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 visit Houston and revisit last year’s All-Star experience…
NBA All-Star Weekend 2006
Around 5:45 a.m. this morning, Ryan and I met up at LaGuardia Airport. I’d landed at JFK airport at 7:00 p.m. the night before on a flight from L.A. I’d picked up my dog Starbury at the kennel, gone home, unpacked one bag and repacked another, slept about 4 hours, then headed right back out. So I was a little wiped. Our flight to Houston was leaving at 7, and we had to wait a while for Khalid, whose speech earlier in the week about being a nervous traveler and always being on time was a load of crap, apparently.
The Fox Sports Grill in the mall across from our hotel got the “keeping it real” award for advertising a party on Friday night with Terrell Owens and then a viewing party on Sunday with former Geto Boy Willie D. We saw the sign for the Willie D., which triggered a vague memory in my head of Willie D. performing a song called “Baldheaded Ho’s.” No one else remembered the song. Thanks to Google, though, I now know I was right.
We hopped a cab and got downtown (about 15 minutes away) to the player’s hotel for the media day stuff. From getting out of the cab to getting to the media room, I saw: Sean May, Brand Jordan guru Gentry Humphrey, Moses Malone, Mark Jackson, Bill Walton, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, Dominique Wilkins, Quentin Richardson, Oscar Robertson, Rory Sparrow, Sheryl Swoopes (and, um, companion), Melyssa Ford and Rolando Blackmon. That’s just what All-Star is like.
From there we went over to the big banquet hall for media day. Spent a while talking with Scoop Jackson, and also sat at Shaq’s table, where someone asked if he got stunned with a stun gun while training to be a cop. Shaq said that he had. They asked if he went down. He smiled and said, “Of course.” He also said his two favorite soccer players are Maradona and David Beckham.
From there, we were going to try and hit the Nike Lounge, a showroom the Swoosh company had set up nearby. We stopped for a snack at a local mall and ran into Sonny Vacarro, of all people. From there, we were picked up in a Nike Hummer and driven to the Nike Lounge, where we designed our own Uptempos and were handed bags full of free gear and shoes. Doesn’t get much better than that. As we left, Fabolous and David Banner showed up.
We then cabbed it back to our hotel, dropped off our bounty, then got back to the Toyota Center in time for the game, where I was nearly run over by the Knicks City Kids. The strange thing was as they passed us, I heard one of the adults with them say, “…well, that’s how you get bladder infections.” I’m not sure what part of the conversation I stumbled over, but that was pretty amazing.
For dinner the had some sort of unofficial tribute to Yao Ming, serving “dragon noodles” and “spicy Asian chicken.” I can’t wait for the tribute to Jeff Van Gundy tomorrow night: “balding tuna” and “sad-looking baked potatoes.”
Before the rooks and sophomores squared off, the two National Anthems were throatily performed by Sahara McDonald and Forrest Lipton, who were trying to outdiva each other. Also, we’re not sure, but Khalid and I think that Lipton may have been a little person. That or a child. Ronny Turiaf appeared up in the stands and had to get his teammate, Kobe, to get him past the security guard. Kobe appeared to invite Turiaf to come around to his seats on the opposite baseline, so Turiaf came through the stands and joined Kobe’s entourage. When they got to Kobe’s seats, Kobe sat in the front row with his agent. Turiaf was relegated to the second row.
I said, “Nocioni runs funny.” Khalid responded, “He’s from another country.”
The Celtics apparently have a mascot that they ripped off from Notre Dame…looks like one of the hosts of “Cheap Seats” in a leprechaun costume.
When the game mercifully ended, we had a few options. Kenny Smith was having a party with Stuff magazine a few miles from the game. We had passes for that and were on “the list.” Brand Jordan was having something downtown in an old bank vault. We had passes for that and were on “the list.” And then Nike was having a Def Jam party back at their spot. Since we knew for sure we could get into that and it was close by, we headed over. And it was great. Just the right amount of people, with Funk Flex and DJ Clue taking turns spinning, and the following people were in the house: Ki-Jana Carter, LeBron James, SLAM reader and Air Force 1 collector Chi McBride, Ed Lover, Russell Simmons, Chris Paul (who was mad cool), Elton Brand, Young Jeezy (who preformed a few songs), Shawna, Ron Harper, Vince Carter, Shaun Livingston, Sean May, JR Smith, Ruth Reilly, Channing Frye, Mobb Deep, Juelz Santana (who also did a few songs), Helen Darling, Queen Latifah, Rasheed Wallace and Larenz Tate. And I’m sure I missed a few there.
