LeBron’s chess moves, Westbrook vs. Embiid: The 8 NBA All-Star storylines to follow Will Quavo be Celebrity Game MVP? Will Ric Flair be courtside?

Professional sports’ premier soap opera is the NBA, and it invades Charlotte, North Carolina, this weekend for its 68th All-Star Game. But narrowing things to just the game is a disservice to the infinite dramatic possibilities of the weekend: Thursday through Sunday is an amalgamation of the NBA and pop culture so thorough that no other major American sports league could ever hope to measure up. What makes the NBA the melodramatic provocateur it is are the dramas. Some are obvious. Some aren’t. Some are, at best, are truly just pipe dreams. The following eight stories could spice up an already very hot weekend.


One: The All-Star method to LeBron’s All-Star madness

For LeBron James, this year’s All-Star draft was a riveting moment in a career filled with them. As fate, and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s draft strategy would have it, James’ gang is chock-full of soon-to-be free agents — and Anthony Davis, who, unless you’ve been living under a rock the last two weeks or so, you’ve heard has requested a trade — preferably to Los Angeles. While the Lakers came up short in the Davis sweepstakes, Los Angeles, and in particular James and agent Rich Paul, received backlash for what many, including LaVar Ball, dubbed as destroying whatever chemistry the Lakers had left. An improbable Rajon Rondo game-winner in Boston has temporarily quelled critics, but a 23-point dump trucking in Philly brought L.A. back to earth and staring in the face of what will be a race to eighth after the All Star break — if they hope to make the playoffs. So best believe James is using All-Star Weekend for business far beyond just the next few weeks of this season. One would be safe to bet a lot of general managers around the league are none too happy about James’ public chess moves.

Bonus: Just like Dwyane Wade, we’re all looking forward to that final lob he tosses up to James. A fitting swan song to one of the game’s all-time great friendships.

Two: Westbrook and Embiid: reunited — and it doesn’t feel so good

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By far the funniest moment of the entire All-Star draft was the trade that sent Russell Westbrook to Team Giannis and Ben Simmons to Team LeBron. On the surface, it’s James getting his fellow Klutch brethren in Simmons. But the trade really matters for one reason — and one reason only. Westbrook and Joel Embiid, two of the NBA’s most beloved personalities, are now forced to be teammates.

But, Westbrook and Embiid aren’t fond of each other. At all. The drama began in December 2017 during a triple overtime instant classic between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Philadelphia 76ers. When the Sixers and Thunder squared off, Embiid waved goodbye to Steven Adams and Westbrook — after each fouled out. Oklahoma City ultimately won, leaving Westbrook to return the favor by waving at Embiid. Fast-forward to last month: In another Thunder win, Embiid landed on Westbrook following a blocked shot attempt. Embiid said it wasn’t on purpose. Westbrook believed otherwise. When asked if the two were cool off the court, Westbrook kept it funky. “F— no.” When asked what the issue between the two was, Embiid’s was sarcastic. “I don’t why he was so mad. I have no idea,” the Sixers superstar said. “But he’s always in his feelings, so I have no idea.” Seeing these two on the court at the same time should be absolute comedy. Will they play nice? Or will they freeze each other out? We won’t have to wait long to see them square off again as opponents, though. The Sixers travel to Oklahoma City on Feb. 28, where they hope to get a win versus the Thunder for the first time in 11 years.

Three: Ric Flair, Charlotte’s (Un]official Ambassador

To be the man, you gotta [honor the man at All-Star Weekend]…

OK, so that’s not exactly how the quote goes, but the truth remains the same. Of all the celebrities linked to Charlotte, there is but one who sits at the mountaintop. In a perfect world, Richard Morgan Fliehr, known to the world as Ric Flair, would be front and center at All-Star Weekend festivities. Flair’s wild life has been documented most recently with the critically acclaimed 30 for 30 Nature Boy. There will be many black music stars and fans in town for All-Star, most notably Meek Mill and J. Cole, who are headlining the official halftime show, and hip-hop loves Flair. Think 2012’s “We Ball” with Dom Kennedy and Kendrick Lamar. Think of 2018’s Offset, 21 Savage and Metro Boomin’s “Ric Flair Drip” the video that actually starred the former world champion. There’s a possibility Offset could be in town — Charlotte’s just a stone’s throw from Atlanta — and a reunion of sorts could take place. Nevertheless, Flair is a prime candidate for unofficial All-Star Weekend ambassador. Hope he’ll rock a “Free 21 Savage” shirt.

There’s also this: So much of Flair’s DNA is visible in current NBA All-Stars. James’ obsession for the dramatic is as must-see-TV as Flair. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson’s threat from 3 is as crippling as Flair’s figure-four leg-lock. Westbrook’s fashion sense — need more be said? Also Flair is an undeniable fan favorite on a lifetime victory lap akin to Dwayne Wade and Dirk Nowitzki. Charlotte shouldn’t just want Flair courtside for Sunday’s game. Charlotte needs Flair courtside for Sunday’s game.

