But Curry, who was born in nearby Akron, took the razzing with good humor, alternating between awkward laughter and expressions of gratitude while onstage. Once play tipped off, the 33-year-old sharpshooter got straight to work doing what he does better than anyone in the sport’s history: draining three-pointers.
By halftime, he had 24 points on 8-for-11 shooting from deep. By night’s end, Curry had converted the home crowd, soaking in cheers as he scored a game-high 50 points and hit an All-Star Game record 16 three-pointers on 27 attempts to claim MVP honors. James, captain of Team LeBron, added 24 points, six rebounds and eight assists and hit a deep turnaround jumper to clinch a 163-160 win over Team Durant.
“I have a lot of history in this building, won a lot of games, lost a lot of games,” Curry said. “I think the fans appreciate it, but it comes out in the form of boos. … I tried to channel that into the performance tonight and just have fun with it. I got hot early and kept it going, and tried to put on a little bit of a show.”
The scorching performance earned Curry the first All-Star Game MVP award of his career, and he was presented with the newly redesigned crystal-like trophy that bears Kobe Bryant’s name.
“Obviously this trophy has a very special meaning honoring Kobe, Gigi and everyone who was lost two years ago,” Curry said. “It will have a special place at my house.”
The victory was the fifth straight for James as an all-star captain, and it came as no surprise given that the Los Angeles Lakers forward’s team had four former MVPs — James, Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic — in the starting lineup. Kevin Durant’s team was at a disadvantage with its captain sidelined by injury for the second straight season, but Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid held down the fort with a team-high 36 points in a losing effort.
While Curry stole the show with his ostentatious play, he donned an understated navy jacket during a halftime ceremony that honored the top 75 players in NBA history. More than 40 members of the team showed up, walking down a makeshift red carpet to a raised circular stage, while other living members who opted not to attend appeared in video cameos on the scoreboard. Bryant, who was represented by his widow Vanessa, and the other deceased members of the team were honored with portraits on the big screen.
The elaborate halftime show featured an introduction from Spike Lee, a montage narrated by Forest Whitaker and an extended video highlighting activist efforts by Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson.
“When you hit that diamond anniversary, it’s time to shine,” Lee said.
The NBA introduced the 75th anniversary team members by position — forwards, then centers, then guards — and saved Jordan for last. The six-time champion, who now owns a NASCAR team, made a surprise appearance after attending the Daytona 500 earlier in the day. After the buzzer, Jordan mingled with his fellow legends and embraced James on the court.
“I did not want to lose the opportunity to shake the man’s hand that inspired me throughout my childhood,” James said. “I always wanted to be like him growing up. It’s crazy that the game-winning shot tonight was a fadeaway, and it was inspired by MJ.”
Russell stayed home because of coronavirus concerns, Durant missed out after a death in the family, and Larry Bird was absent for unexplained reasons. But Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar, Robertson, Jerry West, Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, Isiah Thomas and Allen Iverson were among the legends on hand. Antetokounmpo noted that he and Dirk Nowitzki were the only European players who made the list.
“That’s insane,” he said. “Having the opportunity to sit next to Dirk, who kind of opened the path for us, that’s an even more incredible feeling for me. I watched him play when I was a kid when he was winning the championship for the Dallas Mavericks. He was one of us.”
Chris Paul, who earned his 12th all-star selection and participated in the halftime celebration, played just two minutes after the Phoenix Suns announced he had suffered a right thumb fracture that will sideline him for at least six weeks.
But the night belonged to Curry, who looked loose from the early going, laughing with James and Antetokounmpo as the trio waited backstage during introductions. The halftime show, which followed a similar 50th-anniversary team celebration in Cleveland in 1997, appeared to kick Curry into high gear.
“We all were [spectators],” Cavaliers guard Darius Garland said. “A 50-ball in the All-Star Game — I was definitely a spectator. I was a fan.”
During a two-minute stretch early in the third quarter, the NBA’s career three-point leader hit five straight three-pointers, backing up near midcourt as his teammates kept feeding him. Later in the period, Curry launched a three-pointer and turned his back on the basket before the ball swished through.
Team LeBron won the first quarter 47-45 but trailed for much of the second and third quarters before an impressive closing push led by its headliners. Late in the fourth quarter, Antetokounmpo converted a contested turnaround jumper and Curry made a high-arcing floater to set the stage for James’s winner.
“I told [James] on the court after the game that it was kind of a perfect ending,” Curry said. “I got the MVP. I played well the whole night. He hit the game-winner. All the history of our series and the Akron ties, it’s right on the nose of how it should go.”
Curry’s unprecedented shooting display saw him shatter Paul George’s all-star record of nine three-pointers in 2016. With just one more three-pointer, he would have broken Anthony Davis’s All-Star Game record of 52 points in 2017.
“I tried,” a smiling Curry said as he clutched his MVP trophy, surrounded on all sides by basketball royalty. “I tried.”