Anthony Davis never shied away from wanting to shine where the stars are brightest.
On the opening possession of Sunday night’s NBA All-Star Game in the Smoothie King Center, Davis proved his words wouldn’t ring hollow. The 6-foot-10 forward received a pass off the opening tip, took a step inside the 3-point line and put up a shot.
There was plenty more to come as Davis took home the MVP trophy, smashing Wilt Chamberlain’s All-Star Game record of 42 points set in 1962, scoring 44 by the midway point of the fourth quarter before finishing with 52 points and 10 rebounds.
It helped pave the way for the Western Conference’s 192-182 victory over the East.
Davis lived up to the promise he made after being selected an All-Star, telling a national television audience he wanted to win the award to properly represent New Orleans on the international stage.
“I wanted to do it for the home crowd, I definitely did,” Davis said. “I think the best part of tonight was definitely winning this trophy, for sure.”
His jumper opened the floodgates to an endless deluge of offense. Full-court passes, around-the-back alley oops, way-too-deep 3-pointers and, of course, thunderous dunks lit up the scoreboard in a fashion befitting the game’s glitzy nature.
The West’s victory was merely a postscript to the variety of highlights produced by the sport’s most talented players, who displayed a penchant for teamwork on alley-oops but weren’t exactly concerned with defense.
Davis ignited the fireworks, setting off a first quarter that ended with the East ahead 53-48, on pace to construct the highest-scoring game in All-Star history. There were 42 dunks in the first half alone, after 57 in the entire game the previous season.
In earning the game’s MVP Award, Davis was far from deferential, getting plenty of shots up and doing his best to please the capacity crowd on hand in home arena.
Davis attempted eight of the West’s first 19 shots and led all scorers in first-half scoring, reaching 22 points on 17 shots. After the opening salvo, he did most of his work at the rim, becoming the favorite target of most teammates, who repeatedly looked for him.
In a game typified by selfish play, it was clear West teammates were giving Davis additional opportunities that may not come when the game is outside of New Orleans. Whether it was Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Marc Gasol or DeMarcus Cousins, Davis was given chances to finish possessions, just as West coach Steve Kerr predicted Saturday.
“It was amazing,” Davis said. “That's what I wanted to do. I stressed that, I think more than enough, to the guys in the locker room before the game that I wanted to get the MVP for this crowd, for this city, and I ended up doing it. Them guys did a great job of just finding me, giving me the basketball. They wanted me to score 50. Every time, Kawhi (Leonard) was like, 'Six more points.' Or James (Harden) was like, 'I'm going to pass you the ball.'
“Them guys did a great job allowing me to do this. I want to thank all of them. This definitely means a lot to me.”
Davis’ evening at the forefront of the basketball universe began when The Roots bellowed his name last, sparking a thunderous ovation. At that moment, it was clear the attention of building would be on the Pelicans standout.
It’s the kind of moment Davis has been waiting for since the city was awarded the game this summer. Throughout the past month, Davis served as a spokesman for New Orleans and the Pelicans regarding just about every All-Star issue.
His rise through the league’s prominence may have culminated Sunday night, when the game’s most competitive and talented players were turning to Davis as a focal point, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt he’s among the league’s most popular and respected players.
It was the latest compliment Davis received, after words of praise showered the fifth-year standout over the entirety of All-Star weekend. Mavericks guard Wesley Matthews went as far as saying if we were to design an NBA player in a video game, it would just be Davis.
By hoisting the MVP trophy, he lived up to that reputation.
“It’s amazing," Davis said. "That’s what I did it for — New Orleans fans and the Pelicans organization. Pelicans fans are here for us each and every night, so I just wanted to make it special."