The wildly entertaining NBA All-Star draft was everything the players — including Warriors’ Steph Curry — once feared

The NBA’s off-the-court entertainment factor is sometimes overstated, leading to overzealous bloggers and fans quote-tweeting mild jokes and digs from players with “THIS LEAGUE.” But Thursday night’s televised NBA All-Star draft, where LeBron James and Kevin Durant selected their respective teams for the All-Star Game, was actually wildly entertaining — and arguably the high point of the season.

Both players selected their rosters and bantered with the “Inside the NBA” crew, culminating with an awkward ending: James did everything in his power to get Durant to select his now-former Brooklyn teammate, James Harden, who was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in a blockbuster deal just hours earlier in a move that the guard kind of forced.

Durant had the second-to-last pick with only two players left: Harden and Jazz center Rudy Gobert. Durant, who had already drafted Karl Anthony-Towns and Joel Embiid, pretended he needed additional size on his roster and went with Gobert, all while James, along with the in-studio panel, was cracking up.

It’s difficult to imagine a better boon for the league’s marketability than this segment: Two of the NBA’s biggest stars doing a fantasy draft of fellow top players and capping a rather frantic/unnecessarily serious news day with comedic relief.

What’s even more difficult to imagine now is that just a few years ago, players were apprehensive about this obviously made-for-TV format. When the league first suggested the All-Star draft as a way to combat the malaise that had surrounded the All-Star game for years, the players’ association pushed back at the idea of ​​televising the selection process.

“The NBPA did not consult a single agent on the issue of a televised all-star draft,” the union wrote in a Jan. 2018 statement. “It was the absence of a consensus by prospective players likely to be affected that led to support for a reveal. Whether a decision to broadcast the draft will be made after this year’s game, that will be determined going forward.”

Commissioner Adam Silver later went as far as to point out that it was then-Western Conference captain Stephen Curry who vocalized keeping the draft off television in 2018. The understanding among observers and players alike was that this was done to protect the egos of players who would be selected later in the draft, as well as to avoid uncomfortable scenarios in which captains pass over their real-life teammates.

Not everyone shared Curry’s feeling at the time. Klay Thompson and John Wall both initially supported a televised draft. James, Curry’s rival All-Star captain, gave a classic non-committal response of “it doesn’t matter,” but the NBPA pushback was enough that the results of the 2018 draft were simply revealed on television. The two captains quickly agreed that the choices should’ve been on television after all.

It’s not clear what exactly made Curry and James change their tune, but their endorsements ultimately led to a televised event that has evolved quite rapidly. The concerns of the Players’ Association and their agents — that feelings could be hurt — have fully come to fruition. One captain (Durant) selected the star player (Joel Embiid) that the captain’s former teammate (Harden) essentially left Brooklyn for; another captain (James) actively pushed a player (Harden) towards the end of the draft because he thought it’d be a good bit. Both captains had a good laugh at the expense of Harden, the player picked last.

Four years after the televised draft was railed against, Durant and James seemed to recognize the selection process for what it is: genuinely entertaining, and not really a big deal.

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