by Lang Whitaker

The first year I went to All-Star, in D.C. back in 2001, I wasn’t sure how to cover it. Blogs hadn’t been invented then, and most websites were creaky and updated once a day. So I took notes the entire weekend and when I returned to the office I posted a massive 6,000-word manifesto. Some of it was surely boring, but I also tried to fit a lot of minutae in there; what it’s like to run into Rasheed Wallace in a hotel bar in the middle of the night, stuff like that. The next year, a few weeks before the game, people starting asking when my All-Star report was going to drop. Since then, we’ve spent a lot of time and energy covering All-Star, because it really is the NBA’s biggest weekend. And this year will be no different.

With the 2007 All-Star Game in Las Vegas right around the corner, I thought it would be fun to resurrect some of our previous All-Star reports. Each day this week I’m bringing out the archives. (Which I’ve condensed to make things easier for all of us.)

Today, we begin with All-Star 2001 in Washington D.C., which doesn’t actually include notes from the game because I had to catch a train back to NYC on Sunday morning for a story. But who cares? The fun stuff is off the floor…

NBA All-Star Weekend 2002
Philadelphia

The SLAM crew took a 12:30 p.m. train from NYC down to Philly. There had been a special NBA Train earlier in the day with Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin, Byron Scott and Shareef Abdur-Rahim on board that left around 10:00 a.m., but I didn’t want to ride with Kidd because I figured he’d jack me up. And word is that his son was running wild on the train anyway.

The first NBA player we ran into was Pistons guard Damon “Basketball” Jones, wearing sweats, who immediately began lobbying us for a feature in SLAM. “You give all these guys features based on potential, man,” he said. “What about giving someone a story on their production?” I don’t know if he was talking about himself, though. As we talked, Bulls pg Greg Anthony rolled by in a shiny suit.

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During the interview session, I made the rounds, talking to the various guys. The Canadian writers circled Steve Nash. One upstanding member of the Canadian press said, “As long as Steve Nash doesn’t renounce his citizenship — and that ain’t happening — I’m home free. I can be drunk in an hour.” Nash later would get stopped by security, who didn’t recognize him as an All-Star.

Dikembe Mutombo answered the same question over and over — “How do you feel about Alonzo’s return this year?” — while Food Network chef Bobby Flay stood off to the side and watched him admiringly. Mutombo had an All-Star party planned that never happened. “They canceled it man, the NBA,” Mutombo explained. Since the NBA is in charge of all parties in the world, after all.

Kobe was getting most of the media attention. KB8 wore those American flag KOBEII’s, and a Mitchell & Ness custom Sixers “Jellybean” Joe Bryant jersey, with a red long-sleeved t-shirt underneath. I ended up sitting with my main man Shareef most of the time. He was in a sour mood because his car — parked at the Hawks’ private airport in Atlanta — had been broken into earlier in the day. This is the same parking lot where JR Rider’s car once had all the rims jacked.

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From there we walked past our joint, Mitchell & Ness, where they make all the old school jerseys. The Big Mushmouth, Bill Walton, was in the house, signing jerseys and old magazines. I picked up a 1949 Green Bay Packers jersey. While we talked with our peoples that own the store, Ed Lover came in, wearing a George Gervin Spurs jersey. “My girl gave me this for Christmas,” he said. “I was so happy.” Minutes later, the ubiquitous L’il Bow Wow rolled through in a fur coat, carrying a cell phone.

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After grabbing a cheese steak for dinner, we hit the Converse party at a downtown restaurant called Circa. It was a re-launch of the Converse brand, and they had Converse shoes (including several Weapons) scattered about. It was a relatively low-key affair, despite the best efforts of the DJ, Biz Markie (nobody beats the Biz). He spun a lot of old stuff to start (Michael Jackson, Frankie Beverly and Maze), before working his way into what we called the “What’s Wrong with Hip-Hop” set (Ja Rule, etc.) It was looking like another boring All-Star party, and then it happened: The Viper showed up.

Yeah, Peter Vecsey arrived and immediately found a spot by the dance floor. After much discussion amongst the SLAM crew, we approached Pete…and he was really cool. We discussed Twin Blades, the Nets and Knicks, Barkley, and various NBA-related topics. After a good twenty minutes of talk, Dr. J took the stage to introduce India.Arie, and I explained to the Viper how her Dad was former ABA player Ralph Simpson. He didn’t know about their connection, but he knew Ralph Simpson from back in the day; as soon as I mentioned his name, Vecsey immediately spouted off all his career stats from memory. As we left, I asked the Viper to please make fun of SLAM in his column, but he said, “I don’t think I can, because we’re on the same twisted wavelength.” (For the record, I still think Vecsey mails in most of his columns, but I do like him ten times more now than I ever used to.)

