Speed Read: Back Home Again

It’s been nearly 40 years since the legendary matchup of Larry Bird and Michael Jordan at the last NBA All-Star Game held here. This month, Indy and new star Tyrese Haliburton take the global stage.
Photo courtesy © Frank Espich – USA Today Network

THE BASKETBALL WORLD IS DESCENDING UPON THE BASKETBALL STATE. This month, NBA stars, including LeBron James, Steph Curry, Luka Dončić, and even the Indiana Pacers’ own Tyrese Haliburton, take part in the NBA All-Star 2024 showcase in Indianapolis. The three-day event, which runs February 16–18, is highlighted by the NBA Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, followed by the Starry 3-Point Contest and the AT&T Slam Dunk competition on Saturday, all at Lucas Oil Stadium, and culminating with the 73rd NBA All-Star Game at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Sunday night.

IT’S BEEN A LONG TIME COMING. Despite its national reputation as an event city and basketball hotbed, this is the first time in nearly four decades that Indianapolis has hosted the NBA All-Star Game. The city’s last (and only) hosting job came way back in 1985, when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and a rookie named Michael Jordan took center stage in the Circle City. That weekend included a legendary Slam Dunk contest, with Dominique Wilkins narrowly besting the young MJ at Market Square Arena. Indianapolis won a bid in late 2017 to host the 2021 event, but the pandemic tacked three more years onto the wait.

TIME WAS ON OUR SIDE, THOUGH. The extra years turned out to be a boon for the city. A $400 million renovation of Gainbridge Fieldhouse would’ve barely been underway three years ago, but now the venue has new seats, upgraded bars and concession stands, and the spectacular new Bicentennial Unity Plaza along its Pennsylvania Avenue side. “We’re now able to showcase to the world a completely renovated building, the new asset of the Plaza, and all of what’s happening in Indy arts and culture,” says NBA All-Star 2024 vice president Dianna Boyce. “2024 is just a phenomenal opportunity.”

THE WAIT WORKED TO THE PACERS’ ADVANTAGE, AS WELL. The team was trudging through a boring and fruitless 34-win season three years ago, with an unremarkable—and oft-injured—roster. Fast-forward to now: The Blue and Gold are back on the rise after a renovation of sorts of their own. Only two holdovers from the 2021 squad (Myles Turner and T.J. McConnell) remain, and while Haliburton leads the charge, potential All-Star event participants such as Bennedict Mathurin (Rising Stars Challenge), Obi Toppin (Slam Dunk), and Buddy Hield (3-Point Contest) have added to Indianapolis’ new luster.

Photo courtesy Indiana Historical Society, P0607

CHANGES ARE AFOOT. This time, the NBA is bringing back the east versus west conference format that was the convention for decades. Also, the traditional format of four 12-minute quarters is also being revived. The starting All-Stars will be voted in by the public and the players themselves, while the reserves are chosen by coaches.

THE GAME STARTS WITH HALIBURTON. His flashy talents and consistency in the clutch pack a flamboyant punch that past Pacers’ All-Stars like Domantas Sabonis, Roy Hibbert, and Danny Granger lacked. He recently enjoyed a coming out party during the Pacers’ surprise run to the championship game of the league’s inaugural In-Season Tournament back in December.

GLOBAL RECOGNITION IS NEXT FOR HALIBURTON. The In-Season Tournament gave him a national platform. Next: the world. The NBA All-Star Game will air in more than 200 countries and 50 languages. Haliburton will also have a shot at the Kobe Bryant Most Valuable Player Award, which has been won by an All-Star from the host city’s team 15 times over the years, most recently by Anthony Davis in New Orleans in 2017.

IN THE END, IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT BASKETBALL. NBA All-Star 2024 is projected to have a $320 million economic impact on this area. We can expect media exposure for both the city and state and more than 125,000 visitors. The event has already made a difference beyond the capital city, with a $1 million Legacy Grant being equally split among 21 (a nod to the original host year before the pandemic delay) youth-serving organizations in 18 counties across Indiana. The recipient list includes the L&A Park Foundation, named after young murder victims Libby German and Abby Williams, Aspire Higher Foundation, Phalen Leadership Academies, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Joseph County.