April 24, 2024

LeBron James saw the space in front of him as he planted, cocking the ball back in his right hand as he jumped before pounding it through the rim for an emphatic slam.

He did it in his first All-Star Game in 2004. He did it in his 20th Sunday night in Indianapolis.

The East ended up beating the West 211-186, setting records for the most points by a team and the most points by both teams.

James acknowledged that the NBA and players need to figure out the All-Star Game, but James’ mere presence for a record-setting 20th time was special enough.

“I think as a kid growing up and loving the game of basketball and watching the NBA All-Star weekend and seeing the Sunday game, I always had dreams and visions if I was able to play the game at a high level and give everything to the game, hopefully I could be a part of that game someday,” James said before the game. “It’s just been an absolute honor to be able to grace the floor throughout my career and be out there with the greatest players in the world year in and year out.”

He played 14 minutes in the first half, scoring eight points before ceding time to the rest of the West roster.

The league went back to a classic East-West format in hopes of improving the game’s intensity, trimming some of the entertainment fat on the production. But it was clear early Sunday night that there would be more wide-open shots than competitive basketball.

“I think we sat down with the players and we listened to them, and we said, all right, we have to return to basketball, back to basketball, so to speak,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Saturday. “It’s about the game. That’s ultimately how we’re going to be judged.”

Sunday, the best moment might have come early in the second half, Luka Doncic getting rejected by the rim on a self-alley-oop try. The miss led to Damian Lillard, the winner of the Kobe Bryant All-Star MVP award, hitting a three from half-court, a sequence perfectly capturing the combination of skill and carelessness that’s come to define the NBA All-Star Game.

The game began with Reggie Miller, Larry Bird and Oscar Robertson at center court to kick the event off. And as player introductions began, James found Robertson for a lengthy embrace.

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