The best thing was that the party was really exclusive, so there was plenty of room to hang out, to sit and chat with the irrepressible Gloria James (and her son, that LeBron kid), to hang out with whoever was around all night.
We left there around 3:00 a.m. and walked back to the downtown Hilton (where the players were staying) to get a cab, and outside we ran into Smush Parker, returning from the Jordan party. We asked for a review, and he gave us the thumbs down signal. I don’t know if he was speaking of the party specifically or how it went for him, but it made us feel better about our party selection.
I woke up around 10:30 a.m. and stayed in bed half-awake for 30 minutes, watching ESPNews. A big story was the stuff from media day about Tracy McGrady’s vague “personal problem.” I asked around about that last night and no one seemed to have any idea what’s going on. I hope Tracy’s is doing well, but I can tell you the people in Houston don’t seem to have a lot of sympathy for a guy making the kind of cash Tracy’s making saying he doesn’t feel like playing some nights. The reaction seems to be: Suck it up, do your job, buddy. (And hang in there.)
The other mystery I was trying to uncover was what Chris Andersen was suspended for. I heard two different answers from people I trust and who might know. One story I heard involved the Birdman eatng 20 bowls of ice cream immediately after a Hornets practice.
Due to a booking snafu from the NBA, Ryan, Khalid and I ended up with two hotel rooms in two different hotels (though they are across the street from each other). So, reprising our “Excellent Adventure” from Detroit last summer, Khalid and I once again shared a room. It’s like a WB sitcom — black guy and white guy living in a small space, getting into hijinks — except the Latina maid isn’t nearly as hot as she would be on TV.
Khalid got back from his early morning workout and as we got ready to leave, we watched the All-Stars practice on NBA-TV, and practice ended with a halfcourt shooting contest. Pistons assistant coach Sidney Lowe was helping run the practice, the same Sidney Lowe that coached the sophomores last night during the rookie/sophomore game, the same Sidney Lowe that has a career head coaching record of 79-228. This must be the best weekend of his life. As we dodged traffic to get across to the street to the Galleria mall and grab some lunch, Khalid reminded me that last night I almost took out Ronny Turiaf when I tried to cross the street outside the Toyota Center and didn’t see Turiaf coming. This Turiaf has only been back for a few weeks and he’s already crossing paths with me all over the place.
At the mall for lunch, we noticed that the little kids talking ice skating lessons were all little girls, but the teachers were all men, and this reminded me of something I’d noticed during the Olympics on TV: the US figure skater Johnny Weir is overly flamboyant and probably a bit brokeback — not that there’s anything wrong with that. But because they don’t know what to say on TV and they don’t want to offend anyone or say the wrong thing, they keep referring to him as “outspoken.” It’s even on their website. So, “outspoken” became our code word for the rest of the week.
After lunch, we hopped a cab and headed downtown. Even though All-Star Weekend is ostensibly about the NBA, the truth is, for us at SLAM at least, it’s probably equally about business. The big companies — ESPN/Disney or SI/Time Warner, for example — have lots of people who work there, and people can do very specific jobs. We have about five people at SLAM, and we all do a little bit of this and that. So at All-Star weekend, we end up having to cover the NBA events but also meet with various people from shoe companies or apparel companies or other outlets or whatever. It would probably be nice to be able to just come to the game and hang out and see friends, but that rarely happens. The upside to this is that a lot of the people we know and have to visit have become friends through the years. So going downtown to see our people at And 1 wasn’t that much trouble to go through.
And while we were hanging in the lobby of the downtown Hyatt Regency, hearing about their new guy “Air Up There,” we saw David Robinson and my main man Dominique Wilkins roll through. And from a slightly lesser level of basketball greatness, Mark Bryant was also in the house.
