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The legends, the super fans, the Canadian rising stars — NBA all-star weekend is off and running

The legends, the super fans, the Canadian rising stars — NBA all-star weekend is off and running
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CHICAGO—This will be a weekend for the NBA to honour the memory of Kobe Bryant and celebrate the brilliance of Michael Jordan and what he did in this city, and to revel in the acumen of the late David Stern for turning the game into what it’s become.

For a little bit on Friday, though, another local great took centre stage.

Kevin Garnett, the transformative star who grew up here, was named one of eight finalists for induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame later this year, the announcement fittingly coming in his hometown.

It doesn’t compare to Bryant, Stern and Jordan — those will be emotional moments over the course of the weekend, for sure — but Garnett deserves some recognition.

“It’s one of the more overwhelming situations I’ve ever been (in),” Garnett said after the announcement.

He is joined by Bryant and San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan among the finalists — dead locks to be inducted in their first year of eligibility — and it will go down as one of the greatest classes ever.

“When you look at it, as much as I battled against Kobe, as much as I battled against Timmy, it’s just right that we share this stage together,” Garnett said.

The other nominees: coaches Eddie Sutton and Rudy Tomjanovich from the North American committee, and former player Tamika Catchings and coaches Kim Mulkey and Barbara Stevens from the women’s committee. The inductees will be announced in April.

Two giants of the journalism world will also be honoured at next summer’s induction ceremonies: Veteran writer Michael Wilbon and play-by-play commentator Mike Breen are the 2020 Curt Gowdy Media Award recipients.

“You are a super fan,” hall chairman Jerry Colangelo said of Bhatia at the announcement of the group of finalists for 2020 induction. “I want to say thank you for being who you are and thank you for being a part of the hall of fame. And I want to congratulate you for that.”

Bhatia and the late actor/director Penny Marshall, who was a big Los Angeles Clippers supporter, are part of the shrine’s first gallery of super fans.

“Me being in the presence of such great basketball talent in the world right here, this is so unreal,” Bhatia said. “I’m still in shock and that’s why I’m accepting this on behalf of not just the Toronto fans, Raptors fans, but all the fans — basketball fans and the NBA fans all over the world. I want to thank you.”

Bhatia not only became the face of the vast Raptors fan base during the team’s run to the 2019 NBA championship. He was given a personalized championship ring and feted at the team’s championship parade.

Barack Obama, No. 44, who cut his political teeth here in Chicago, made an appearance at an NBA Cares event — with volunteers who filled backpacks with school supplies for donation — and chatted up some of the young stars of the game.

“For him to have one of the most busy schedules, for him to keep up with all of us, hats off to him,” said Zion Wiliamson of the New Orleans Pelicans, one of several players in Friday night’s Rising Stars game who met Obama. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him, just knowing us, knowing our stats. He said, ‘Career-high 32.’ Man … crazy.”

“It’s super cool,” the Oklahoma City Thunder guard said here Friday morning, “and it’s guys from all over. Myself being from Hamilton and Nickeil (Alexander-Walker) from Scarborough, R.J. (Barrett) is from Mississauga, Brandon (Clarke) is from B.C. Super cool.”

The four Canadians were selected for Friday night’s Rising Stars game, the biggest Canadian representation ever. And could it have been a Canadian national team preview — a pretty nice thought heading into June’s final qualification tournament for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

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“It’ll be my first chance to play at an Olympic level,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “We’ve got a lot of guys that are talented and want to compete and win.”

The topic came up in private conversations.

“I can’t wait,” Barrett said. “Talking to Shai and Nickeil about it, I’m really excited to play for Canada.”
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