When we talk about the NBA All-Star weekend, it’s usually in relation to how the Saturday Three-Point Contest might be the best event of the three days, or whether Kevin Durant deserves his roster spot.
But for the city where the All-Star Game arrives it is much more than that.
Wherever the game lands the NBA focuses its charity (NBA Cares) and youth outreach efforts, looking to make a difference in the community. However, in New York this year the NBA has stepped up its game:
They will reach 1 million youth in the five boroughs with their program.
The most visible of that is the 100 basketball and fitness clinics in New York schools on Feb. 13, part of the NBA All-Star FIT Celebration on NBA FIT Friday. At every school there will be NBA All-Stars or WNBA players or NBA legends working to engage the youth. Shrug if you want, but trust me as the father of three elementary school age daughters health and fitness issues among our youth is a serious issue, you see it on every campus. There’s good reason it’s the First Lady’s pet project. That this program uses basketball to reach and teach children is fantastic.
This is just part of the league’s outreach.
Also on Friday several NBA All-Stars and celebrity chef Mario Batali (who still should be an Iron Chef in my book) will assist food rescue organization City Harvest to pack 160,000 pounds of food that will be distributed to 10,000 New Yorkers in need.
And the list of outreach events goes on and on, they started way back in September and will continue after the All-Star players have packed up and gone home.
It’s just one side of the All-Star Game that a lot of people miss, but in terms of impact in the community it can be more lasting than the big hoops exhibition itself.
When the NBA coached voted in Kevin Durant as an All-Star reserve there were plenty of people — we’re looking at you, Charles Barkley — who said he didn’t deserve it. Not because of Durant’s talent, but because he’s missed too much time this season due to injury (he’s missed 29 of the Thunder’s 47 games so far).
I’m good with Durant in the All-Star Game (he was on my list as a reserve). It’s an exhibition; there is nothing on the line here. It’s not like the NBA does something stupid and puts home court in the Finals on the line for this popularity contest. So with that, I want to see the very best players in this show. Kevin Durant is one of those, and to me has played enough — and been good enough in the games he played — to make the cut.
What I really want to see: Elite NBA players in a one-on-one tournament. I probably would take Durant in that.
If Oklahoma City is going to catch the Phoenix Suns for the eight seed in the West, sweeping a home-and-home against New Orleans would be a significant step in the right direction. The Thunder won the first game of that series on the road Wednesday thanks to Russell Westbrook going off for 45 points.
Now they get Kevin Durant back for the next one Friday night.
Durant had missed four of the Thunder’s last five games due to a toe injury (he’s missed 27 of 49 on the season), but he went through shootaround on Friday morning and is set to go that night, the team confirmed.
Durant described it this way, via Royce Young of ESPN.
“I feel like it’s better now. I can push through it,” he said. “I’ve been out for so long this year as far as injuries are concerned, so I pushed it when I shouldn’t have. That’s part of the game sometimes, you’re still learning your body and trying to figure out the best way to do it and put myself first. It’s definitely been a tough year as far as injuries for me.”
The Thunder enter Friday night as the 10 seed in the West (two spots out of the playoffs), two games back of eight seed Phoenix and one back of nine seed New Orleans. Win on Friday night and Oklahoma City will have tied New Orleans.
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The Thunder then face the Clippers on Sunday in a national television game between two teams that should be Western Conference powers but have had their ups and downs.