By Tony Garcia
The United Center is a long way from 411 East 3rd street, Flint, Michigan, a YMCA with an odor of toughness as strong as the determination of the city in which it resides.
Two hundred, seventy four and two-tenths miles away to be specific.
But on Friday night, when the lights were brightest and all the future stars of the NBA were on full display, it was a young man who starred in that gym that hoisted the MVP trophy of the Rising Stars Challenge.
“It feels like yesterday,” Miles Bridges said. “I stayed at the YMCA in Flint all day and night just trying to get to this level. For me to get here, I give all glory to God. I’m just happy to be here.”
Bridges, who at halftime tweeted a meme of a man with a controller in his hand sitting forward — a metaphor to take the contest more seriously — did exactly that in the second half, to the tune of 20 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals.
With his arsenal on full display, the former Michigan State Spartan had a flurry of points, going into the depths of his bag with step-back three-pointers, one-man alley-oops off the backboard and windmill dunks.
Bridges became the second consecutive Flint native to win the Rising Stars MVP. Kyle Kuzma took home the honor last year. And Bridges did so in the city of arguably the greatest player to ever pick up a basketball: Michael Jordan.
Jordan, whose statue on the East side of the arena stands nearly as tall as his resume, just so happens to own the team Bridges plays for, the Charlotte Hornets. Bridges said that didn’t add any motivation, but he was well aware of where he was playing.
“Charlotte Hornets, we haven’t been having the best season so we wanted to come out and play hard in the Rising Stars and show what Charlotte is about, me, Devonte’ [Graham] and P.J. [Washington],” Bridges said. “And that’s what we did.”
In a contest which was more about flash and flare than substance and fundamentals, Bridges couldn’t help but continue the tear he’s been on the past month.
Coming off of what was a relatively slow rookie season for the 2019 lottery pick, Bridges has scored 15 points or more in his past eight contests, bumping his average to better than 13 points per game.
He’s looking more like the McDonalds All-American that YouTube fell in love with for his high-flying dunks than the rookie who scored fewer than eight points per game. The world saw that on Friday.
While the media flocked to see Zion Williamson, and the fans clamored for Luca Doncic, it was the quiet lefty with the slow creeping smile who stole the show.
“I really just wanted to come out and have fun, enjoy the guys and put on a show for the fans,” Bridges said. “I’m happy I got the MVP. I really thought Eric Paschall or Collin (Sexton) was going to get it because they had more points than me, but I’m happy I got it too.”