The Converse party ended around 10:00 p.m., and from there we went to Nike’s party at the Philly Art Museum. The theme of the party was the history of the Nike basketball shoe. Pretty much all of the Nike athletes were there: Dirk, Nash, Rasheed Wallace, George Gervin, Jermaine O’Neal, JKidd, Kenyon Martin (who predicted a 30-point win for the Sophomores in the Rookie Game) and Baron Davis, who was pushing for Stevie Francis to take today’s dunk contest. ‘Sheed insisted we come out to his event on Saturday night, but we told him we may be already booked up. We’ll see.

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Line of the day, from SLAM editor Russ Bengtson: You know why Ahmad Rashad wears that hoop earring? So MJ can attach the leash.

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I got up around 10:30 a.m. and hit Starbucks. While walking down Market St., I ran into a huge crowd of people all geeked up and screaming, for no apparent reason. I overheard one woman saying that AI had just rolled through. We also saw Kwame Brown, who has a big Adidas deal, walking down the street wearing And 1′s. Also, one of the bellhops outside the Marriott claimed he got a $1 tip from Wang Zhi Zhi.

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Paul Pierce broke out in his new green patent leather Nikes, and ‘Toine had green patent leather adidas. Also, ‘Toine and Pierce were wearing their practice jerseys backwards. Steve Nash was wearing the same shoes he’s been wearing all year — which somehow seemed just right — and Baron Davis was rocking a headband with tons of colors all over it. He called it “tie-dyed.” We called it ugly.

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As practice wound down, it devolved into a halfcourt shooting contest. Everyone lined up and took turns tossing ‘em up, though Peja Stojakovic was draining every shot he took. Of course, all the NBA teams do this every day in practice, too, so it wasn’t totally new to them.

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The real drama came when the Eastern Conference team took the court. Between AI and MJ, you have arguably the two most popular players on earth out there, so the crowd was really geeked. Almost immediately, Byron Scott broke the group down into two teams and instituted a three-point shooting drill. One team featured Allen Iverson, Michael Jordan, Dikembe Mutombo, Antoine Walker, Baron Davis and Jason Kidd. The other team was Jermaine O’Neal, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Tracy McGrady, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Alonzo Mourning, obviously not much of a jump-shooting squad (with the three big men).

Each team’s players took turns shooting two shots apiece, once from the baseline, once from the top of the key, getting their own rebounds. You could shoot two’s (counted one point) or three’s (counted two), whatever you wanted. First team to 25 would win.

AI was like a baseball second-baseman, chattering away the whole time, clapping, trying to keep his team focused. The only problem was that his team was ice cold, and the only guy making his shots was Mutombo, who was taking ten-footers. “Put us on your back, Freak! Put us on your back, Freak!” Iverson urged. The funniest moments came when a rebound would go long to the opposite team’s side, and a player would have to run over and retrieve it. The other team wouldn’t help at all, making the guy fight for the rock. One time Paul Pierce ran over and grabbed a ball, then decided to just shoot from the wrong side. As he set up, MJ walked into his grill. Pierce shot over him, missed, and MJ muttered, “You scared.”

“One time, ‘Toine! Make it wet!” Iverson continued. MJ’s team lost the first game and then won the second. The deciding game came down to the last shot; of course, MJ drained it.

While all this was going on, actor Anthony Anderson — one of the portly sons in “Me, Myself and Irene” — was interviewing players over the PA system. He was almost as funny as he was in that movie. My favorite interview was probably when he called over Jason Kidd, and his opening question was, “Jason, you’re one of the prettiest, lightest-skinned brothers in the League, and you know the women love those eyes. I mean, you’re high yellow!” He then thrust the microphone in front of Kidd’s speechless mouth.

I eventually drifted over underneath one of the baskets, and was standing there watching intently when someone came up and wrapped their hands around my neck. I turned around ready to stab my attacker in the neck with my mechanical pencil, and discovered Ernie Johnson from Turner Sports. He’s lucky I didn’t shank him.

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By this time the Rookies and Sophomores were starting to drift out onto the court to watch the big dogs run, even though they weren’t required to be out for another thirty minutes. At one point I was standing behind one team’s bench when Kenyon Martin turned around and said, “Hey, can you do something with this for me? Thanks.” He then handed me a half-eaten plate of caeser salad. I probably should have put it on Ebay. Instead I threw it away.

Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles turned heads with their custom Air Jordan IX’s, which had the black replaced with navy blue, and they each had their own numbers sewn onto the back. According to DM, they had ‘em made especially for All-Star. Also, Hedo Turkoglu was wearing black Nikes with the Turkish flag sewn on. Lee Nailon wore one sock all the way to his knee, the other pushed all the way down.