Four: Can Quavo go back-to-back into the Celebrity Game record books?

Quavo, reigning Celebrity Game MVP, looks to join Terrell Owens and Kevin Hart as the only players to be named most valuable more than once. Hart, like Young Jeezy and trapping, won it four years in a row. Take away the actual professional basketball players (Ray Allen, A’ja Wilson, Jay Williams), and look at this year’s rosters. Famous Los has already set his sights on the crown, but Quavo will again be the best hooper on the court. Huncho’s silky lefty game is only enhanced by his ability to finish at the rim and get to the free throw line at will — a la James Harden. Also: former Carolina Panthers/future Hall of Fame wide receiver (and one of the all-time great trash talkers in any sport) Steve Smith is on the opposing squad. A Smith-Quavo back-and-forth could be the closest iteration of Harden vs. Draymond Green at All-Star.

Five: Stephen Curry’s Homecoming

The two-time MVP will be a huge part in this weekend’s festivities given his deep and direct ties to the Queen City. His father, Dell, was a sharpshooter for the Charlotte Hornets for 10 seasons. And while Stephen Curry was born in Akron, Ohio (making it one of the most unexpected birthplaces of basketball royalty), Charlotte is where Curry grew up. He attended high school in Charlotte. And because no big-time schools thought much of him, Curry attended Davidson College, about 30 minutes away from downtown Charlotte — and put the school on the basketball map with unparalleled March Madness performances a decade ago. He returns to the city he calls home as the greatest shooter of all time, nearly a surefire lock to obliterate Allen’s all-time 3-point record and future Hall of Famer with three championships (and counting) to his name. Curry and younger brother Seth are both in the 3-point contest, and Curry’s presence in Sunday’s big game has the running narrative of MVP.

Six: Bombs Over Charlotte: A 3-point contest for the ages

There’s reigning champion Devin Booker. There are the aforementioned Curry brothers. Damian Lillard is made for moments like these. Buddy Hield, Joe Harris and Danny Green can all catch fire at a moment’s notice. Khris Middleton, who almost assuredly will have teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo courtside cheering him on. All-Star starter Kemba Walker has home court advantage. And there wouldn’t be an angry person in the world if Nowitzki walked away with the crown. The point being is this: There is no wrong selection here. Just enjoy the light show.

Seven: Happy birthday, Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan turns 56 on Feb. 17, the day of the All-Star Game, and expect the greatest to ever do it to be treated like the royalty he is all weekend long. Jordan’s been waiting for this weekend since 2017, when Charlotte was originally supposed to host the midseason pilgrimage, but due to the discriminatory HB2, known as the “bathroom bill,” Charlotte’s look was postponed. But this year? Here are three Jordan dream scenarios in no particular order:

  1. Similar to James Davis above, I, too, receive an ultra exclusive invite to whatever Saturday night party Jordan is hosting. Bringing my own cigars, Mike and I chop it up about a variety of topics. About how I found the address to his fan club in an old Sports Illustrated Kids. About how I think his “Flu Game” is really his “Hangover Game” — which is no knock on him. It’s actually more impressive.
  2. Someone snaps a picture of Jordan and Bill “I don’t play defense” Murray. While Jordan did most of the work versus the Monstars in Space Jam, let the record show Murray has the most important assist in world history. It’s high time we acknowledge Murray for the hero he is.
  3. Like last year, the game comes down to its final possession. And James, with Jordan courtside, takes the final shot …

Eight: Charlotte ‘Going Bad’ on ’em anyway?

For anyone not familiar with All-Star Weekend, it’s a continuous barrage of parties, sponsored events and open bars. There is, of course, a vital need for music at these events. And if there’s one song most likely to become the unofficial anthem of the weekend, it’s Meek Mill and Drake’s “Going Bad” which officially dropped last week. Sitting at No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 as of Feb. 9, don’t be surprised if it jumps a few slots with an expected All-Star push. Meek is of course one of the two headliners for Sunday’s All-Star Game, along with home state titan J. Cole. Meek will also serve as the MC of pregame introductions with his and Drake’s hit likely playing some role in the moment. It’s a nice setup too, for the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA), the nation’s oldest historically black college conference. The organization has held its annual basketball tournament in the Queen City since 2004. Because of its residency in Charlotte (which ends next year and is headed to Baltimore in 2021), the city is an annual mecca for celebrities such as 21 Savage, Cardi B, Odell Beckham Jr., Rick Ross, Bria Myles, Lil Wayne, DC Young Fly and more. Last year’s CIAA tournament netted north of $50 million, according to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. This year’s tournament kicks off Feb. 26.

The top 24 sneaker sightings of 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend Style, swag, originality, and strong statements — who’s the All-Star sneaker MVP?

