“I didn’t expect tonight to be as competitive as it was,” said Team LeBron coach Dwane Casey, who normally presides over the Raptors.
An overwrought pregame show hosted by the actor and comedian Kevin Hart fell flat — and reviews of the singer Fergie’s rendition of the national anthem were even worse — so the occasion was by no means perfect. Yet there is undeniable momentum for the N.B.A. to carry this new format into next year’s game. As well, there is sure to be a near-unanimous push to televise the roster selections for the 2019 game, which will have the Michael Jordan-owned Charlotte Hornets serving as hosts.
“I thought tonight was a great first step going forward,” Casey said.
It was also a victory for the latest attempt to liven up the N.B.A.’s annual midseason festival. James was the dominant force in the game and deservedly won his third All-Star Most Valuable Player Award with 29 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists in 31 minutes. But you also couldn’t miss the sheer number of players on the floor representing countries other than the United States.
The Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis (Latvia) was forced to miss his first All-Star appearance because of his recent season-ending knee injury, but Joel Embiid (Cameroon) and Goran Dragic (Slovenia) made their All-Star debuts without him. Additionally, Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece) made his second consecutive All-Star start and was joined on Team Stephen by two representatives of the Dominican Republic: Al Horford and Karl-Anthony Towns.
You can stretch this concept even further by noting that Kyrie Irving is Australian-born.
The N.B.A., mind you, has so far shown a willingness to implement a United States vs. Rest of the World template only for its Rising Stars game, which features first- and second-year players. This is understandable in a league with more than 300 players born in the United States and only 24 All-Star spots to compete for as it is.
But in his four-year tenure as N.B.A. commissioner, Adam Silver has been continually receptive to new ideas and, at some point, the notion of a U.S.A./World format for the actual All-Star Game will probably get serious consideration.
Don’t forget that Nikola Jokic (Serbia) and Ben Simmons (Australia) were also serious All-Star contenders this season. Or that Marc Gasol (Spain) has already made three career All-Star appearances. Or that the Chicago rookie Lauri Markkanen (Finland) is increasingly regarded as future All-Star material, with at least two highly coveted foreign-born players — Luka Doncic (Dragic’s Slovenian countryman) and DeAndre Ayton (Bahamas) — widely expected to be top-five selections in the June draft.
“We’re getting there,” said Steve Nash, who was born in South Africa, grew up in Canada and is now a part-time coaching consultant with the Golden State Warriors after retiring from the N.B.A. in 2015 with two M.V.P. trophies. “It’s a natural and welcome evolution of the game.”
As the general manager of the men’s national-team program in Canada, Nash is likewise well aware that R.J. Barrett — the son of Nash’s former Canadian teammate, Rowan Barrett — is widely regarded as a top contender to be selected No. 1 over all in the 2019 draft. And that would be just five years removed from June 2014, when another Canadian, Andrew Wiggins, was drafted No. 1 over all.
And speaking specifically about the likes of Antetokounmpo, Embiid and Porzingis, Nash said: “In five years, two or three of these guys might be top-10 players in this league.”
By the time Nash ascended to an All-Star level in Dallas alongside Germany’s Dirk Nowitzki, there were a number of top players born outside the borders of the United States, including Nowitzki, Pau Gasol (Spain), Yao Ming (China), Tony Parker (France) and Manu Ginobili (Argentina). But Nash, who on Saturday received a Class of 2018 Basketball Hall of Fame nomination, never took it seriously back then when people suggested that a Rest of the World contingent could take on the American-born All-Stars.
Now, Nash feels differently.
“Maybe in 2022 — 30 years after the Barcelona Olympics and how the first Dream Team grew the game internationally — maybe that’s the time to try it,” Nash said. “We might be ready for World vs. U.S.A. in 2022. And that would obviously bring some life back to the All-Star Game if we’re still struggling to find some.”
Actually, sufficient life was restored through Sunday’s proceedings to allow time for more contemplation and discussion. And more juice may be pumped into next year’s contest if the two captains indeed end up on live TV selecting their 22 All-Star colleagues, at midcourt, in true schoolyard style before tipoff.
You know what they say, though: It’s always good to have options.