HOUSTON -- A handful of the NBA's finest along with every rapper with a record deal came here to entertain a global audience for three days, only to be upstaged by a 50-year-old man coming to grips with taking naps and his AARP card.
Imagine that. Blake Griffin dunked a bit, Russell Westbrook overdressed a lot, Kyrie Irving was on-point, Alicia Keys was off-key and Chris Paul was all over the place. And yet the biggest basketball-related buzz heard around the world was generated by Michael Jordan blowing out a half-century's worth of birthday candles, with help from three gusty Chris Bosh airballs.
All-Star Weekend is over, and the worst we can say about it, other than the slam dunk contest, is the timing was all wrong this year. Really, which highlights did you watch non-stop and enjoy Sunday: the All-Star Game's or Jordan's?
What an experience it had to be for the players, hearing non-stop about a geezer who undoubtedly feels he could take them one-on-one right now. That's probably less their fault and more due to a weekend that's hit or miss every year. After three days, we were mostly left with a few shreds of brilliance along with some interesting developments that might be worth revisiting in the near future.
Let's start with Paul. He did for the West team as he does for the Clippers, setting up teammates and finding a way to pull out the decision. Paul took MVP honors with 15 assists, which carried more weight than his 20 points in the 143-138 West win. He's at a major crossroads in his career, positioned to lock himself into top-five player status, if he isn't already there. It'll take a strong run through the playoffs and a trip to the NBA Finals, at the very least, to erase any doubt whether he belongs.
What we're also discovering about Paul is that the big-moment, big-city lifestyle suits him well. Until now, he never really had that, not even with a few solid years in New Orleans. Suddenly, he's benefiting from big-market exposure (with a national commercial in heavy rotation), while the Clippers are squarely in the mix of contenders. Sure, the squad overall has their flaws, but Paul won't be the reason they come up short, should that happen.
"He's one of the best players we have in this league," said LeBron James. "The No. 1 point guard we have in this league, and it didn't surprise me what he did on the floor tonight."
You could tell Paul agreed by his reaction from winning All-Star MVP and feeling the shine from that.
"Pretty special," he said. "It's something I've never done and it's something that, coming into the game, I wasn't trying to achieve or thinking that it might be possible."
Next: LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. On Sunday, for the first time, they were teammates. Hope you noticed that, too -- so you know where this conversation is going. Two years from now it'll surprise no one if LeBron the free agent is professing a love to join Irving the way he once did with Dwyane Wade. Two years from now LeBron could have a few championships under his belt and the exit plan he needs to leave Miami without the same bitterness he generated when he left the Cavs.
Two years from now, LeBron could be saying all the right things, such as, "I did all I could here ... I left Cleveland as a boy ... and now that I'm a man, I'm ready to go home." And nobody in Miami will burn his jersey in protest. It'll hurt, sure, but the city and team will most likeley give their blessings.
Ever since the Cavs grabbed Irving with the No. 1 pick and watched him soar, LeBron has gone out of his way with praise for Irving. Coincidence? Maybe. But, in any case, nobody in Houston had a better weekend than Irving, a first-time All-Star. He broke both of Brandon Knight's ankles in the rookie-sophomore game on Friday, the last on a vicious crossover that probably had Knight's family turning away.
He then won the three-point contest -- coming two points shy of the record -- on Saturday. And on Sunday, Erik Spoelstra left Irving on the floor late in the game with the starters because the coach knew the 20-year-old deserved the chance to help rally the East.
Here's what LeBron said: "He showed what he's going to do in the future, -- well, actually, what he's doing now. It's going to be crazy for him. He's already one of the best players we have. It was awesome for him here."
And Kyrie on LeBron: "Playing next to him, that was a lot of fun. An honor to be with someone like him."
Next: LeBron and Kobe and the fourth quarter. A year ago, LeBron passed up an opportunity to shoot in a tight All-Star Game and Kobe expressed surprise by that. This time, with the score tightening in the fourth, LeBron elevated to take a big shot and Kobe swatted it and that was ballgame.
The sequence was enhanced by the different stages in which they're in right now. LeBron has dethroned Kobe as the People's Choice for game's best player and is gunning for another title. Kobe is trying to lift a hastily-assembled Laker team of big names -- we saw this from LeBron in Miami two years ago -- and could be a year from walking away from the game for good.
Regarding the swat and Kobe suddenly upping the intensity by exclusively guarding him, LeBron said: "He does it all the time. I am absolutely not surprised. It was all in good spirit. It was just two guys who love to compete, love to go at it."
The weekend otherwise was a bore, except when it was bad and, at times, even brutal. The players union took a sledgehammer to Billy Hunter's reputation and crushed it like the Lakers' championship hopes. James "Flight" White used two lines of cheerleaders dressed as flight attendants to form a runway in the dunk contest, then made only one dunk.
The dunk contest was a disaster but it's also cyclical; no one adopted an abolish-the-dunk-contest stance when Griffin high-stepped a car. Maybe the most surprising dunk was done by Usain Bolt in the celebrity game. Lastly, Bosh airballed his first three shots Sunday and had folks snickering, not because of the shots, but about Spoelstra's decision to put Bosh into Rajon Rondo's starting spot.
So, we move on. The NBA now marches toward Thursday and a trade deadline that could be a lot more thrilling. We'll see if the Lakers make an about-face and explore the idea of trading Dwight Howard, who hasn't endeared himself to Kobe but to be fair hasn't been completely healthy all season, either.
"I don't know what they're going to do," Kobe said. "At this point, it doesn't matter. What matters to us is what we do on Wednesday [when the season resumes] and go from there. Come Wednesday we have to be ready to go. That's the most important thing. That's my message to the team, that you can't worry about the future, you can't worry about the past, you just have to focus on the present."
We'll see if the Spurs can keep Oklahoma City from winning the West, or if they even care, given how coach Gregg Popovich never hesitates to put his best players on ice. We'll see if the Celtics resist the urge to dynamite the team and, if so, make Danny Ainge regret it by going on a losing streak right after the trade deadline.
We'll see if Derrick Rose decides to keep it shut down for another few weeks, another month or the rest of the season. We'll see if Danny Granger, who'll make his season debut Wednesday, helps the Pacers or hurts Paul George's All-Star growth. We'll see if Andrew Bynum writes off the season and, if he does, whether the Sixers write him a big free agent check this summer.
There are a few more months of the regular season to explore and mysteries to unlock and no matter what happens it'll be more enjoyable to witness than the first few rounds of the dunk contest. So we have that, at least.
And that's good, because the weekend didn't give too many reasons for reflection. History will show the weekend belonged to Michael Jordan and his milestone, which begs a follow-up question: Do we have to make it such big deal when he turns 51 next All-Star Game?