TORONTO (Reuters) - The NBA got a frosty welcome as it brought its All-Star Game north to Canada for the first time where fans and players were greeted by an Arctic blast on Friday but a forecast for plenty of heat over a party packed weekend.
Mother Nature and the host Toronto Raptors provided the stereotypical bone-chilling Canadian winter weather as A-list celebrities, industry kingpins and the world’s best basketball players, including LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Stephen Curry took over the frost-bitten city.
“It’s cold; it’s really, really cold. Really cold,” shivered Los Angeles Lakers great Bryant, who arrived for Media Day on Friday with a toque pulled down snuggly over his head.
“But it really is great to be here. This is a beautiful city, truly deserving to have an All-Star game.”
Played outside the United States for the first time in its 65-year history, in a way the NBA is returning to its roots this weekend, since the game was invented by Canadian Dr. James Naismith in 1891.
Paying homage to that bit of trivia, NBA commissioner Adam Silver kicked off an early morning NBA All-Star Technology Summit by having a discussion with a walking, talking life-size hologram of Naismith.
Silver also discussed the game’s history, talking about Toronto hosting the first NBA game in 1946, a time when the commissioner said one could’ve bought an NBA franchise for $10,000.
Normally it is the NHL that rules supreme in hockey crazed Toronto but with the sad sack Maple Leafs languishing at the bottom of the NHL standings the All-Star extravaganza has been a welcome distraction.
Even an extreme cold weather warning could not deter hundreds from lining up at a Michael Jordan pop up store to get a shot at a pair of his latest signature sneakers and other VIP merchandise.
Fortunately, with temperatures expected to plunge close to minus 25 Celsius (minus 13 Fahrenheit), most of the weekend action on the court and off it will be taking place indoors.
A week after the NFL hogged the spotlight with Super Bowl 50, it is the NBA’s turn to take center stage with a glittering lineup of players and celebrities.
The first NBA All-Star game outside the U.S. will provide fans in 215 countries and territories with access in 49 languages on televisions, computers, mobile phones and tablets.
Reporters from 336 international media outlets from 40 countries will be in Toronto while 17 international television and radio networks including China, Japan and France will carry Sunday’s showcase live.
On the court the focus will be Bryant, who will be making his 18th and final All-Star appearance after announcing in December that this his 20th NBA season would be his last.
“I‘m looking around the room and I‘m seeing guys that I am playing with and tearing the league up that were four when I was in my first All-Star game,” said Bryant.
”I‘m really just enjoying this whole thing being around the players, talking to them one more time.
“Going to practice, enjoying that moment. Playing in the game enjoying that moment, so the competitiveness in terms of me trying to establish something, prove something, that’s gone.”
To be part of Bryant’s All-Star swan song comes with a high price tag with tickets for Sunday’s game going for as much as $6,500 US on ticket resale site StubHub.
Like the Super Bowl, getting an invite or ticket to one of the splashy All-Star bashes will be harder to nail than a half-court three-pointer.
Former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal is hosting Maxim magazine’s All-Star party with tickets going for $500 apiece while True North entertainment has literally pitched its tent across from Toronto’s iconic CN Tower, where Drake, Usher, Gwen Stefani and Snoop Dogg are among those expected to perform.
Editing by Larry Fine