Kurt Helin

Russell Westbrook dances his way to back-to-back All-Star MVP awards


TORONTO — Russell Westbrook came into this All-Star Game dancing.

Westbrook is known for his intensity and a scowl on the court, seeing him smile during a regular season game is like seeing a unicorn. Sunday night he walked onto the All-Star stage in Toronto and danced his way past Drake with a big smile on his face.

“I just wanted to go out there and enjoy my time, dance a little bit, smile,” Westbrook said. “I know a lot of people don’t see me smile a lot during the season, so I like to smile a little bit during the All-Star have fun.”

He kept smiling all-night long on his way to 31 points, eight rebounds, five assists, all of which earned him back-to-back All-Star Game MVP Awards.

Westbrook is the first back-to-back All-Star Game MVP since Hall of Famer Bob Pettit in 1958-59.

“Any time you can be able to be in the history books, it always means something to me, man,” Westbrook said. “I’m just thankful to be able to play the game of basketball and be in a game like this is something that, like I said before, I never take for granted.”

Westbrook did attack the rim and had the kind of monster dunks we expect from him, but he went Stephen Curry for a night, too — he took 17 threes. Westbrook was just going hard in a game that often lacked that intensity.

“Yeah, man, that’s the only way I know how to go,” Westbrook said.

This award is the latest step in a long road back Westbrook — he had multiple knee surgeries for injuries that doomed Thunder playoff runs just a few years back. Westbrook is arguably the most explosive player in the league, large parts of his game are based on that athleticism, and the injuries made some wonder if he could continue in that style. Despite the surgeries, he never lost that explosiveness — and his game kept growing and evolving.

“I don’t believe he had surgery, personally,” LeBron James said with a laugh. “It was just like, you know what, I’m just going to take a little bit of time off. No, but it’s been incredible, man. Just like you said, to have three knee surgeries and he hasn’t really lost — he hasn’t lost. He’s actually gained a step or two or three. He’s one of the most athletic guys that our league has seen and obviously in today’s game as well. He’s a phenomenal talent. You don’t come across these guys that often and in our sport.”

He’s right, we don’t get to see guys like Westbrook often. Which is why it is so much fun to watch him play.

And to see him smile while he does it occasionally.

Kobe Bryant celebrated, Russell Westbrook scores big in defense-free West All-Star victory


TORONTO — More than a celebration of the NBA, this year’s All-Star Game was a celebration of Kobe Bryant — there were two Kobe tribute videos and two standing ovations before the All-Star game even tipped off Sunday. Kobe soaked it all in, spoke graciously, clearly enjoyed his time on the court, and left it with a minute to go to chants of “Ko-be, Ko-be.”

“I think it’s the stories of when they first came into the league, and they were matching up against me, and just kind of the little things that — an elbow here or a steal here, and then wanting to earn my respect at an early age, right?” Kobe said of what he will take away from the weekend. “Coming into the league, playing against me, wanting to prove to me that they were as competitive. When I hear those kind of stories, man, that makes me feel real good.”

In between those Kobe bookends, it was a defense-free game — even by All-Star Game standards — that the West went on to win 196-173. The teams combined to take 139 threes. That’s not a typo, 139. The teams combined to shoot 55 percent.

Usually there is a defensive push in the fourth as the teams try to win, but with the West comfortably in front the only defense was from the West trying to keep Paul George, who scored 41 and was one-point short of Wilt Chamberlain’s all-time All-Star record. George impressed in his return to All-Star competition.

“To come back and play at that level athletically, it just stuns me every time I see him out there,” Gregg Popovich said of George, thinking back on George’s nasty injury for Team USA a couple season’s ago.

Russell Westbrook won a back-to-back All-Star Game MVP, scoring 31 points, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out five assists. He’s the first back-to-back winner of the MVP since Bob Pettit in 1958-59.

The game’s trends started in the first half,  where the teams took the usually low bar for defense in an All-Star Game to a new low. At halftime the score was 92-90 with the West ahead — an All-Star record for most total points in the first half, beating the old record by 17 points — and the teams combined to shoot 57.3 percent in the half. George led all scorers with 16 in the first half, Kawhi Leonard led the West with 13.

The second half started with Stephen Curry taking ridiculously deep threes — which might happen in a regular game. Then Russell Westbrook started launching threes (he took 17 in the games). Soon everyone was — DeMarcus Cousins even drained a three on a play Popovich said Cousins designed for himself.

