With no on-court representation for either New York-based NBA team Sunday night, the Ohio players fittingly took center stage at the All-Star Game in Cleveland.
Stephen Curry ridiculously fired his way to 50 points to earn the Kobe Bryant MVP trophy and lead fellow Akron native and Cavaliers legend LeBron James’ team to a 163-160 victory over the squad captained by absent Nets superstar Kevin Durant.
The MVP award was renamed this year after Bryant, the late Lakers great who was an 18-time All-Star. Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, was in attendance for the star-studded halftime ceremony honoring the best players in the 75-year history of the league.
“It’s pretty special, obviously, being back in Ohio, playing with the best guys in the league and celebrating the highest level of basketball,” said Curry, who was honored as part of the league’s all-time Top 75. [MVP] trophy has a very special meaning, honoring Kobe and [his daughter] Gigi and everybody that was lost two years ago. Very humbled, very blessed, and I really appreciate it.”
Durant already wasn’t going to play due to a knee injury, but he did not attend or get to take part in the league’s 75th anniversary team celebration at halftime due to the death of his grandmother.
Curry, who was born in Ohio while his father Dell played for the Cavaliers, initially heard boos during pregame introductions at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. His Warriors won three NBA titles at the expense of James and the Cavs — while also losing once to them in the Finals — from 2015-18.
Curry buried an All-Star record 16 3-pointers on 27 attempts — many from well beyond the arc — for a game-high 50 points, two behind Anthony Davis’ 2017 record. James finished with 24, including the game-sealing turnaround jumper, while first-time All-Stars Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen of the hometown Cavs combined for 23 points for Team LeBron. Sixers center Joel Embiid led Team Durant with 36 points.
“When Steph does this, you become a spectator. We all were. A 50-ball, that’s crazy in the All-Star Game,” Garland said. “I was a spectator, a fan, even though I was on the same team as him.”
“Come on, man, this guy is from a different planet,” James said about Curry. “He literally has an automatic sniper attached to his arm and when he lets it go, everybody … is thinking it’s going in every time.
“To be out there and watch that [other] kid from Akron shoot the ball the way he shot it, it was unbelievable.”
James, who hugged NBA legend Michael Jordan during the halftime celebration, already has switched teams in pursuit of championships multiple times in his career, but the Lakers star’s next big move could be for far more personal reasons.
While preparing for his 18th consecutive All-Star start, James said definitively on Saturday that he plans to sign with whichever NBA team drafts his son, Bronny — who is currently a junior in high school — when the younger James becomes eligible in 2024.
“My last year will be with my son. Wherever Bronny’s at, that’s where I’ll be,” LeBron told The Athletic on Saturday. “I would do whatever it takes to play with my son for one year. It’s not about the money at that point.”
The 37-year-old James is under contract with the Lakers next season at $44.5 million. He would have to sign a one-year deal for 2023-24 before being able to enact his plan to play with his son. The 6-foot-3 guard for Sierra Canyon High School (Calif.) is ranked 43rd in the country in the 2023 class by ESPN.
The four-time NBA MVP has much more immediate concerns with the middling Lakers, but James fully embraced and enjoyed this weekend in Cleveland. He even said in The Athletic story that “the door’s not closed” on another return to the rising Cavaliers, adding, “I’m not saying I’m coming back and playing, I don’t know. I don’t know what my future holds.”
“I’m happy for me to be back here,” James said after Sunday’s game. “A game-winner and All-Star Game… and to see some of the greatest basketball players of all time because they inspired us so much. For me to be here today … I can’t even picture that moment any better.”
Suns guard Chris Paul will miss 6-8 weeks with an avulsion fracture of his right thumb, but the 12-time All-Star played two first-half minutes with a brace around his hand. Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell also was a late scratch for Team LeBron with a non-COVID illness.