From there we went a few blocks to the Crown Plaza, where adidas had set up shop for the weekend. Outside the hotel, two huge trucks occupied the entire valet parking area. I’m not a car guy, but these were like crosses between 18-wheelers and pick-up trucks, except with pictures of adidas athletes emblazoned on the sides. And for some reason, one of the guys prominently featured on the side of the truck was Antoine Walker. Yeah, that’ll move shoes.
I caught up with Tim Duncan at the adidas suite. The funniest story he told came after I asked him about the Spurs game in Jersey two weeks ago, when he had the runs and kept sprinting back and forth to the bathroom. When he was on the court, Russ and I saw him wipe his face with his jersey and noticed two weird things on his chest, white sticker-looking things that looked almost like battery cable connectors or something. Timmy didn’t know a lot about them, but he said they’re some kind of cutting edge “nanotechnology” things that put chemicals or vitamins or something like that into your system and, in theory, should help you play better and be healthier. Duncan said when the Spurs were in Philly, Chris Webber noticed them during the game and asked him if he was wearing nicotine patches.
From there, we rolled a few blocks away to a boutique hotel, where Converse had a hang-room set up. Ryan had been dealing with someone from Converse, and when we arrived over there I found an old Atlanta Hawks staffer working there, so we got to chill for a while and catch up. They had tables and tables set up all covered with shoe boxes, but everyone in the room bemoaned that we should have come in earlier because they’d had lots of gear, until Snoop Dogg showed up with about 30 people and cleaned the room out. (“We got Snooped!” one person exclaimed.)
Before All-Star Saturday night started, the Canadian National Anthem was performed by Fefe Dobson, who had a pop hit a few years back and actually did a pretty good job. When it was time for the U.S. anthem, Walter McCarty came strolling out, to gasps from the press section. I knew Waltah! could sing and had done the anthem a few times before, but I was surprised to see him get such a big nod. He did a fine job — “Who knew?!” exclaimed SI’s Jack McCallum, sitting next to me — but I felt it was undermined by the strange promo photo of McCarty that they ran on the scoreboard during the song.
It was a sepia-toned shot of McCarty, with his chin resting on his fist, like one of his casual senior class photos. (Perhaps it was his album cover?) I thought it should have read “Voted Most Likely To Succeed” underneath it.
It’s strange, because you’d think Internet access would be something the NBA would like to provide to the journalists who are working and filing stories. And while they did have internet connections available in the media work room, way down underneath the stands where you can’t watch the action, at the press tables they had one internet cable per table, so each group of about 15 writers had one internet connection available between them. At most arenas I’ve been to this season, they have a wireless network set up, but at All-Star, the big deal, they had nothing. Thanks, NBA!
A writer from the Dallas Morning News was organizing a betting pool on the Three-Point Shootout. And the biggest groan from the press section went up when Steve Nash missed about six jumpers in a row during the skills challenge. I think everyone was picking him.
In its continuing attempts to connect with the players and the things that they like, the NBA had Andrea Bocelli perform one of his Tuscan pop arias, which are better suited to the bar at the Olive Garden then an NBA event. The lights dimmed, Bocelli blared it out, and pretty much no one responded. The NBA just can’t get enough of that highly coveted 40-to-59-year-old white female demographic.
I thought it would have been funny if the lights had come back on after Bocelli finished singing and there had been tears running down Walter McCarty’s face.
One night after I was nearly run over by the Knicks City Kids, I was nearly trampled on this night by the Heat dancers as I was walking to the bathroom. Which wouldn’t have been such a horrible thing, come to think of it.
The other strange phenomenon involving NBA dance teams was the Orlando Magic dancers, who more than once ran out and did dunking routines. Well, I say dunking routines, because they did moves and tricks that were clearly inspired by the Bud Light Daredevils. Only they weren’t really dunking the ball. They ran down the court, jumped off the trampolines, got high in the air and threw the ball through the hoop. I never thought I’d have to say this, but I missed the days of mascots dunking. At least they knew how to throw it down with some passion.
