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All-Star weekend arrives in Indianapolis, a 1st-time event for some, a 21st-time event for LeBron

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Welcome back, LeBron James. Welcome for the first time, Paolo Banchero, Scottie Barnes, Jalen Brunson and Tyrese Maxey.

All-Star weekend in Indianapolis is here, with some familiar names, some new faces, a nod to nostalgia and a bit of unwinding for everyone before the stretch run of the season. Most of the 54 players who will be part of the weekend’s on-court festivities — and quite a few more are coming as well — began arriving on Thursday.

The rundown of events, and there are dozens, officially opened Thursday night with a tip-off party. Indiana All-Star guard Tyrese Haliburton showed up in the ultimate Hoosier State style, in an IndyCar — the state may be hoops-crazy, but auto racing is pretty big here as well — driven by Indiana native Conor Daly, a two-time top-10 finisher at the Indianapolis 500.

Haliburton shared the stage with another legend of basketball in Indiana — Larry Bird, who handed Haliburton a ceremonial golden basketball.

“The fans are excited. I’m excited,” Haliburton said. “It’s a chance to showcase our city.”

For James, it’s his 21st All-Star weekend in his 21 NBA seasons. He didn’t make the All-Star Game as a rookie; he made the weekend as part of the rookie game. He’s made every All-Star Game since, now the first player to be picked for the showcase in 20 different seasons. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a 19-time selection.

“I’m humbled and very blessed, obviously,” James said. “I don’t take it for granted, being an All-Star. The fact that I still get to represent this franchise, one, my family — which is most important, my family name on the back of the jersey, that’s very important to me when it comes to acknowledgement and accolades and things of that nature — and also the fans, who’ve been down with me for the last two decades-plus.”

There is something for everyone. There are all the traditional NBA on-court events — the Rising Stars and celebrity games on Friday; the dunk contest, 3-point shootout and skills competition on Saturday; then the All-Star Game itself on Sunday. Added to the slate for Saturday: a 3-point contest between NBA shooting king Stephen Curry and WNBA 3-point contest record-holder Sabrina Ionescu.

There’s a game between a pair of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, as the NBA continues to give HBCU institutions part of the All-Star spotlight. This year, the game is Virginia Union against Winston-Salem State on Saturday afternoon. This weekend, a glass LED court is set to be part of the show on Friday and Saturday. There’s even a fan event called NBA Crossover, set up in a 350,000-square-foot space where ticketholders can try virtual reality headsets, test out the latest offerings from Jordan Brand, play with an airless basketball, even get a haircut while playing video games. And there’s a brunch honoring icons of the game on Sunday, an event that’s almost as tough a ticket to get as the game itself.

“Honestly, it’s just amazing to be an All-Star,” Banchero said. The Orlando forward was at All-Star weekend last year for rookie and skills events — this year, he’s got events on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, having made the big game for the first time.

Banchero is one of four first-time All-Stars, joining New York’s Brunson, Philadelphia’s Maxey and Toronto’s Barnes. Plenty of other players are part of the weekend for the first time; that’s what events like the Rising Stars games are about, to give the league’s top promising players a chance to get a feel for the big stage.

“I’m excited to get there, excited to let it all sink in,” said San Antonio’s Victor Wembanyama, the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft who has the Rising Stars games and the skills competition on his on-court calendar this weekend.

Above all else, it’s a weekend for the fans. The All-Stars who’ll play Sunday combined to get more than 60 million votes from fans around the world. The game will be shown in more than 210 countries and territories, broadcast in 60 languages, and fans from at least 34 different nations have bought tickets to come to Indianapolis this weekend.

They probably don’t care who wins. They just want to see a show.

“I try to do it for them,” James said. “They’ve been along this journey for so long. It’s pretty cool to still be able to do it and do it at this level.”

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA

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