Tiafoe Named To NBA All-Star Celebrity Game: 'This Is Crazy'
The NBA announced on Monday that Frances Tiafoe will compete in the 2023 All-Star Celebrity Game, which will be played on 17 February in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“It’s awesome, it’s awesome,” Tiafoe told ATPTour.com. “Heard the news a little while ago but [it's] going public now, so I’ve just been trying to gear up for it and get ready. It’s an honour man, it’s an honour.”
Ahead of last year’s Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships, Tiafoe attended an exhibition NBA game between the Golden State Warriors and his hometown Washington Wizards. The American spoke with players including Stephen Curry, but he also enjoyed a conversation with NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum, who mentioned there was a chance he would be selected for the celebrity game.
“I was like, ‘Yeah right!’” Tiafoe said.
But when he visited the NBA offices in New York during the offseason, Commissioner Adam Silver confirmed ‘Big Foe’ would get his big chance on the basketball court.
“I still didn’t really know until I got that email, but once I got that email that ‘You’re going to All Star’ I was like, ‘This is crazy!’” Tiafoe recalled. “I feel like it’s a big crossover. A lot of people have taken interest in me, a lot of people are following the game of tennis who usually wouldn’t because, A, the personality I bring out there on court and how I am, and being a person of colour. It’s touching a lot of people and I’m just happy.”
Tiafoe is the second ATP player to participate in the star-studded event, following in the footsteps of Milos Raonic, who dunked during the 2016 game, in which WTA star Eugenie Bouchard also participated. Will Tiafoe match the Canadian’s slam?
“Nah, I can’t dunk. I can’t dunk,” Tiafoe said, cracking a laugh. “I started relatively from scratch. Growing up the only thing I really played was tennis. But I started picking it up pretty good. I’ve always had an okay jumper, but [I’ve been] getting the footwork down and stuff. I’m pretty interested to see how it goes.”
Tiafoe has been playing basketball for “a couple of hours a day” over the past two weeks. But he is not focussed on scoring a certain number of points in the game.
“I think [I will] just go out there and have fun. I mean I don’t want to look dumb, that’s why I’ve been training the past couple weeks,” Tiafoe said. “But [it is about] just having fun and obviously All Star [Weekend] everyone is there, you meet so many cool people and people that I’ve been fans of forever. To see they want me there and call me a celebrity, I’m truly blessed and hopefully [it is] the first of many.”
The 2022 US Open semi-finalist has never been to an NBA All Star Game, which will make his time in Utah even more special. He will be on the team coached by legend Dwyane Wade and is excited to mingle with the NBA stars and celebrities he meets.
His teammates will include actor Simu Liu, comedian Hasan Minhaj, singer Janelle Monae and fitness instructor Alex Toussaint. The opposition will include rapper Cordae, NFL legend Calvin Johnson and MLB legend Albert Pujols.
“The past four or five months since the Open I’ve met a lot of celebrities and became friends with them, but obviously I’m pretty locked in to the hooper community. That’s for sure,” Tiafoe said. “I know a lot of hoopers. I know some of the rappers like Cordae, and 21 Savage is on my team. But it’s going to be cool.”
It takes just one look at Tiafoe’s social media accounts to see he is a consistent presence at basketball games at both the professional and college level, including women’s basketball games. Through those experiences he has befriended players, with one standing out: Wizards star Bradley Beal, who has become a friend and a mentor.
“Brad Beal talks to me all the time, kind of just [tells me to], ‘Keep going, keep doing your thing, never get satisfied.’ Every time I see him at a game we always link up. He’s been wanting me to go over to the house for a bit but I haven’t because it’s always been bad timing,” Tiafoe said. “But he’s probably the closest guy I am [friends with] in the league. Obviously him coming to all those matches at the Open, we’re really close, and our relationship got me really close to the team.
“The Wizards team in general, all those guys I’m super cool with. When they’re doing shootaround I’m right next to them on the court. D.C. is definitely my city.”
Perhaps the most memorable moment Tiafoe has enjoyed at a Wizards game was with a member of another team: Los Angeles Lakers icon LeBron James. During the offseason, they shared a special courtside pre-game embrace. It was a meaningful moment for Tiafoe, who has used James’ ‘Silencer’ celebration in the past.
“It was unbelievable. During shootaround I’m standing there and he comes up to me, points to me after he’s done and then comes to me. That was awesome,” Tiafoe said. “I’m glad someone got that on video. It was awesome. He’s an absolute icon. Obviously he’s another guy I can’t wait to really get a big relationship with.”
Tiafoe will see James again in Utah. This time he will not just be a fan, but a player in the All-Star Celebrity Game.