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Zion, USA win Rising Stars in rim-rattling fashion

CHICAGO — Zion Williamson’s monster dunk in the second quarter of the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night bent an entire basket stanchion — so much so that it required a ladder-and-wrench halftime fix at the United Center.

Williamson took a pass from Trae Young late in the first half, cocked the ball back on the left side of the rim, and hammered it home. For the remainder of the half — about 1:10 — the backboard was notably tilted down to the left.

Zion Williamson dunked so hard at the Rising Stars game that it bent the hoop on Friday night at the United Center in Chicago.Zion Williamson dunked so hard at the Rising Stars game that it bent the hoop on Friday night at the United Center in Chicago.
Zion Williamson dunked so hard at the Rising Stars Challenge that he bent the hoop support on Friday night at the United Center in Chicago. (Screenshot: TNT)

Proof of Zion’s destructive powers arrived at halftime. With a musical performance ongoing, a few arena staffers came out with a ladder and some tools. One spent about four minutes working on the basket, tugging it from one side, then the other.

Q: Did Zion Williamson dunk so hard he tilted the rim/backboard?

A: Well, a few arena staffers had to fix it at halftime… pic.twitter.com/EvltHJ6fjs

— Henry Bushnell (@HenryBushnell) February 15, 2020

Williamson’s face lit up with a smile when asked about the bent basket after the game. He claimed he didn’t realize it at the time. “I don’t think it was me,” he said with a laugh. But his teammates realized and told him.

By the time the teams returned for the second half, the basket was restored to normal. Nothing, though, will ever be able to normalize or neutralize Zion’s force.

“That ain’t the first rim he’s probably bent, or is gonna break throughout his career,” Young said.

The U.S. team went on to win 151-131 — with the final minute of the game turning into an uncontested dunk contest. Zion tried three ridiculously acrobatic ones – but missed all of them.

Zion almost brought the house down with these 🤯 pic.twitter.com/T9c6nMfa7i

— ESPN (@espn) February 15, 2020

On the whole, though, it was a night of fun all around.

Miles Bridges calls his shot, wins MVP

While sitting in the locker room at halftime, Miles Bridges pulled out his phone and took to Twitter.

Alright bet pic.twitter.com/ORGCh4F9Zp

— Miles Bridges (@MilesBridges) February 15, 2020

Clearly, the Charlotte Hornets sophomore wasn’t joking around.

Bridges came out of the break and took off. He finished the night with 20 points — 13 in the third quarter — and threw down an insane off-the-backboard dunk, too.

Miles Bridges pic.twitter.com/deqHFWwppV

— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) February 15, 2020

Soon, the Americans’ 10-point halftime deficit was a thing of the past.

“Coach was getting on us [at halftime]. He was saying, like, we got to play for real,” Bridges said on TNT. “He wanted us to be competitive, and that’s what we did in the second half. In the first half, we weren’t playing competitive. We had to play for real in the second half.”

Later, a question about his tweet brought a chuckle out of Bridges. “Just trying to be funny,” he said of the thought process behind it. He downplayed its impact on the victory. His second-half performance, however, was enough to earn him MVP honors.

USA Team wins and Miles Bridges receives the #NBARisingStars MVP! #NBAAllStarpic.twitter.com/7be4Z11sdX

— 2020 NBA All-Star (@NBAAllStar) February 15, 2020

The important question, though: Based on Friday’s evidence, should players be allowed to tweet during regular-season NBA games?

Bridges was asked — and, unfortunately, killed the fun. “No, you shouldn’t allow tweeting during games,” he said.

Zion the star of the show

Although Bridges got the MVP nod, Williamson brought the crowd to its feet more than any other player. And he had fun in the process — especially when Ja Morant threw him a lob from half-court.

Half-court lob from Ja to Zion! 🤯 #NBARisingStarspic.twitter.com/hDNKXfOSn0

— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) February 15, 2020

The link-up brought the two back to their high school years, back to South Carolina, where they played one season together on the same AAU team. Williamson said it was his favorite moment of the night. “Reminisced on that,” he said. “Back to ninth grade. It was crazy, honestly. After I caught it, we got a timeout, or we got subbed out. I was thinking about our [AAU] days. I keep thinking, never in a million years would I have thought we woulda been in this game, or this situation.”

Morant agreed. “It took me back,” he said. “It definitely wasn’t the same as AAU, but that connection will always be there.”

It was the end of a whirlwind 24 hours for Williamson: 32 points in a Pelicans game on Thursday night; a flight that landed around 2 a.m.; a media frenzy the next morning; shootaround, other events; and then the Rising Stars Challenge.

“Honestly, until the game, I don’t think I could tell you what time it was throughout the day,” he said postgame. “It went by fast, to be honest. It went by too fast. I think I’m gonna have to sit in my room, later or when I get back home, and just take in the whole day to truly enjoy it.”

But his favorite moment of the day? Meeting Barack Obama.

And his description of the former president, who doubles as a hoophead?

“He’s a cool dude, man. Like, it’s Obama. C’mon.”

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