LOS ANGELES — The NBA’s latest experiment will finally yield results Sunday night, as the 67th All-Star Game—the first to feature rosters drafted by All-Stars themselves—will take place in L.A. LeBron James’s squad has a formidable one-two punch with him and Kevin Durant in the starting lineup, but Stephen Curry’s gang may be in better shape after real-life injuries drained some serious star power from his opponent. Of course, the only way any of this will matter is if the players actually care.
It’s hard to get a sense of how much effort the players will put into the game, because most of them are too busy to reveal how they feel about it. All-Stars are shuffled from interview to “activation” to sponsored space seemingly every waking moment of the weekend, and no one really seems to bring up the actual game they have to play Sunday. You could say there’s somewhat of a buzz here in Los Angeles, but that could be more of a result of the city itself than any All-Star happenings. (Seriously, Kanye West lives here! I’m so ready to bump into him while buying a smoothie or something.)
One player The Crossover spoke to who did seem excited for some competition was Pistons center Andre Drummond, who promised he came to play. Drummond, a former Rising Stars MVP, told The Crossover before that game in 2014 he warned everyone in the locker room he wasn’t there to mess around. Drummond wasn’t exactly confident the All-Star Game’s new format would lead to a heated contest, but he did tell Crossover editor Matt Dollinger and I the $100,000 prize for the winners should have players going a little harder in the second half.
If the All-Stars do pick up their level of play, there are certainly some storylines worth following. How will LeBron James and Kyrie Irving look as teammates for the first time since Irving’s trade to the Boston Celtics? James made a seemingly political move by selecting Irving, who apparently wanted no part of playing with James in Cleveland. I’m sure both players will play nice for the cameras, but I also hope we find out some more details about that relationship. James-Irving isn’t the only awkward reunion on his roster. Durant will re-team with Russell Westbrook, and there’s been no shortage of drama in that relationship since Durant left OKC in 2016. Westbrook will also be in the same locker room as Victor Oladipo, who has taken his career to new heights after exiting Russ’s shadow.
There’s much less palace intrigue on Team Stephen. Three of the four Warriors are on the roster, there are no injury replacements and no obvious bad blood. It will be interesting to see how Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni handles being in charge of three players from Houston’s fiercest rival, but that situation is nothing new.
The loaded rosters, as always, make for some potentially hilarious lineup combinations. James can rollout a five-man group of himself, Durant, Anthony Davis, Paul George and Russell Westbrook, which will almost certainly happen at some point. Curry can play himself, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, then mix-match the final two spots of the death lineup, perhaps joining forces with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid, or maybe James Harden and Karl-Anthony Towns. The possibilities are incredible, and don’t be surprised if Steph puts five guards on the court together at some point.
For those less interested in the game and more so the spectacle, the typical entertainment accoutrements will be served up as well. Kevin Hart will lead the pregame introductions, and he told The Crossover that moment of the night alone will be a celebrity-studded affair. Pharrell Williams and N.E.R.D. will perform at halftime, while Fergie will sing the national anthem. (The Barenaked Ladies will be on hand for the Canadian national anthem.) If nothing else, Hart will inject some energy into the pregame hoopla. I miss the days when players would choreograph a little something for introductions. Hopefully being out in Hollywood will get everyone’s creative juices flowing again.
There’s really not much more to say about the All-Star Game between now and 8 p.m. ET, when the whole production will tip off. All that’s left to do is to hope for a game that’s close enough that players will feel the need to compete a little harder for the extra cash down the stretch. To the NBA’s credit, Adam Silver and Co. tried on their end to give the game the shot in the arm it desperately needed. It will ultimately be up to the players to stop the game from being a glorified scrimmage.