When the NBA All-Stars roll into Cleveland on Sunday night, one legacy in particular will take centre court: LeBron James, the Kid from Akron.
It’s a return to “The Land” for James, back to where his career began, back to the city where he gave his blood, sweat and tears to bring home a championship. Also back to the city he left not once, but twice.
Amid his anticipated homecoming, the King will make history in Cleveland once more by taking the floor for an 18th All-Star Game -- tying Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most all-time. And there’s always the chance it could be his last.
I know, it’s hard to picture. What’s the NBA All-Star Game without LeBron? He’s headlined the event since debuting as a sophomore with the Cavaliers in 2004-05. His presence at the annual showcase feels inevitable.
This season, he’s cheating father time with 29.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.5 assists -- numbers good enough to make him an MVP candidate if the Lakers (27-31) weren’t ninth in the Western Conference.
But he’s 37 years old, and almost no one has more mileage on their body in NBA history, so while he’ll likely earn selection again, that doesn’t mean he’ll actually take the floor. Don’t take James for granted.
The three-time All-Star Game MVP will be gunning for a record-tying fourth -- and this year, the award has extra meaning after it was renamed in Kobe Bryant’s honour. Bryant and Bob Pettit both won the event’s MVP award four times.
Beyond James and his return, the NBA will celebrate legends of the game for its 75th-anniversary, while fans in Canada will tune in for the Raptors’ ultimate underdog, Fred VanVleet, making his All-Star Game debut, and Andrew Wiggins -- just the second Canadian to start in the event.
Here’s an NBA All-Star Game by the numbers for everything you need to know:
1: Michael Jordan produced the first triple-double in NBA All-Star Game history when Cleveland last hosted the event in 1997. Although triple-doubles are far more common in today’s game with stars like Russell Westbrook, Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic recording them at record rates, only three players have done it since Jordan: James (2011), Dwyane Wade (2012) and Kevin Durant (2017).
2: The number of All-Stars representing the host Cleveland Cavaliers. Entering the season the prospects of this happening were slim, but Darius Garland’s emergence as a premier point guard and Jarrett Allen's career season have made it possible. Raptors fans will rightfully point out that Pascal Siakam should be there instead of Allen, who’s replacing an injured James Harden.
3: The number of Canadians to ever make an All-Star team. Wiggins joins Steve Nash (eight times) and Jamaal Magloire (one time) as the only players from north of the border to feature in the event. It’s a surprisingly low total, but with young Canadian talents like Jamal Murray, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and RJ Barrett bound for stardom, that number could start growing exponentially.
4: The total of former G League players in the 2022 NBA All-Star Game. It’s a record. Of course, VanVleet is one of the many Raptors 905 success stories. The other three are Rudy Gobert (Bakersfield Jam – 2013-14), Khris Middleton (Fort Wayne Mad Ants – 2012-13) and Dejounte Murray (Austin Spurs – 2016-17). VanVleet leads all four in G League games played with 16 in 2016-17.
6: The number of 2022 All-Stars featured on the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden, James and Chris Paul were all voted as Top 75 (actually 76) players in NBA history earlier this season. Carmelo Anthony, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook are the other active players who made the team.
7: Seven countries are represented on 2022 NBA All-Star rosters. There are 20 players from the United States, one from Canada (Wiggins), one from Greece (Antetokounmpo), one from Cameroon (Joel Embiid), one from Serbia (Jokic), one from Slovenia (Doncic) and one from France (Gobert). Basketball is truly a global game.
8/24: The Kobe Bryant Trophy for NBA All-Star Game MVP will be awarded for the first time in Cleveland -- the same place where the then-rookie won the dunk contest with his signature swagger in 1997.
The trophy has an eight-sided base symbolizing both Bryant’s No. 8 and the number of decades of All-Star Games. It also has 24 stars to illustrate Bryant’s No. 24 and the number of All-Stars.
18: James will make his 18th All-Star Game appearance, tying Abdul-Jabbar for most all-time, it will also be his record 18th time as a starter. Abdul-Jabbar is still the leader in total All-Star selections with 19, James’ 18 ties Bryant for second – the latter only took the floor in 15.
20: The age of LaMelo Ball, the youngest player featuring in the All-Star Game. The supremely skilled Hornets guard is replacing Kevin Durant, becoming the fourth-youngest player to feature in the event. The youngest ever was Bryant in 1998, followed by Zion Williamson last season and Doncic in 2020.
Despite being among all the stars, Ball looks up to one player, and one player only:
39: Nothing comes close to defining modern basketball’s evolution more than the three-point shot -- Harden has made the most in NBA All-Star Game history with 39. With Harden out, that record is at risk, though. James trails by one, while Curry trails by eight.
76: The number of players the NBA is honouring at half-time. It was supposed to be 75, in celebration of the NBA’s 75th anniversary, but two players tied in voting for the final spot. The celebration comes full circle in Cleveland, where the Top 50 greatest players were honoured in 1997. The Top 25 players and the league’s 25th-anniversary All-Star Game celebration in 1981 took place in Richfield, Ohio.
In 1997, all but three of the Top 50 players witnessed the celebration. That’s bound to be different this year since many legends have left us, and we’re still living in a pandemic.
128: The record for total All-Star Game assists. Paul passed Magic Johnson to take hold of the record with 16 assists last year, now the “Point God” gets to pad those stats. Although he won't play much due to a thumb injury.
389: The all-time record for total points in the All-Star Game, by guess who? King James. It’s not even close really, coming in second on the all-time list is Bryant with 290, the closest active player is Kevin Durant with 250 and he isn’t even playing on Sunday. James should crack 400, further distancing himself from any challengers, and further cementing his status as the greatest All-Star of all-time in Cleveland.