LOS ANGELES — The hottest stars on the planet, from the worlds of basketball, entertainment and fashion, descended upon the City of Angels for the 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend. And they brought the hottest shoes they could get on their feet. The festivities of the weekend — from pop-ups from the biggest brands in the sneaker industry to spontaneous concerts to the celebrity all-star games, the actual NBA All-Star Game, and even the lead-up practices — was a cultural explosion when it came to sneakers. These are the top 24 (shout-out to the greatest No. 24 in L.A. history, Kobe Bryant) pairs we saw at All-Star Weekend, along with the stars who made them shine.


LeBron James

LeBron James was named the MVP of the All-Star Game, and we’re also declaring him sneaker MVP of the weekend. Heading into practice before the game, he debuted a low-top version of his Nike LeBron 15, as well as a red, white and blue player exclusive (PE) edition of his first signature sneaker, the Nike Air Zoom Generation. On Instagram he broke out another Air Zoom Generation PE — this one designed with black pony hair and a glow-in-the-dark sole. His pregame All-Star shoes were a custom pair of “More Than An Athlete” Air Force 1s — a nod to the recent critical comments about the world’s greatest basketball player from Fox News’ Laura Ingraham. And last but not least, on the court at Staples Center during the All-Star Game, he rocked a regal pair of Nike x KITH LeBron 15 PEs, featuring rose and vine stitching and gold embellishment fit for a king. God bless Nike, KITH and James for delivering all this heat.

Migos’ Quavo

Quavo took home the trophy as MVP of the NBA’s Celebrity All-Star Game after balling out in not one, but two pairs of custom kicks. With the help of Finish Line, and famed sneaker artist Dan “Mache” Gamache, the rapper a part of the hip-hop trio Migos wore Nike LeBron 15s and Under Armour Curry 4s, both of which were inspired by the supergroup’s No. 1 album Culture II. We caught up with Mache, who discussed his process of bringing the specially designed “Culture Brons” and “Huncho Currys” to life.

Justin Bieber

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From afar, it looked like pop star Justin Bieber was wearing a pair of Off-White Air Jordan 1s while running up and down the court in the Celebrity All-Star Game. But actually, he donned the Fear of God All-Star Pack, crafted by L.A.-based designer Jerry Lorenzo (the son of former Major League Baseball player and coach Jerry Manuel).

Odell Beckham Jr.

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Customization was a theme of the weekend, especially for Nike. And one of the brand’s biggest athletes, New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., couldn’t leave L.A. without getting in the lab and getting his custom on. The end product? A red pair of OBJ Air Force 1s, which he swagged with a red and white Supreme x Louis Vuitton shoulder bag on the sidelines during the All-Star Game.

Kanye West

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Kanye West made a surprise appearance at Adidas’ #747WarehouseSt in his “Blush” Yeezy Desert Rat 500s. The shoes were also available at the event to the public in limited quantities through a raffle. Shout-out to everyone who got a pair.

Xbox

It’s been the year of the Air Jordan 3, and Xbox is riding the wave. On Feb. 16, the video gaming brand announced that three limited-edition consoles — inspired by the “Black Cement,” “Free Throw Line,” and “Tinker Hatfield” 3s — will be given away to three fans through a Twitter sweepstakes taking place from Feb. 16 to Feb. 21.

Kendrick Lamar

Grammy Award-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar took the stage at Nike’s Makers Headquarters on Feb. 17 in his newly dropped Cortez Kenny IIs. An iconic L.A. shoe for an iconic L.A. native.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Devin Booker, DeMar DeRozan

Nike x UNDEFEATED have the collaboration of the year so far, with the Zoom Kobe 1 Protros that were released to the public in a camouflage colorway at an exclusive pop-up in L.A. during the weekend. Toronto Raptors star, and Compton, California, native DeMar DeRozan wore a mismatched pair of the Protros — one green camo shoe and one PE red camo shoe — during the All-Star Game. We also saw pairs of PEs from Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks during the Celebrity All-Star Game, and Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns during the 3-point shootout.

Usher

Yes, that is Usher wearing a pair of Air Jordan 5s, signed by Tinker Hatfield, the greatest designer in the history of sneakers.

Damian Lillard

Portland Trailblazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard is endorsed by Adidas and is a huge fan of the Japanese streetwear brand BAPE. So this weekend, he brought us the BAPE-inspired Adidas Dame 4 in camo, red and black. Simply beautiful.

Kyrie Irving

There have been reports for quite some time that Nike and Kyrie Irving would be coming out with a new and affordable basketball shoe separate from his signature line. It appears to have arrived. On the practice court before the All-Star Game, Irving broke out the unnamed sneakers, which honor the Boston Celtics with the words “Boston” and “Pride” featured on the outsoles, as well as the years of Boston’s championships on the laces. Look for this shoe to eventually drop at rumored retail price of about $80.

Dwyane Wade

Dwyane Wade poses with the raffle winner of the new limited-edition All-Star Way of Wade 6 shoe, Moments during a private NBA All-Stars event Feb. 17.

Courtesy of Li-Ning

One pair of Dwyane Wade’s Li-Ning All-Star Way of Wade 6s, which were unveiled and presented to fans in limited-edition fashion through a raffle on Feb. 17, went to this little girl. What a moment.