In the first PBA All-Star festivities in four years, innovation was the name of the game, and one of the league's best innovators -- Magnolia Hotshots guard Paul Lee -- went home with two trophies as Team Japeth bested Team Scottie in the main event.
Here's a summary of what happened at the 2023 PBA All-Star Weekend held in Passi City, Iloilo.
Dave Murrell saves the slam dunk contest
The dunk contest lost a little luster even before it began after fan favorite Jamie Malonzo withdrew at the last minute due to a shoulder injury.
There was talk a few hours before the contest about Encho Serrano taking his place, but eventually this didn't push through. That left Dave Murrell, Tyrus Hill, Brandon Ganuelas-Rosser and Chris Lalata as the contenders.
The talk among many players was that it was Murrell's competition to lose. The Converge FiberXers guard-forward hasn't seen much playing time this season, but anyone who's practiced with him knows that his athleticism is off the charts. Plus, he supposedly regularly shows off his dunking skills behind the scenes.
Luckily for fans, Murrell stepped up to the plate. In his very first dunk, he brought the house down by throwing the ball of the backboard, catching it in mid-air, and slamming it home with just one hand.
OKAY DAVID MURRELL 👀 #2023PBAPassiAllStars pic.twitter.com/2zBijSs114— PBA (@pbaconnect) March 10, 2023
His only real competition was Hill, who notched two 50-point dunks with a windmill dunk off a high bounce and a jump over Malonzo. But in the final, Murrell was simply better, pulling off a couple of 360 slams, including one which he finished by tapping the backboard.
Paul Lee is 3-point king and All-Star MVP
Lee has always been one of the league's best long-range bombers, but surprisingly until this year he had never won the 3-point shootout.
His quick release proved to be an advantage over other competitors in the elimination round, as some of them needed to follow through on every shot and wasted precious time. The 'Lee-thal Weapon' had no such problem, even though his score of 22 in the first round was only third-best behind Marcio Lassiter's 28 and Juami Tiongson's 26.
But in the final round, Lee made a slight adjustment to the positioning of his racks, which apparently worked as he had 28 to easily beat Lassiter and Tiongson for the trophy and the top cash prize of P30,000.
Two days later, Lee showed his range once more, taking advantage of the new 4-point line (from 27 feet and beyond) that the PBA introduced for this All-Star Game.
Lee hit an incredible seven 4-point shots en route to 32 points and the All-Star Game MVP, along with another P30,000 as he powered Team Japeth to a 140-136 win over Team Scottie. The seven made 4-pointers is an impressive statistic considering the rest of the players from both teams combined to make just three.
Innovation was all over the place
The 4-point line wasn't the only new feature introduced by the league this year. Taking a cue from the NBA, the PBA moved away from its traditional North vs. South format and formed teams based on fan voting for the 24 most popular players, with the top two vote-getters -- Scottie Thompson and Japeth Aguilar -- being named captains.
The 3-point dunk was also re-introduced -- it made its debut in Puerto Princesa in 2015 -- but only Chris Newsome and Calvin Abueva managed to convert one.
The newbies' game known as Team Greats vs. Team Stalwarts --usually a rookies vs. sophomore affair -- was expanded this year to include third-year players. As it turned out, a third-year player in Adrian Wong was named MVP after he scored 29 points for team Greats.
The traditional dance-off between the two all-star teams also returned, but Magnolia Hotshots teammates Jio Jalalon and Calvin Abueva stole the show by conducting their own one-on-one dance-off. In the Big Man Obstacle Challenge, Beau Belga fell short of a back-to-back, losing to Dave Marcelo in the final round.
There was also the Shooting Stars contest which tapped members of the PBA Press Corps and three courtside reporters to team up with celebrity guest participants and fans.
Apple David's long heave wins it for Team Red
And speaking of the Shooting Stars Challenge, this was pretty fun to watch.
Apple David FTW!!! #2023PBAPassiAllStars pic.twitter.com/EzesmXBug2— PBA (@pbaconnect) March 12, 2023
Three teams composed of one PBA courtside reporter, one member of the media, one celebrity guest and one fan took turns shooting from different spots on the court. The fastest to complete up to the 4-point shot was declared the winner.
As it turned out, Team Red -- composed of courtside reporter Apple David, the Philippine Daily Inquirer's Jonas Terrado, Senator Bong Go and a fan aptly named Kobe Ordaniel -- won in dramatic fashion after David nailed an underhand shot from the 4-point line.