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NBA All-Star game draft: LeBron James selects Giannis Antetokounmpo first overall

Lakers star LeBron James celebrates during the 2020 All-Star game last year in Chicago.
(Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press)

A year after LeBron James selected Kevin Durant as the first overall pick, the two superstars found themselves as opponents on Thursday for the 2021 NBA All-Star game draft.

James, the Western Conference captain, said he is less than enthused by the festivities this year because of the shortened offseason and the COVID-19 pandemic, and Durant won’t be playing in the game because of injury. The proceedings, which were taped Wednesday and broadcast Thursday, carried on nevertheless with both captains sharing laughs about their favorite All-Star game memories.

James, a 17-time All-Star, selected Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo as the first overall pick among the other starters. James was granted the first pick because he received the most fan votes to be in the game. Durant, the Eastern Conference captain, followed by drafting Brooklyn Nets teammate Kyrie Irving.

The rest of James’ starting lineup is made up of Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic and Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic.

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Durant’s starting lineup includes Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid and Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard. Since there was an uneven number of players, Durant automatically got Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal and Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum.

Tatum, who was originally selected to the game as a reserve, filled Durant’s role as a starter and Indiana Pacers center Domantas Sabonis was brought onto the reserves as Tatum’s replacement.

The 2021 NBA All-Star game is set for Sunday in Atlanta. Here are the details from tipoff time to game format and player draft to the dunk contest.

“I just try to pick players that can complement one another,” James said of his draft strategy. “When we’re on the floor, we’ll try to play the game the right way. It’s the All-Star Game, so there’s going to be some shenanigans out there. But for the majority of the game, we’re going to try to play the right way and come out with a win.”

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Durant went first in the second round, picking up his other Nets teammate James Harden. James then selected Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard.

The rest of Durant’s reserve squad is made up of Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine, who Durant said he was ”very excited” about, New York Knicks forward Julius Randle, Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic and Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell.

Booker replaced injured Lakers forward Anthony Davis, who was selected to the game as a reserve player, but hurt his Achilles in February and is dealing with a calf strain now. This is the Suns guard’s second consecutive All-Star appearance.

James’ bench also has 76ers guard Ben Simmons, Suns guard Chris Paul, Celtics forward Jaylen Brown, Clippers forward Paul George, who James joked this was “the only time I’ll root for this guy,” Sabonis and Jazz center Rudy Gobert as the last pick.

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Several on social media pointed out that the two Jazz players were selected last even though the team has the best record in the NBA. During the broadcast, James laughed that he meant “no slander to the Utah Jazz, but you guys gotta understand, just like in video games growing up, we never played with Utah. Even as great as Karl Malone and John Stockton was, we would never pick those guys.”

This year’s format will follow that of previous games with three timed segments where each team plays for a charity of their choice. The score is reset to zero at the end of each quarter before the fourth, when the time is turned off and each team plays to a target score of 24 points more than the highest cumulative score, a tribute to Kobe Bryant.

James is playing for Thurgood Marshall College Fund. Durant’s charity of choice is the United Negro College Fund. The court will feature a design paying tribute to HBCUs.

James seeks to remain undefeated as an All-Star game captain. He won over Curry‘s team in 2018, the league’s first year under the new format, and beat Team Giannis twice in a row.

The skills challenge and three-point contest will take place before the game and the slam dunk contest will take place at halftime.

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After the draft, fans were going back-and-forth online, mostly saying that Team James was going to beat Team Durant.

The 2021 NBA All-Star game will be played Sunday at 5 p.m. PST in Atlanta and will air on TNT.

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