Sunday’s 65th National Basketball Association All-Star Game in Toronto will mark the first time the popular exhibition contest has been held outside the United States, another sign that the league is looking to expand its brand in international markets.
The game will be played at Air Canada Centre, the home arena of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors club. Last month, the Raptors and the Orlando Magic traveled overseas to London and entertained basketball fans in the British capital in a regular season game.
Point guard Kyle Lowry scored 24 points to help lead the Raptors to a 106-103 overtime victory over the Magic in London. The NBA has also staged regular season games in recent years in Mexico and Japan.
Lowry and Raptors teammate DeMar DeRozan were both named to the All-Star Game and they should hear more than a few cheers from the crowd in Toronto.
The reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors are the only club with three players selected for the All-Star Game: guard Klay Thompson, forward Draymond Green and sharpshooter Stephen Curry, the league’s current MVP and leading scorer.
While Curry should get a lot of attention in his third all-star appearance, so will Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, who announced this season, his 20th in the league, will be his last.
The 37-year-old Bryant is making his 18th All-Star Game appearance. Only retired great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, has more all-star selections with 19.
In recent years, more international players have participated in the All-Star Game. During the 2015 contest in New York City, veteran German big man Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks and Spain’s Gasol brothers – Pau Gasol of the Chicago Bulls and Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies – all participated.
For Sunday’s game, though, only Pau Gasol was selected. International players will be well-represented in the Rising Stars Challenge, an exhibition game for first and second-year players held on Friday night before the main All-Star Game.
The Rising Stars challenge features Team World against Team USA. All of Team World’s players were born outside the United States, and includes rookies Emmanuel Mudiay of the Denver Nuggets and Kristaps Porzingis of the New York Knicks.
The 19-year-old Mudiay is from the Democratic Republic of Congo, while the 20-year-old Porzingis, a top candidate for the Rookie of the Year award, is from Latvia.