thoughts on the games and all the action. And if you’re not watching . . . don’t worry, there will actually be Warriors on Saturday and Sunday!