(Speaking of mascots, one of my favorite things of the weekend was whenever we’d be having dinner in the press room and all of a sudden a couple of mascots would come strolling through, in costume but obviously out of character. It was like being in an ESPN commercial.)
Celebrity Watch: Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Eva Longoria, Russell Simmons, Donald Faison, Ciara, Bow Wow, Christopher Meloni, Harold Ramis, Ice Cube, Chris Brown, Snoop, The Bachelor, Doctor J, Tyronn Lue, Regina King, Elton Brand (ever noticed how he looks just like that guy from Remember the Titans?), Jermaine Dupri, and the by-now-omnipresent Ronny Turiaf, who was walking all over the place in a brown suit paired with Timberlands.
As for the dunk contest, well, I wrote about it for SI.com here, and most of the people I’ve heard from agree with me. Andre Iguodala told me on Sunday that I wouldn’t believe how many people had told him “You were robbed.”
I didn’t really have the space to go into how disappointed I was that Josh Smith not only didn’t win, but he didn’t get to do much at all. I heard Josh had a few ideas that the NBA shot down — one involving a trampoline and one including Paul Wall. Also worth remembering: Josh didn’t put the tape down on the floor. As he ran back to dunk it, a ballboy put it down. On the wrong side. Tape or not, Josh did make a double-pump dunk from the free-throw line and got a 41, which was obscenely low. But the tape killed him. I was half hoping after that score was put up, Josh would go pick up the tape and wrap it around Clyde Drexler’s eyes. By the way, at his request, we’re now going to officially call Dre “The People’s Champ.”
When the evening wound down, we had a few choices for our next step. NBA International was having a Latin Party somewhere downtown, and a bunch of writers were planning to hit that. The Player’s Association was having their annual bash, but that ends up being the place for people who don’t really know what’s going on, people who figure, Hey, the players are having a party, let’s go! And then everyone shows up and it’s a big mess. (I heard the fire marshall shut it down by midnight this year.) But I had something else planned. Last week when I was in LA, I went to lunch with some guys who work with a few companies, one of them being T-Mobile, and they’d been after me to hit the T-Mobile party that night.
So when everyone else scattered, the SLAM crew and a couple of guys from SI.com (spearheaded by former SLAMonline correspondent Arash Markazi) headed over to a parking lot a few blocks from the Toyota Center. A tremendous tent had been erected, and when we got there there was a line from the entrance going down the street and around the corner. I got on the cell, and within five minutes we’d all been escorted through a back entrance inside the huge tent, which was all white inside: carpets, couches, walls, open bars, everything. Magenta lights made everything the color of a T-Mobile ad.
A few lovely ladies wearing NBA jerseys were scattered about inside, and waiters and waitresses passed around food and drinks. We got there around 10:00 p.m., and by 10:30, Travis Barker (from Blink-182) and this DJ AM character were on stage. AM, best known for being engaged to Nicole Ritchie, was playing every Biggie song ever recorded, and Barker was playing drums along with him. Not really that exciting, though many of the people in the audience seemed to be enjoying it.
At 11:30, Pharrell trotted out on stage. I’m not much of a Neptunes fan, but he put on a good show, working the crowd really well, and his songs sound much better in a small club (or tent) than they do on FM radio. The best thing about the party was that they were tight on the guest list. We all got in, and apparently every woman in Houston that looked like a stripper got in, but that was it. The tent would probably have held about 500 people, but it seemed like they were keeping it at a steady 300. It was open enough that when Pharrell came out, I was able to walk right up to the stage and take a picture.
Around midnight, Slim Thug came out and joined Pharrell, and together they ran through a bunch of Houston hits, capping it off with “Still Tippin’.”
Then Snoop Dogg walked on stage, and they did all of Snoop’s latest hits. When they got around to “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” I thought the roof was going to come off the place. While Snoop was performing, Bishop Don Magic Juan was making the rounds through the crowd. A Brazilian girl working at the party came over to me and Ryan and asked us who the Bishop was. I’d never had to explain what a pimp actually was or is before, and it’s pretty ridiculous to hear yourself saying, “He buys and sells, um, women. Or he used to, at least. But now he’s a reverend, so…”
And then there was Arash. In his SI.com story about that night, he mentions a bartender telling a girl that he was a director, then he claims that I helped perpetrate the whole thing. Let’s just say that if Arash embellished everything he writes as well as he embellished that story, we’ll be calling him Jayson Blair by now.