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Up in the stands, I noticed Dirk Nowitzki’s personal coach and guru Holger Geschwindner. I congratulated Holger on Dirk making the All-Star team, and Holger assured me that Dirk still has “two more steps” before he reaches his full potential. Whatever that means.

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A few hours later, it was time for the Dunk Contest, Three Point Shootout and the other weird thing with celebrities and retired players. Walking down a back hallway in the FU Center, I glanced in a room and saw Moses Malone decked out in a retro Sixers uniform. He said something to me, which sounded like, “Alksjdr nadk elwemdcggh a;s;wje. 5520ksdrf askd:lmsf aslkd, jnafnlfblawe.” I wanted to ask Moses if his jersey said “Mainframe” on the back.

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As I tried to get to my seat, I was momentarily halted by the impressive combined entourages of Steve Harvey and the omnipresent L’il Bow Wow.

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First up was the 989 Hoop-It-Up contest. Justin Timberlake totally dominated Kenny Smith in the first round, giving Philly the win. We were all hoping — praying really — that Kenny would take a Type-two flagrant foul against Timberlake. In the other match-up, the Sacramento team of people with long last names whipped the Lakers and Magic Johnson, who has gone from wearing L.A. Gear to wearing And 1′s. By the way: And 1, you’re coming to the patent leather party a little too late.

While all this was going on, players were trickling in and sitting all along the sidelines. Baron Davis flipped things, coming armed with a disposable Kodak. Richard Jefferson came through and came up to visit us in our press seats. During a break, Hall & Oates got dusted off long enough to play a set of their greatest hits. Both of them.

Afterwards, I ran into the duo in the tunnel below the arena, where all the interesting action was taking place. One person said “Nice job,” to the blonde guy from Hall & Oates, who responded, “Yeah, right.”

Also, I saw Chris Webber and Tyra Banks come walking in together. Seconds later, all the dancing girls sprinted past me, and one girl said, “All right, who’s underwear was showing?” I didn’t hear the answer, but I was on alert for the rest of the night.

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Our main complaint with the three-point contest was that there was only one basket, so there was no head-to-head shooting. Also, they apparently allowed the irrepressible L’il Bow Wow to run the scoreboard, because it was all mixed up. When it got down to Peja and Wesley Person in the finals, I tried to get a “U-S-A! U-S-A!” chant going, but no one was paying attention to the event. Peja smoked Wes in the OT.

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To stave off the boredom from the TV timeouts, I took some more laps around the underground tunnels. I bumped into Turner exec. producer Tim Kiely and lobbied him to get a halfcourt shooting contest included next year. Everyone would do it, since they do it in practice and bet big money every day. He said he’d pass the idea along. Later, Tim reported that the guys from the NBA actually sounded interested. Which means it’ll never happen.

I also discovered the showcase showdown wheel that would be used in the dunk contest. It was unguarded, hidden in a hallway, and I wanted to remove a few bolts so that the whole thing would fall apart and ruin the contest. But I figured the NBA police would roll up on me. About this time, I ran into Steve Nash. We walked toward the locker room together in a deserted corridor, and I told Steve that I loved his flexing during the intro. He laughed. “Well, that thing was so dumb, you know?” Yes, I know. We turned a corner to discover about 800 media members staking out the locker room. Steve stopped and cursed. I patted him on the back and wished him well, and said, “All right Steve, they’re waiting for you,” then got outta there. Sometimes, it’s good not be an All-Star

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When the Hoop-it-up ended, Stuart Scott walked past our seats. Some fan screamed out “Stuart Scott sucks!” Stu threw up a peace sign and waved back. Holla. Boo-yah.

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The evening drew to a close with the Slam Dunk contest, which was more confusing than anything else. Steve Francis got so twisted that he didn’t even come close to doing the taped dunk he was supposed to do according to the wheel. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night came when Steve brought Cat Mobley out to pass him the ball on an attempt, and Cuttino actually passed up an open shot and gave the ball up. That stupid stage came into play again, as no one could run from beyond halfcourt without having to make a severe turn. I don’t know if they mentioned this on TV, but during one time out I grabbed Kenny Smith and told him about it, and he agreed immediately with a worried look on his face. Then again, Kenny always looks worried.

And no, we didn’t know Kenny had that tattoo, either.

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As soon as the contest ended, we rolled into the locker room, only to find Steve Francis shooting a scene with the imitable L’il Bow Wow for his upcoming movie “Like Mike.”

Once the locker room cleared out, dethroned champ Desmond Mason started packing up his gear. One ballboy picked up a sweatband that was embroidered with “JR-23″ and asked Desmond if it was his. The despondent Desmond said, “No, that’s Jason Richardson’s. You should burn that motherf***er.” (Somehow, the wristband in question would later end up on a table in the hotel room I shared with SLAM senior editor Ryan Jones. Jones had no comment.)

