A center winning the All-Star Weekend Skills competition?
That’s the new NBA in a nutshell. It makes '70s babies throw their hands up and toss that last pair of baggy jeans in the closet and go thigh-tight to fit in with the changing fashion trends.
On the flipside, if you are an '80s baby, you couldn’t help but pull for Minnesota Timberwolves rookie Karl-Anthony Towns, AKA "The Cat Man", to win the event.
First off, while every NBA player was dressed like a cross between Lil Wayne, Bootsy Collins and an Italian runway model, Towns was looking Boyz In The Hood rugged with his ski hat, hoody and lumberjack shirt. He was on that Apache Gangsta Bitch flow. There’s something to be said for a guy who respects history.
While our airwaves and TV screens were dominated by this recent NBA infatuation with the rapper Drake, Towns’ post-Skills Challenge attire let you know there are still some throwback rugged ballers in the league.
Before he threw it back however, he helped move the NBA into post-Kobe life by giving a methodical and palpable showcase that visually established the importance of the NBA center in 2016. The seven-footer beat Boston Celtics floor general Isaiah Thomas, one of the league's top guards, in the finals of the 2016 Taco Bell Skills Challenge on Saturday night, in the first year that frontcourt players were allowed to compete against the guards in a competition traditionally dominated by backcourt players.
Entering the event, many doubted that Towns could handle, drain the trey and execute the extra pass well enough to win. Last week, his multi-talented teammate Ricky Rubio said Towns had no shot.
Towns killed all of that noise, channeling his inner Magic Johnson and beating Golden State's Draymond Green, the NBA’s triple-double king and Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins, considered to be the most skilled low post player in the game, in the big men side of the bracket before edging Thomas. It was a surprising victory that gave fans a glimpse into how the position will be played moving forward.
"I'm glad I was able to help the bigs come out with this trophy," said Towns, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2105 draft. "This is bigger than me. This is for all the bigs out there, with the game changing the way it is, to show that bigs can stand up with guards skillwise."
Four years ago, the NBA decided to eliminate the center position on the All-Star ballot in response to the declining talent pool at the position and the way NBA offenses are now predicated on spacing and perimeter shooting.
The style of the game isn’t as hardcore as it once was, but “stone cold” describes Towns’ performance on the court this season, as he leads all rookies in scoring (17.1 ppg) and rebounding (10.1 rpg).
When last year’s NBA Draft materialized, the league was blessed with three franchise-altering first round seven-footers.
Philadelphia’s Jahlil Okafor and Towns were considered the top two centers in the draft. New York Knicks rising star Kristaps Porzingis (13.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.9 blocks) was considered a 7-3 project, but has quickly asserted himself as a force in his first season with the Knicks.
His 30-point performance in the Rising Stars Challenge, led the World Team to a 157-154, high-flying win over Team USA.Towns chipped in with 18 and Okafor added 13 points in a game void of defense.
Even with superior stats, some might say Towns was the least heralded of the three rookies entering All-Star weekend. Averaging a double-double on a 17-37 T-Wolves squad doesn’t quite immortalize you like averaging 14 and 8 in a thirsty Madison Square Garden. In fact, Porzingis has shot past both players in popularity due to his rare combination of size, mobility, shooting ability and international appeal.
The evolution of the game is no more evident than when you watch these seven-footers exhibit an array of skills and philosophies towards the game that an NBA center would never display a decade ago.
Although it was just an exhibition, as the years turn, Towns’ victory in the Skills Competition will be a common point of reference when discussing the moment that Pops poured out a little liquor for the center position as he knows it. A funeral no doubt, but one that spawned an even more spectacular rebirth. Proof that seven-footers will still grace the hardwood.
They won’t do it with the traditional execution of their forefathers. They will use a futuristic, multi-faceted approach that satisfies the changing aspects of the game and adds to its entertainment value, but also preserves the reverence and irreplaceable impact that comes with being an elite NBA big.