Ah, it's that time of year again. The smell of flowers is in the air as thousands of lovestruck couples from around the nation bust open their bank accounts, put on pants for the first time in three weeks and eat an unsavory amount of chocolate.
Years ago, the ancient, all-powerful holiday committee -- which totally exists -- cut a deal between St. Valentine and the basketball gods. Essentially, if this whole cupid nonsense were to continue, it'd have to be immediately accompanied by a weekend revolving around nothing but basketball, booze, pizza and sofas. And so the NBA's All-Star weekend was born.
Now, if you're a Bobcats fan, the love you are beckoning for has yet to come into complete formation. Kemba Walker is returning to the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge this year, accompanying rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist making his first appearance. The Bobcats' brightest young stars may not yield the same attachment as, say, a love at first sight, like this year's headliner Damian Lillard, but they do hold something that dupes admirers of both these holidays: potential.
Let's consider last year's roster. Already sporting the sensational, rim-shattering Blake Griffin, it also gave rise to the addition of the NBA's latest cold-blooded assassin, Kyrie Irving. These two can both be penciled in as returning participants in All-Star weekend for the next ten years.
Let's take it back another two years. Notable sophomores: Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Marc Gasol, Brook Lopez, Kevin Love. And of course, this year's All-Star snub that has a little too much support from fans to really be considered polarizing, then-rookie Stephen Curry. Two years before: Brandon Roy, Rajon Rondo, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant, Al Horford. I think you get the gist here.
This is what separates the All-Star game from the Rising Stars Challenge, other than youth, of course. While both feature a perturbing disregard for defense and tantalizing dunks that have no perceivable purpose outside of entertainment value, the Rising Stars Challenge displays potential while the All-Star game displays its manifestation.
The point here is that unlike other years, Charlotte sports fans should actually turn on the TV this year and smile. Potential realized is displayed in every seemingly easy but beautifully orchestrated James Harden pick-and-roll split to the hoop. You can see it every once in a while in Cleveland, when Kyrie Irving rises up through the shadows of the murky water that is the future of the Cleveland Cavaliers and without so much as saying a word, tells everyone that enough is enough. Swish. Potential realized is a beautiful thing, and with MKG and Walker, the Bobcats have a crack at it.
Moving on, there are apparently other events going on during All-Star Weekend, too. I'm not going to talk about the skills challenge, the three-point shoot out or the shooting stars event because frankly, I don't hate myself enough to do it. More importantly, you shouldn't hate yourself enough to care about it (Edit.: Hey, I like those things! -Ben). The thing that needs to be addressed though is the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest.
Featuring Eric Bledsoe, Terrence Ross, Gerald Green, James White, Jeremy Evans and Kenneth Faried, this year's contest should more than just eclipse those of former years. However, the problem is that to most sports fans the list looks something like this: the guy who backs up Chris Paul, Manimal and three other guys who collectively yield the puzzled response, "who?"
The success of previous slam dunk contests has always been found in the combination of mind-throttling dunks and polarizing, larger-than-life personalities. From Dwight Howard's Superman act to Nate Robinson rendering him useless with Kryptonite, the dunk contest has always been filled with theatrics. Of course, barring another integrated KIA commercial, the contest couldn't get much worse than it has been in previous years. At the same time though, it's not going to regain its former glory without the presence of a superstar.
In other words, "plzz Lebron???"