SALT LAKE CITY – If so inclined, and if fellow captain LeBron James was to cooperate with his own selections, Giannis Antetokounmpo could pick Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid and Lauri Markkanen to play on his team Sunday night.
Imagine that: an All-International All-Star starting lineup.
It’s one of the many possibilities for this weekend’s events in Salt Lake City.
NBA All-Star weekend is almost here, with many of the principals arriving in Utah on Thursday and a few more set to arrive on Friday in time for the official three-day lineup to begin. More than 60 players from the NBA and G League will be part of the showcase — the All-Star Game on Sunday, the dunk, 3-point and skills competitions on All-Star Saturday, and the Rising Stars games for first- and second-year players on Friday.
“You can never take this for granted,” said Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks forward who is heading to his seventh All-Star Game. “You never know how many times more you’re going to be an All-Star. I don’t take this for granted. And by the way, thanks for all the fans who voted for me as captain. I don’t take that for granted. We have to go there, have fun, enjoy the time with our kids.”
Of the 10 starters on Sunday night, barring any changes to the rosters because of injuries, six were born outside the U.S., which is a record. The nine internationally born All-Stars ties a record.
It’s a homecoming of sorts for Donovan Mitchell, the Cleveland guard who spent the first five years of his NBA career in Utah until he was traded last summer. Mitchell still has deep ties to Utah; he’s throwing a comedy show for charity this weekend to benefit Kearns High School, a place that he worked closely with when he played for the Jazz.
“You learn to appreciate those moments,” said Mitchell, who had to miss last year’s All-Star Game in Cleveland because of an upper respiratory issue. “You learn to appreciate those things because they saw me grow up. I was a young kid, just happy to be drafted and then given a role to be one of the leaders on the team early, making the playoffs, having big moments, having struggles, ups and downs. And to grow into who I am today, I’m forever grateful, forever thankful.
“So to be there my first time as a starter, back on the team that I was a fan of as a kid, there’s just so many different things you can point to.”
For some — Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards, Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox, Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton, Memphis’ Jaren Jackson Jr. and Markkanen of the host Jazz — this will be their first All-Star Game appearance.
For James, it’s his 19th trip to an All-Star Game. And this one will be like none other, with the NBA set to pay tribute to him passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar earlier this month as the league’s career scoring leader with a halftime ceremony on Sunday night. The league started eyeing All-Star weekend as the right time to properly fete James a few weeks ago when it looked like the timing would be right for him to break the record before the events in Salt Lake City, and then the plans began in earnest after he moved into the No. 1 spot last week.
James said he'll be doing some studying for the Los Angeles Lakers' stretch run over the break, but he said he's also looking forward to some time off. He missed three games with foot and ankle issues, then returned and played only 29 minutes in the Lakers' win Wednesday over New Orleans — so he should be fully recharged for the last 23 games.
“I've got a game on Sunday, but we don't play again until Thursday," James said. “It'll be great not only for me, but for the rest of the group as well."
And for Utah, hosting been 30 years in the making. The last time the league’s midseason showcase — though in this case, midseason is more like three-quarters of the way through the season, with all teams having between 21 and 25 games left on their 82-game schedule — came to Salt Lake City was 1993.
“This is a really important moment for our state to shine,” Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith said. “I mean, it’s been 30 years. To give you an idea of what the difference is, 10 times the hotel rooms needed to be secured ... and we’re ready for it.”
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.
AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports