Of all of the NBA players who were invited to Chicago for All-Star Weekend, Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was likely one of the last to arrive following the Thunder’s road win in New Orleans on Thursday night. He was also the first player in Chicago to touch a basketball.
Striding onto the floor at Wintrust Arena, Gilgeous-Alexander was a few steps ahead of his fellow 2020 Rising Stars teammates on the World squad as they assembled for practice early on Friday morning. Donning a black jersey with white lettering, a black long sleeve undershirt and black leggings under black shorts, he snagged a basketball, dribbled up-court and launched a shot before giving fellow Canadian and NBA legend Steve Nash a massive hug.
Gilgeous-Alexander was one of many Canadians representing the World Team on Friday, a list including New York Knicks guard RJ Barrett, Memphis Grizzlies forward Brandon Clarke and Shai’s own cousin, Pelicans guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker. At Rising Stars media availability on Friday morning, Shai’s podium was right next to Nickeil’s.
“Not a lot of people they can say they’ve been this far with their cousin,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “It’s these kinds of moments that we cherish.”
Even the World Team’s coaches represented Canada, as former Thunder assistant coach Adrian Griffin joined the rest of the Toronto Raptors assistant coach group to work with the youngsters. With Nash leading the way, Canadians like Jamal Murray and Andrew Wiggins carrying the torch and Gilgeous-Alexander lighting the path for the future, the great north has emerged as a basketball powerhouse over the past couple decades.
“It’s super cool to see how far Canadian basketball has come,” said Gilgeous-Alexander.
At All-Star Weekend, the practices, the media sessions, they’re all build-up to the events at the NBA arena that evening. On Friday afternoon, Gilgeous-Alexander made an appearance at the ELeague All-Star Throwdown at the House of Blues, where he played NBA 2K while NBA TV commentators Quentin Richardson, Channing Frye, Ro Parrish and Kristin Ledlow looked on.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) February 14, 2020
SGA kicked things off for the Thunder’s fully loaded weekend in the Rising Stars game. This is two consecutive seasons for Gilgeous-Alexander in this event, with the first coming last February in Charlotte when he played for the World Team as a rookie with the LA Clippers. This time around, he was a little more prepared for the whirlwind of events.
“It’s a little bit smoother. I know what to expect,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “Even though it’s a little bit busier, I still know what’s coming.”
Shai enjoyed connecting with guys around the league, the ones he competed against all season long but now got the chance to team up with even if just for a night.
Making it two straight years and with his stock continuing to soar, Gilgeous-Alexander has the opportunity to start making it clear that he’ll be a household name, and a headliner at All-Star Weekend for years to come.
“It’s one of those things you dream of as a kid,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “I’m extremely excited. It’s an opportunity that not a lot of guys get to have. I’m just thankful for it.”
As a four-star recruit, Gilgeous-Alexander was underrated coming out of high school but piqued the interest of University of Kentucky’s John Calipari. During his one year in Lexington, his rookie season in LA and now his first season with the Thunder, Gilgeous-Alexander has continually defied the prognosticators and improved his game. This season he’s averaging 19.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.2 steals to earn his spot in the starting lineup for the World Team in the Rising Stars game.
“My teammates and the (Thunder) organization does a really good job putting you in a position to succeed. It’s really been a blessed situation,” said Gilgeous-Alexander.
After the pomp and circumstance of the team introductions, Gilgeous-Alexander got right to work, helping the world take a 39-30 lead through the first quarter. For his first basket, Gilgeous-Alexander drove right across the lane and finishes with a scooping righty layup off the glass, a quintessential SGA move. A few minutes later, Shai buried a left wing three, then on the next possession used some crafty dribbling skills to go behind his back, getting the ball to his left hand for another finger roll off the glass.
“I played last night, dunking wasn’t in it for me. Maybe next week,” Gilgeous-Alexander chuckled.
After he checked back in for the second quarter, SGA received the ball on the block, turned around and used his length to rise over his defender and bank a shot in off the glass. Through the second and third quarters, Shai continued to be amongst the World Team’s scoring leaders, but the USA team surged ahead on the scoreboard to lead 115-105 after three quarters. Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting, 3 rebounds and 3 assists, but ultimately the USA squad won 151-131.
Still, Gilgeous-Alexander had a blast playing in front of the fans in Chicago to kick off the NBA’s and shared the floor with his cousin Nickeil, a once in a lifetime experience. It’s also one Shai isn’t going to let Nickeil forget.
“I left him a drop off in transition and he didn’t shoot it. I’m going to have to talk to him about that,” SGA grinned.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) February 14, 2020