The NBA’s all-star weekend tipped off Friday morning as the players and coaches from the East and West teams met with the media at the Sheraton Centre hotel.
Sunday’s all-star game is the 65th edition and features two Toronto Raptors: Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.
“I think the first time is always special, but now it’s home, in my hometown, where I play every night,” Lowry said. “It’s an exciting thing. There’s a buzz around the city and there’s a buzz around me and my family and friends. Especially a buzz for me and DeMar, it’s a special time.”
The focus of the hundreds of reporters in the ballroom at the Sheraton was on Kobe Bryant, who takes part in his 18th and final all-star game. The L.A. Laker legend will retire at the end of the season.
“How many players can say they played 20 years and actually have seen the game go through three or four generations?,” Bryant told reporters surrounding him at his availability.
DeRozan grew up in Compton idolizing Bryant’s game.
“It’s going to mean a lot (to play against Bryant on Sunday),” said DeRozan. “Just to go down in history and say I played in one of the greatest players’ last all-star game.”
Friday night’s festivities include the NBA celebrity game, with Drake and Steve Nash coaching a Canadian team against comedian Kevin Hart’s American team, then the Rising Stars challenge. First and second-year players unite with an American team facing an international roster that features three Canadians: including Thornhill’s Andrew Wiggins, Toronto’s Dwight Powell and Saskatoon’s Trey Lyles.
When Powell found out he was going, the first thing he did was call one of his best friends.
“We just kind of laughed for 15 minutes,” Powell said after a relaxed World team practice at Ricoh Coliseum.
“He reminded me of the mornings at 6 a.m. here in Toronto when it’s blizzarding outside and he would come pick me up and we’d go to practice.
“Just thinking how we went from there, now I’m putting tickets for him at will-call at all-star weekend.”
Wiggins, who turns 21 on Feb. 23, drew a crowd upon his return to what he called “my favourite city in the world.”
“It feels good to be able to play in front of my family and friends,” said Wiggins.
The skills competition goes Saturday night, with Lowry taking part in the three-point contest. Minnesota Timberwolves guard Zach Lavine will defend his slam dunk title.
Earlier Friday, NBA commissioner Adam Silver paid homage to the league’s history in Toronto.
Silver spoke at the NBA all-star technology summit, and began his remarks by reminding attendees that the league’s enormous success globally stems in part from what happened in Toronto on Nov. 1, 1946 — when the first game in what was then called the Basketball Association of America was played.
Silver called this weekend “a very special one for us in the NBA, a homecoming.”
It was in Toronto on that night nearly 70 years ago when the New York Knicks visited and beat the Toronto Huskies 68-66. The game was played at Maple Leaf Gardens — “which, if you’re curious, is now a grocery store,” Silver said.
The league also announced its finalists for the 2016 Hall of Fame class: players Allen Iverson, Kevin Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Sheryl Swoopes and Yao Ming, Wayland Baptist University team, referee Darell Garretson and coaches Charles “Lefty” Driesell, Robert Hughes, Tom Izzo, John Mclendon, Bo Ryan, Eddie Sutton, Leta Andrews and Muffet Mcgraw.
– With files from Toronto Star wire services