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Eventually we did get to the Player Association party at Temple University. It was packed with players, everyone from all the All-Stars to Rip Hamilton to Jay-Z (walking around by himself) to even Michael Jordan, who was rolling with Dajuan Wagner’s uncle. It was more like a concert than a party, complete with drinks being sold instead of comped; Lester Connor was seriously grumbling about this. Ja Rule, Ludacris and Chaka Khan performed, and Jay-Z came on to do one song with Ja Rule.

At one point, Shareef Abdur-Rahim grabbed me and demanded I sell him my throwback Packers jersey. It was understandable — it’s navy blue and gold (the colors of Reef’s alma mater, Cal), and it had a big number three on it (Reef’s number). After convincing ‘Reef that my jersey was probably too small for him, I told him I’d get him a bigger one in exchange for a few things (don’t want to get in trouble with the League). Now I gotta find a XXXXXL jersey for ‘Reef. We headed out around 3:30 a.m. and got back to our hotel downtown, where we were tipped off to a secret suite the NBA had open for the media heavy-hitters. We hung there until 6:00 a.m. — really — then went to bed.

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The wake-up call came at 9:45, and Ryan Jones bravely rolled out of bed. He woke up about fifteen minutes later, and Ryan and SLAM contributing editor Ben Osborne hit the road for Trenton, NJ, to go visit SLAM columnist and prep star LeBron James.

Bron’s St. Vincent’s/St. Mary’s squad was taking on Oak Hill Academy. A star-studded crowd turned out to see our boy play, including Danny Ainge and Mike Miller. LeBron drew raves: even though his team lost by six, Bron had 37 points and 10 assists (should have had about 15, but his teammates, well…you know). As Stone Cold would say, What?

Oh, and LeBron played in a pair of the stars and stripes KOBE kicks (as always, LeBron — and his peoples — were dipped head to toe in Adidas). Meanwhile, Oak Hill’s Carmelo Anthony was wearing the Jordan 17s — the black ones that aren’t out yet. Talk at the event centered around a supposed directive from David Stern to the NBA players that they aren’t allowed to even talk about LeBron, lest they be fined. Nice work, D-Stern. They’ll talk about him plenty in two years when he’s killing ‘em all. Also, even though Sports Illustrated likes to keep this stuff quiet, they’re going to have LeBron on the cover in the next few weeks. Don’t say we didn’t tell you.

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We caught a ride over to the FU Center for the All-Star Game’s official pre-game media session. The Western Conference locker room was jammed full of media. Also, the ever-present L’il Bow Wow was there. The one player not getting interviewed was Dirk Nowitzki, who was sitting quietly on a table in the center of the room getting his ankles taped.

In the hallway outside the West’s locker room, Shaquille O’Neal was standing alone wearing a suit and a beret cocked jauntily to the side. Shaq and I were talking (I was getting quotes from Shaq for my next story in SLAM) when Stevie Franchise came along wielding a video camera, narrating as he went.

“Now we’re going to go out to the court…” Steve said softly into the camera’s microphone. “Hey, there’s Shaq…This is the tunnel out to the court.”

I asked Stevie who he was making this tape for, and he said, “Myself.”

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By this point, the celebs were coming in waves. Michael Rapaport, Puffy and a huge entourage, Matthew Modine and his alien wife, Uncle Luke (wearing a Darius Rice jersey) and the Def Jam Crew sitting with David Falk, Ricky Martin, Aston Kutcher, Chris Tucker, Sugar Shane Mosley, Zab Judah, Star Jones (who somehow scored front row seats) and the unbreakable L’il Bow Wow. My favorite sighting was Method Man, who was in the stands (in terrible seats) wearing yellow rubber dishwashing gloves.

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I was walking around under the stands when a throng of security guards came rushing past. It was Britney. Wearing tight jeans and a cowboy boots. Holding Timberlake’s hand. She’s really short, maybe 5-2. They plowed right past me, and Britney actually brushed my arm. I said “Great job on Saturday Night Live, Britney.” She smiled coyly and said, “Thanks!” Then she stopped walking and leaned in closer. “What’s your room number?” she whispered. I punched out Timberlake, then…

OK, we didn’t actually talk at all. But I did end up passing her in that hallway three different times. Each time, I found Chris Palmer from ESPN the Mag a few steps behind (but never quite close enough).

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After the game, Samuel L. Jackson strolled into the East locker room, carrying a pair of red and white Nike Prestos. He walked over and began rummaging through a box of Gatorade energy bars in the middle of the room, then turned and left abruptly.

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By the time I left, it was 9:00 p.m., and I was exhausted. Maybe not as tired as Kobe, but at least I didn’t have boos ringing in my ears.