Through it all the West expanded their lead to nine entering the fourth. Starting the fourth they quickly grew that lead, and with that the game became about records.

That included LeBron James (13 points) passing Kobe for the all-time lead in All-Star Game points scored (LeBron has 281, Kobe 280).

Kyle Lowry had 14 points and DeMar DeRozan scored 18 for the host Raptors.

Watch lil’ Chris Paul pick Kobe Bryant’s pocket

Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant (24) laughs on the court before the first half of the NBA all-star basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016 in Toronto. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP
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TORONTO  — The perks of being Chris Paul‘s child are numerous, and include being able to be on the court at the All-Star Game during second half warm-ups.

Kobe Bryant played along, showing off his handles — and lil’ Chris picked him clean.

Guess it is time for Kobe to retire.

(Hat tip Ananth Pandian of CBSSports.com).

Kyle Lowry to Dwyane Wade to LeBron James double alley-oop (VIDEO)


TORONTO — I don’t know what the record for alley-oops in an All-Star Game is, but this year’s game has to be on pace to break it.

The best one of the first quarter is this double — Kyle Lowry to Dwyane Wade to LeBron James.

If you’re about to write in the comments about defense — it’s the All-Star Game. It’s a meaningless exhibition. Save your anger for the next Lakers game.

At All-Star weekend, it’s all about specially designed shoes

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TORONTO (AP) — All-Star weekend is one of the biggest of the NBA season for stars like LeBron James, Steph Curry, James Harden and Dwyane Wade.

It’s even bigger for Nike, Under Armour, Adidas and Li-Ning.

With all the big stars in Toronto and millions of fans watching around the world, the big shoe companies have turned the basketball court into a fashion runway and unveiling specially designed sneakers during the game on Sunday. When it comes to the events of All-Star weekend, the shoe launches are right up there on the anticipation meter with the 3-point shootout and the slam dunk contest.

Wade has his designers from Chinese-based Li-Ning come up with something multicolored – almost rainbow-esque – with a shiny look. His fans can get them, but they’ll have to work for it since only 100 pairs of Wade’s All-Star shoe will be released.

“When people get it they’ll know this is a special All-Star to me,” said Wade, a 12-time All-Star selection. “I’m not going to have 12 more of these, so I’m going to make sure that this moment is something they remember was special if they get one of the sneakers.”

The 100 pairs that he’ll release will be numbered.

What Wade is wearing Sunday night won’t be – his are a tad different.

“I just think it’s cool,” Wade said. “That’s the story. All-Star weekend, just looking to do something that I thought was cool.”

Wade is certainly not alone.

James debuted a new version of his Nike sneakers this weekend called the 13 Lows, a black shoe with white and red trim and his signature King James logo on the tongue.

“I got a great designer at Nike, Jason Petrie. We have consistent communication about what I want, what we want and what we want to do from a comfort, style, technology piece,” James said. “We pick each other’s brain and go from there. We figure it out and stuff like this happens. It’s pretty cool. The 13 Lows, coming to a city near you.”

Curry’s explosion in popularity over the last two years has helped Under Armour gain traction in the hyper-competitive shoe game. Like James and many of his contemporaries, Curry’s goal is to follow in the footsteps of what Michael Jordan did at Nike, turning himself into the iconic pitchman and building an empire that has helped him become the owner of the Charlotte Hornets.

“They had a nice template of success with Jordan’s career,” Curry said. “We’re trying to do it our way, which is very genuine and organic to what we’re trying to do. It’s been a great partnership so far. We’re honestly just getting started with where we’re at as a basketball brand and very excited about what’s to come. It’s nice to be as hands-on as I can be.”

Jordan has shown that the shoe game offers the truly elite players a way to remain in the public consciousness long after their playing days are over. Indiana Pacers All-Star Paul George sees Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who is playing in his final All-Star game, following a similar path with his Nike shoes, one that will get kids for generations to come interested in his dynamic game even though his career is coming to an end this season.

“The people that didn’t grow up watching Jordan, his shoes told stories,” said George, who has worn Bryant’s shoe since his high school days. “From there, people wanted to Google and YouTube him. It kind of brings up everything in the past that Jordan did, brings that back to life. It keeps you relevant.”

AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report.