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Oshkosh native Haliburton thrives in the spotlight of a busy NBA All-Star weekend

APTOPIX All Star Game Basketball
Posted at 3:01 PM, Feb 19, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-19 16:02:10-05

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Pacers guard and Oshkosh native Tyrese Haliburton found himself playing a new role on NBA All-Star weekend — host.

He served as Indianapolis' unofficial ambassador. He became a part-time concierge, offering suggestions for restaurant choices and places to visit. He promoted the NBA's 2K esports league, even doubled as a ticket broker. He made a video thanking local fans for their support. And he did all of it in addition to his full-time job.

Yet Haliburton proved himself every bit as valuable, versatile and successful off the court over the past week as he's been on it this season — and did it all with a smile.

"It's been a zoo, it's been a lot, but it's been a lot of fun," he said Saturday afternoon still in the midst of this wild, whirlwind adventure. "I've been told I'm kind of like the prom king of the weekend, so I'm just doing whatever I'm asked to do."

The 23-year-old two-time All-Star never complained. He rarely does.

Instead, Haliburton thrived underneath the bright spotlight of one of the NBA's biggest stages, re-introducing basketball fans to the Pacers, his new hometown and himself as potentially the next star in Indiana's rich hoops tradition.

He shouldered everything from the seemingly endless interviews for TV and being mic'd up for the game to purchasing a luxury suite at the arena because it was more affordable to accommodate all of the ticket requests.

Many All-Star regulars such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Damian Lillard, have created plans to navigate what can be a grueling All-Star weekend schedule.

Few, though, play the starring role in front of their home fans. The closest James, Durant or Lillard came was two years ago when James, with the Lakers, returned to Cleveland. Stephen Curry might get his chance next season when San Francisco will host.

But Haliburton, the former Iowa State star who grew up in Wisconsin, got the opportunity in just his second All-Star trip.

The fourth-year pro cherished every moment — his grand entrance at Thursday night's inaugural Opening Celebration in a shiny, blue and gold No. 24 IndyCar; mingling with three Indiana Hall of Fame icons, Larry Bird, Reggie Miller and Oscar Robertson; cheering teammates Bennedict Mathurin and Oscar Tshiebwe in Friday night's Rising Stars games and winning Saturday night's skills challenge with Mathurin and Pacers center Myles Turner before being eliminated in a tiebreaking round of the 3-point contest.

Yet none of it affected Haliburton's play Sunday. He opened the game by making five consecutive 3s, finished with 32 points, seven rebounds and six assists on 11 of 15 shooting and went home after leaving quite an impression.

"His teammates love him, fans love him. I'm excited to watch his career going forward because I know he's going to do some incredible things here in Indiana," Durant said. "But just for the game of basketball as a whole, you can tell he's one of those point guards that the next generation, kids in elementary school, middle school kids will be looking up to."

While Haliburton's hosting duties ended Sunday night, his to-do list remains long.

With 26 games to play, he's trying to lead sixth-seeded Indiana to its first Eastern Conference playoff appearance in four years and his first as a player.

If the Pacers make it, they'll be trying to snap a franchise-record 10-game postseason losing streak and reach the second round for the first time in a decade. And if the Pacers are going to do any of it, Haliburton must lead the way.

He's averaging a career-best 21.8 points and leads the league for the second straight season in assists (11.7 per game), a pace that would be the league's second best since 1995-96 in a system Phoenix guard Devin Booker said is tailor-made for Haliburton and the NBA's highest-scoring team.

Can he do it? He helped eliminate Boston and Milwaukee from the In-Season Tournament before losing to the Lakers in the title game, and the Pacers are 10-6 against the top four teams in the East with all four season series complete.

"I think Tyrese is an absolute star," said Boston guard Jaylen Brown, who had 36 points Sunday. "He's continuing to get better. He's got to play a little defense, but I love him. He's a pass-first, unselfish guy and plays the game the right way with a smile on his face. I'm a big fan of Tyrese."

And now that Haliburton has handed off the hosting duties, he can spend the next couple of days resting and reflecting on what All-Star weekend did for his league-wide reputation.

"The respect that I've gained from my peers and legends means the world to me. Just to keep meeting people where I'm from, that's not really a thing," he said. "There's no chance they even know where Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is. So it means the world to me. I just want to keep doing what I'm doing."