My actual contribution to the story was when Arash was telling her about how he often has actresses read for parts, and I said, “Yeah, didn’t you meet your wife at a reading?” (Arash isn’t married, by the way.)
An ESPN personality at the event said that five women offered to go back to his hotel room with him, but only if he could procure them a highly illicit substance. “I was like, What is this, LA?” he said.
Also there: Jay-Z, Beyonce, MC Lyte, Warren Moon, Kelly Rowland, Chingy, the new Superman, Brandon Routh, Paul Wall and Stacy Dash.
We were still there just after 2:00 a.m., when the lights flicked on and the party closed down. Everyone stumbled outside, and a guy leaning against a plastic fence a few feet away from us went crashing through it. Two other guys got into a shoving match, came close to blows, then shook hands and made up.
Khalid said, “Why don’t white guys ever fight? I hate you guys.”
All in all, it was the best party of the weekend, and probably the closest I’ll ever come to being in a Girls Gone Wild video. And as a loyal T-Mobile Sidekick user, I once again give it my full endorsement.
I woke up Sunday at 10:30 a.m. and threw on some clothes, and slowly made my way down to the International Media Work Room on the second floor, where I had discovered one day earlier that a complete coffee bar was set up every morning. It was hard to find and out of the way, so no one else went in there, but it was my first stop each morning. I grabbed a mug and sat in the hallway with ESPN Insider Chris Sheridan, who shared tales of his late night poker game.
It was still cold outside, around 50 degrees, so we bundled up and by noon, Ryan, Khalid and I were in a cab on our way to Sambuca in downtown Houston, where the agent Bill Duffy was hosting a brunch. Duffy’s agency reps a bevy of guys, from Yao Ming to Steve Nash to Carmelo Anthony, so we went by to get some grup on and pay our respects. I also got to meet Hakeem Warrick’s mom, Queen Warrick. When I told her that Hakeem should have recreated his famous dunk over Royal Ivey, she said she’d told him the same thing, but he was too nice to embarrass someone like that.
From there, Khalid went back over by our hotel, and Ryan and I walked about 6 blocks over to the Four Seasons downtown. I had to give a password (figuratively) at the front door, and then I was ushered up a third floor meeting room, where I took a seat at a long, mahogany table. (Ryan had nothing to do there, so he ducked inside the hotel to get warm and then headed back out.) There were a handful of writers repping various national publications and outlets there — the Associated Press, Bloomberg News, USA Today, etc. And SLAM. There were about 10 reporters in all.
And then David Stern came sweeping into the room, with his normal retinue of staffers and helpers. Stern grabbed a seat at the head of the table, and Kenny Smith and TNT president David Levy flanked him. Here are my notes from the session…
— Stern admitted that the high-tech camera floating over the court during the Saturday night events made him “paranoid” and that it “transfixed” him — he was worried that they’d catch him eating popcorn, he said.
— He likes TNT because they “spare no expense” on their NBA coverage and with their studio show. Especially in comparison to those cheap jokers at ESPN who don’t even show half of the games in HD, he didn’t say.
— Behind Stern was a backdrop with the All-Star logo, a huge screen with “06” written in large numbers, with a silhouette of Texas in the middle. For some reason, I thought it read “DS,” like they’d made a special Stern logo just for the weekend. But they hadn’t.
— Kenny mentioned players continuing to be involved with the Katrina relief efforts, and he then said that former players are continuing to send supplies and food down to the Katrina victims. The first name he dropped was Derrick Coleman. Who knew?
— Stern estimated that the NBA and its players have donated $15-$20 million to the Hurricane relief.
— 18 minutes in, Stern namedropped Bono.
— 19 minutes in, Stern namedropped Brad Pitt.
— Talking about guys being misquoted or their words being taken out of context (specifically Marcus Camby saying players should get a stipend for their suits), Stern noted, “In fairness, our guy got caught, tripped up.” The reporter that “caught” and “tripped up” Camby was sitting two seats down from Stern, but no drama occurred.
