There will still be the rim-rattling, mind-bending slam dunks, the barrage of breathtaking 3-pointers and the dazzling array of skills on display when the greatest talent in basketball gathers.
But State Farm All-Star Saturday Night will undergo an extreme makeover this year in New Orleans with rule changes for all four of the events and an overall team competition between the Eastern and Western conferences — led by captains Paul George and Stephen Curry – with $500,000 in charitable contributions on the line.
Perhaps the most familiar name by the end of the extravaganza will be guard Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers, who will be busier than a trumpet player in a French Quarter brass band. He’s taking part in three of Saturday’s four events — including stints as a dunker, a long-distance shooter and a playmaker in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge. The 2013 Rookie of the Year already has a busy dance card; he’s scheduled to play in the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night and in the 63rd NBA All-Star Game on Sunday.
The most dramatic change Saturday is coming in the night’s marquee event, the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest. The competition will feature six dunkers, three from each conference, in a free-wheeling, two-round showdown to determine the best conference. For the first time in the event’s history, no individual dunker will be crowned. Instead, the title will go to the best conference. Complete rules.
Dunking for the Eastern Conference will be the team captain George of the Pacers, 2013 champion Terrence Ross of the Raptors and John Wall of the Wizards. The Western Conference dunkers will be Lillard, Harrison Barnes of the Warriors and Ben McLemore of the Sacramento Kings.
The 6-foot-3 Lillard will be battling in the land of the giants as the shortest participant in the slam dunk contest.
Before he puts on his dunking shoes, Lillard will be showing off his marksmanship as part of the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest. The other participants are Kyrie Irving of the Cavaliers, Bradley Beal of the Wizards, Joe Johnson of the Nets and Arron Afflalo of the Magic for the East. Curry of the Warriors, Marco Belinelli of the Spurs and Kevin Love of the Timberwolves will join Lillard shooting for the West.
The major rule change in the contest is that players will have an entire rack of “money balls,” which count double, that can be placed in any of the five shooting positions around the court. Complete rules.
The Taco Bells Skills challenge has been turned into a relay race this year with each conference fielding two teams consisting of two players each. Each team will run the course, competing in a relay format for a single overall time. Complete rules.
The ubiquitous Lillard will team with Trey Burke of the Jazz and Reggie Jackson of the Thunder will team with Goran Dragic of the Suns to make up the Western Conference lineup. The East teams will be Michael Carter-Williams of the Sixers with Victor Oladipo of the Magic and DeMar DeRozan of the Raptors with rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks.
The Sears Shooting Stars will once again team a current NBA player with a WNBA star and an NBA legend in a time competition that will require four shots made from different spots on the court.
Each conference will be competing for charity. A total of $500,000 will be donated at the end of the night. For each competition, $100,000 will go to the winning conference’s charities, with $25,000 going to the charities of the runner-up.
State Farm All-Star Saturday night will be televised exclusively on TNT on Feb. 15 (8 p.m. ET).
[UPDATE: TNT will hold a fan vote during the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest to determine the Sprite Dunker of the Night. The winner of that vote will be considered the individual champion for the competition.]