One of the ways that the NBA hopes to get through the second half of the season — and to welcome more fans back into the arenas — is through vaccination. But the league is walking a delicate path on a push to get players to buy into being a part of it, receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and also helping to promote the use to their communities.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Saturday that he was not aware of any players who had received the vaccine yet, but he said, " I think ultimately these are personal decisions that players need to make, just like everyone in our communities need to make. We see our role, together with the Players Association, providing them with the best possible information, and also encouraging them to seek out information on their own. They have personal physicians, others they may rely on.
" . . . I also think being realistic, around the NBA, as I said, we have no plans to mandate that players get vaccinated. For any sort of large-scale, required vaccinations to take place, that can only happen with the Players Association."
Players asked about it Sunday were divided with many still either asking for privacy or waiting for more information. The league already has been working with its medical staff to speak in Zoom calls to all teams.
"That’s a conversation that my family and I will have and pretty much keep that to a private thing," LeBron James said. "Adam had his comments about vaccination. That’s a conversation between you and your family."
Toppin loses Slam Dunk Contest to Blazers' Simons
Julius Randle had spied the practice session for the Slam Dunk competition Saturday night and he had a prediction. "Obi is winning the dunk contest for sure,’’ Randle said. "What I saw yesterday it was absolutely nuts, insane. I’m definitely willing to bet he’s going to win the dunk contest and do a great job and represent New York well."
Toppin did represent, but he did not come back with a win, falling short in the judging with three judges giving the victory to Portland’s Anfernee Simons while two judges — Spud Webb and Josh Smith — selected Toppin.
Toppin had a 48 on his first dunk and then Toppin brought Randle, onto the floor. Then he called for his father, Obadiah Toppin Sr. — also known in street ball circles as Dunkers Delight — to line up next to Randle. He then soared over both of them, windmilling the ball in to advance to the final round.
But his effort in the final, taking off just inside the foul line, transferring the ball between his legs and dunking it, didn’t impress the judges as much as the sheer height from Simons, who threw down a simple dunk, but did it while nearly kissing the rim.
"Me, given this opportunity to be on this stage with all these great players, it's a dream come true," Toppin said. "I didn’t get the win, but all three of us had great dunks and it was a fun experience. Hopefully I can come back next year.
"I don’t feel like I got robbed at all. Anfernee’s a great dunker. He got all three of his dunks on the first try. The second and third dunk I messed up on, had to do it a second time. I felt like if I got those on my first try it would have been a different result. Anfernee did a great job. He deserved that trophy."
Cassius Stanley, on a two-way contract with the Pacers this season, was eliminated in the first round.
Stephen Curry won the Mountain Dew Three-point competition, although not without a scare. Utah’s Mike Conley and Jayson Tatum advanced to the final round with Curry and Conley put up a 27, setting a mark for Curry to chase. Curry started slow, misfiring on 4 of 5 shots on his first rack. But he converted both of the new "Dew Zone" shots from 29 feet, nine inches which were worth three points each. He then converted 4 of 5 on the last rack, including the last shot, a money ball worth two points, to finish with 28 points and the victory.
Sabonis tops Randle, wins Skills Challenge
Julius Randle faced Indiana’s Domantas Sabonis, who he had battled for a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star Team, in the opening round of the Taco Bell Skills Challenge. Sabonis, who was the runner-up in the competition last year, bested Randle after connecting on every attempt at a skill set test. Randle missed on his passing accuracy and that was enough to give Sabonis the time he needed to connect on the winning three-point field goal attempt before Randle could get a shot off. Sabonis then disposed of Luka Doncic, who missed his first two passing attempts.
In the other bracket, Nikola Vucevic beat Robert Covington and then beat Chris Paul to reach the finals.
Sabonis, who was added to the All-Star Game to replace Kevin Durant, then captured the title by beating Vucevic in a battle of the big men.