— I was the youngest guy in the room by about 7 years, I think.
— Stern dissed Sam Smith by name, saying that he wrote an unfair story about the NBA Cares program.
— Someone mentioned that the NBA is in a tough place, because if they promote their charity work, it looks like they’re too concerned with their own image. Stern said he believes in the “talmudic tradition” that the giver shouldn’t know who he’s giving to and the receiver shouldn’t know where it came from.
— Stern was in heavy spin mode about the dunk contest, saying that the Saturday night event was “among the best we’ve ever had.” He especially praised the pacing of the evening.
— He said that the dunk contest judges were told to ignore missed dunks and only pay attention to made dunks, and the fact that the judges were able to get over Nate’s misses and focus on his made dunks showed “a certain mental, rigorous approach.” I wonder if those words have ever been applied to those judges before.
— Trying to get a straight answer out of him, I said, “David, who do you think won the dunk contest?” He thought for a second and said, “I’m going to go with what the judges decided.”
— Stern was asked about the dress code, and he prefaced his answer by saying, “As I step gently on the land mines of culture and race, here goes…” Probably my favorite sentence of the weekend.
— He said that the dress code has made “absolutely no difference” with fans, but that reaction to the code has shown that society wanted to talk about “respect, discipline, limits and standards.”
— Stern: “One sartorial thing that I learned is what a walking suit is.”
— With the ’07 All-Star Game set for Las Vegas, the ’08 Game has been rumored to be promised to New Orleans. Stern said nothing is set in stone but that the NBA has agreed to enter into negotiations with New Orleans and has closed out negotiations with anyone else. He stressed that things could still change, but for now, it looks like N’awlins.
Later that night, after the game, we closed the weekend out with a return to the Nike spot, this time to a party hosted by our peoples at KING Magazine. Among the attendees: NBA players Elton Brand, Danny Granger, Emeka Okafor, Sean May, Luther Head and a guy who looked a lot like Andre Iguodala but was in fact not. Also: Clinton Portis, Mitch Richmond, Olden Polynice, Warren Sapp, Keenan McCardell, Spud Webb, Skillz from the Nike Freestyle commercials, Ki-Jana Carter, Big Tigger and Nick Cannon. Also: A whole lot of really lovely women. This was a KING party, after all.
Khalid later awarded the KING party DJ as the best of the weekend. I knew that award was coming when Khalid — the lone dancer from the SLAM crew — stepped out onto the patio halfway through the evening stripped down to his undershirt, sweating like crazy. As Khalid said, “He hit the rhythm right.”
We caught a ride back with Arash, and by the time I finished these notes and filed my SI column it was 4:00 a.m., and I hadn’t even started trying to figure out how to pack all my stuff up.
Monday, the alarm went off at 7:00 a.m., and I spent an hour figuring out how to condense four bags of gear and shoes into two. We caught a cab at 8:00 a.m., and rolled up into an amazing scene: The airport was completely overrun with people, with lines going from the security desk inside the terminals out onto the sidewalks and around the corners. Great.
We went to a secondary curbside check-in farther away from everything, and the dude there directed us to a different security gate that necessitated us walking through a parking lot and taking an abandoned elevator. Sure enough, we popped out at a security gate with about 10 people in line. We breezed through there and were heading to the gate for our flight into Newark, when we stumbled across a contingent from the Atlanta Hawks, who were heading toward Detroit. Josh Smith was still upset about how the dunk contest had gone down, but he seemed ready to get the second half underway. Next to him, my main man Esteban Batista sat, an acoustic guitar at his feet. (If he doesn’t use these guitars, there’s just no justice in this world.) Behind us, Ben Gordon strolled past, wearing a Bulls jacket.
The one image emblazoned in my head from the weekend was from late one night, while we were walking through downtown. We saw an old Cutlass Supreme, the front end all dented in, the paint peeling so fast it looked like it was trying to escape.
Of course, it had really expensive spinners on it.
And that’s what All-Star is all about, a place where everyone comes together and, for a few days, forgets about illegal defenses and isolations on offense and instead, makes the best of what’s around.