LOS ANGELES — In a game universally praised for its finish, Anthony Davis’ highlight came at the start.
It even caused a few double takes among the crowd in a sold-out Staples Center.
As the flashbulbs popped at the All-Star Game’s opening tipoff, Davis was wearing a different jersey, with a different name. He donned the uniform of his injured teammate — both with the New Orleans Pelicans and Team LeBron — DeMarcus Cousins, who is out for the remainder of the season with a torn Achilles tendon.
It was the No. 0 jersey Cousins earned when he was named an All-Star starter last month for the first time in his career. And although Davis chuckled, claiming it was a little bit big on him, the tribute was heartfelt.
“I wanted to go out there and support him,” Davis said. “I know he wanted to play for the first time with the starters. So, I kind of wanted to make that come true. I was just paying my respects.”
Davis said he came up with the idea earlier Sunday and Cousins showed an appreciation for the gesture, posting a picture of Davis on his Instagram account.
It was Davis’ fifth All-Star selection, his third as a starter, and it was supposed to the first time one of his Pelicans teammates would join him on the court. But, when Cousins went down in late January, those hopes were dashed.
“I think he had an idea I was going to do it,” Davis said. “I just wanted to pay my respects, because I know he worked hard to get into this game, especially as a starter, so I just wanted to make that come true for him.”
It came together thanks to some odd circumstances. Cousins underwent his Achilles surgery three weeks ago in Los Angeles, and doctors have restricted Cousins’ travel since then as he begins rehabilitation.
But because the All-Star Game was headed to L.A., Cousins was able to participate in some off-court events and was even introduced as a starter by comedian Kevin Hart.
“It was definitely convenient for him,” Davis said. “I think he even went to some appearances. He was able to come today and watch the game and be a part of it. So I'm glad he was able to get his mind off it a little bit and just kind of enjoy the weekend."
While Davis’ tribute grabbed the early headlines, a rare competitive All-Star Game actually unfolded in the final minutes. However, Davis watched crunch time from the bench.
He was replaced by Paul George among the Team LeBron starters, as coach Mike D’Antoni (and LeBron James) opted to go with a smaller lineup against Team Stephen.
The strategy worked, as Team LeBron erased a double-digit deficit in the final minutes and made a critical defensive stand at the buzzer to walk away as winners.
Each player on the winning team received an extra $100,000, a significant boost from years past. And Davis remained engaged on the bench and later said he wasn’t perturbed by being replaced down the stretch.
“I don’t think I was (on a minutes restriction), but, hey, we won,” Davis said. “So I'm happy about that. It's an All-Star Game, so I don't get caught up in that. Now, if it was with the Pelicans it would be a little different. But I don't get caught up in that stuff about playing or not playing. I mean, I’m just having fun competing, and we are trying to win.”