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City of angels stand still for NBA stars

Los Angeles, popularly known as the City of Angels, has been abuzz with several NBA programmes in the past week, which climax with the All-Star Game today, reports ‘TANA AIYEJINA

Home of the US film industry, Hollywood, Griffith Park, the Rose Parade in Pasadena, the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona, the LA County Museum of Art and the Long Beach Grand Prix are just a few of the historical sites and events that have made Los Angeles a global centre of tourism and attraction.

But right now, from the Long Beach to Downtown Los Angeles, the over 10million residents of the Los Angeles County have been held spell-bound in the past week, with different activities and programmes of the NBA, which ends on Sunday with the 2018 NBA All-Star Game at the 21,000-capacity Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.

The excited LA residents are now poised to watch the very best of the NBA stars, split into Team LeBron and Team Stephen, live today inside the Staples Center, the home ground of NBA giants Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers.

The All-Star Game, first staged at the Boston Garden on March 2, 1951, is an exhibition game hosted annually by the NBA involving a mix of the league’s star players from the Eastern and Western conferences.

Though played thousands of miles away (7,723miles/12,401km from Lagos), the 2018 All-Star Game is a historic game for the African continent, as three players namely Victor Oladipo of Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks’ forward Giannis ‘Greek Freak’ Antetokoumpo and Joel Embiid, the Philadelphia 76ers centre, would participate in the game, the first time three players of African descent would do so.

Oladipo and Antetokoumpo, though born in the US and Greece respectively, have Nigerian parents, while Embiid, the son of a Cameroonian military officer, Thomas Embiid, was born in Yaounde.

Cleveland Cavaliers small forward LeBron James, a three-time NBA champion and four-time NBA MVP with 14 All-Star Game appearances from 2005 to 2018, is captain of Team LeBron, which also include Oladipo, LaMarcus Aldridge of San Antonio Spurs, Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards) and New Orleans Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis.

Others are Kevin Durant (Golden State Warriors), Kyrie Irving (Boston Celtics), and Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook.

Miami Heats’ Goran Dragic, Andre Drummond of Detroit Pistons, Paul George (Oklahoma City) and Kemba Walker (Charlotte Hornets), have all been brought in to reinforce Team LeBron, after injuries ruled out DeMarcus Cousins (New Orleans), Kevin Love (Cleveland), Kristaps Porzingis (New York Knicks) and John Wall (Washington).

LeBron has also reached a milestone today, with his 14th straight All-Star Game breaking a tie with Bob Cousy for the longest streak in NBA history, With 14 starts, he is one behind Kobe Bryant (15) for the most overall. He also becomes the fifth player to appear in 14 All-Star Games, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (18), Bryant (15), Tim Duncan (15) and Kebin Garnet (14). He’s also the leading scorer in All-Star Game history with 314 points.

Team Stephen is captained by Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, two-time NBA champion, two-time NBA MVP and five-time All Star Game veteran.

Antetokoumpo, Embiid, Jimmy Butler (Minnesota Timberwolves), DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors), Draymond Green (Golden State), James Harden (Houston Rockets), Al Harford (Boston), Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers), Kyle Lowry (Toronto), Klay Thompson (Golden State) and Karl Anthony-Towns (Minnesota) are other members of Team Stephen, which has Mike D’Antoni as head coach.

Toronto Raptors’ Dwane Casey, whose side have the best home record in the NBA and sit atop the Eastern Conference, is the coach of Team LeBron.

Normally, the starting line-up for each squad is selected by a combination of fans, players, and the media voting, while the reserves are chosen by a vote amongst the head coaches from each squad’s respective conference.

However, the NBA introduced a new style for the 2018 edition, in favour of a fantasy draft, of sorts, where LeBron and Curry took turns drafting their teams from the pool of All-Star selections.

This is Antetokoumpo’s second consecutive All-Star Game appearance and it marks a dramatic turn for the 23-year-old, who was born in Athens to Nigerian immigrants and had to hawk watches, bags and sunglasses on the streets to assist his family, after his parents found it difficult getting a job.

For Oladipo, his has been the case of a modest contributor at Indiana University before exploding as a junior and rising to become the second pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. Though, Oladipo has had to surmount challenges, amongst which was being traded twice, before settling in and having a career season with the Pacers, leading to his first All-Star selection.

Indeed, Oladipo’s time with the Pacers has been a revelation. He’s ranked 11th in the NBA in scoring (24.4 points per game) and third in steals with 2.1 steals per game, as he inspired Pacers to a shock sixth-place in the Eastern Conference.

At the beginning of the season, Pacers coach Nate McMillan told Oladipo and his teammates Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis that one of them needed to make the All-Star team within the next two years but Oladipo has attained that, far ahead of McMillian’s time but he’s not done yet.

“I never will be comfortable; it just motivates me to work harder every day. Those game-winning moments, shots and performances are in the past; they ean nothing now,” the 25-year-old said.

“I will never forget making my first All-Star Game. It’s one of those days where you reflect and then you realise you want more,” Oladipo stated.

Embiid, who is the first Philadelphia76ers to start an All-Star Game since Allen Iverson in 2016, says it’s a chance to represent Africa very well on the global stage.

“This is an opportunity to show the world what you are all about. I think it’s a great opportunity to showcase my skills and I’m excited,” the seven-feet tall player told journalists after helping Team World beat Team USA 155-124 in the MTN Dew Kickstart Rising Stars game on Friday night.

Sacramento Kings’ shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic is elated after being named MVP of the Rising Stars game, after he scored 26 points, four rebounds, six assists and 21 steals.

“I worked hard for this opportunity in life and you don’t know when it’s going to come. This (Friday) night it did and I thank my fans, teammates and coaches,” the 25-year-old Serbian said.

NBA Cares, the league’s global social responsibility programme that builds on its mission of addressing important social issues, and the Jr. NBA reached out to thousands of kids, families and those in need across the Greater Los Angeles area.

More than 30 outreach programmes and events, which include NBA All-Star FIT Celebration, the 11th NBA Cares All-Star Day of Service, Jr. NBA Day and the NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game have all held in sunny L.A.

The NBA also brought together Los Angeles youth, community leaders, law enforcement agents and NBA and WNBA players and executives for special programming through NBA Voices, the league’s platform to address social injustice and bridge divides in communities.

At the conclusion of the NBA All-Star 2018 today, more than 15,500 members of the NBA family have volunteered during NBA Cares All-Star Day of Service since the inaugural event in 2008 in New Orleans.  Their collective efforts have resulted in building over 90 places where kids and families live, learn or play, and packing more than 625,000 pounds of food for families in need.

The Jr. NBA also held a series of competitions and educational sessions for local youth and coaches throughout the weekend. More than 500 participants will compete in the Jr. NBA Skills Challenge for a chance to advance to the national finals held in New York in June.

To conclude the weekend-long activations, more than 100 coaches were invited to attend the Jr. NBA Coaches Forum, designed to educate coaches on issues related to gender, sexuality and creating team cultures that embrace diversity and inclusion.

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