by Lang Whitaker

So, Ben and I returned from All-Star on Monday afternoon, then went from out of the frying pan into the fryer, stepping into the SLAM Dome on Tuesday just in time to have to finish the next issue of SLAM. We’re nearing the end of the road now, nearly done with it, and with another fresh cover on the way.

(What, you haven’t received the Kobe issue yet? Don’t worry, everyone else is dropping their Kobe covers now, a couple of weeks after us.)

As usual, we did a ton of All-Star coverage from Dallas, including liveblogs, interviews, etcetera, etcetera.

I brought along my camera to Dallas, and I thought I’d get my photojournalist on and document our experience via film. (Or digital. Or whatever.)

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Ben and I were scheduled to fly from New York City to Dallas early Friday morning and land in Big D around 11 AM. We wanted to get there in time for media availability (which was around 1:00 PM). Also, I was scheduled to be on an hour-long live version of our NBA TV show “The Beat” that started at Jam Session at 3:00 PM, and a mid-season recap show that was going to be live on NBA.com from the Rookie-Sophomore game at 7:00 PM.

We had a huge snowstorm in NYC on Tuesday of last week, but that had blown through and airports were scheduled to be open and fine by Friday. Then, unbelievably, on Thursday afternoon a huge snowstorm hit Dallas, the biggest snowstorm in Dallas history, and flights into Dallas started getting canceled left and right. Around 3:00 PM on Thursday afternoon, during a break from brainstorming cover lines, I checked online and saw that our flight into Dallas on Friday morning had been canceled. Awesome. So I called the airline, and while I sat on hold for half an hour, I sent an email to the production crew from NBA TV, letting them know I probably wasn’t going to make it in time. I got a call back on my cell from my main man Tony, who’s the managing editor at NBA TV, who said the NBA had told him there was a charter flight leaving NYC Friday morning in case they needed to get people down to Dallas. Just about then the airline picked up and said the flight had been un-canceled. Whew.

Thursday night, as I started packing, after reading more and more Twitter tales of people trying to get into Dallas but getting stranded, I checked online and found that the flight had been canceled again. I emailed Tony, he sent some emails, and before I knew it, Ben and I had snagged two seats on the NBA charter leaving Newark at 11:00 AM, getting into Dallas at 2:00 PM. So the plan was we’d land, and I’d cab it straight to Jam Session for our live version of “The Beat,” where I’d hopefully arrive just in the nick of time.

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Because of all the travel problems all week, we were told to arrive at the airport at 8:00 AM to make sure we had time to clear security, etc. We arrived on time and ran into my main man John Schuhmann from NBA.com, as well as a bunch of people from the NBA who’d all had various flights canceled out from under them. Pretty much immediately upon arriving, we were told our flight had been delayed until 1 or 2. Then it became 3 or 4. Or 5. So we all found our mostly-empty gate area and sat around for about 8 hours. I read a lot, wrote a lot, did some work, twittered around, talked to John and other people. Finally we boarded our flight at 4:55 PM. So much for NBA TV. Above is a picture of snow-covered Jersey from the window when we took off.

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The flight was great, uneventful, and we landed in Dallas at 8:00 PM. It was too late to get to the Rookie/Sophomore Game, so we took a shuttle bus to our hotel and checked in. The moment we stepped inside the hotel, we were confronted by DMC, who was taking a photo with some fans in the lobby. Spent less than an hour cleaning up, checking emails, etc., then went down to catch a cab to the Jordan Experience, an interactive space Jordan Brand had set up.

Ben and I hit the taxi stand and asked for a taxi downtown. Dude told us it would probably be about $15, or there was a limo that would take us for $20. You better believe we took that stretch limo. (Photo above is not the actual limo, but it is perfectly representative.) I was wearing the Jordan 2010s, which hadn’t come out yet, and when Ben and I pulled up at that Jordan space and I stepped out in the 2010s, everyone outside gaped at us, trying to figure out which big-time celebrities we were. I wanted to convince everyone we were the newest members of Young Money, but instead we just went inside.

The Jordan Experience was a cool space, a couple of big rooms with interactive stuff about the history of Jordan Brand (and a VIP room with an open bar). Bobbito was in the house, and our dude DJ Rich Medina was spinning, so we hung around to listen to him and let the open bar soothe our travel woes. And it did. (Just now as I was typing this, I realized that we never did eat dinner on Friday night. All-Star is such a whirlwind that sometimes you just forget basic things like meals.)

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Once the game ended, we were joined by SLAM’s Maurice Bobb and Nima Zarrabi, and we decided to hit the ESPN the Magazine party, which was around the corner at Ghostbar, high atop the W Hotel. We weren’t on the list for the party, but Nima knew someone or something, and we breezed right in past security and up to the top floor. There were a ton of NBA-related people there. I ran into Nate Robinson right away and asked if he had any tricks up his sleeve for the dunk contest, but he said,”No tricks, no props…I’m just gonna dunk it and see what happens.” Also spotted Danilo Galinari, David Lee, Kevin Love, talked with Hasheem Thabeet longer than I ever thought I would in my life, literally ran into LeBron, talked with tons of writers and agents and PR people. At one point I came across my fellow “The Beat” contributor David Aldridge, who shouted, “You made it!” DA and I have spent so much time this year speaking via Skype and on conference calls, it was cool to catch up in person. I ended up mostly hanging with my dudes Arthur Triche (who you might recall from this story) and NBA.com’s Sekou Smith (above). We all spend so much time on the road all over the place, that when we finally found ourselves in the same place (with an open bar, no less), it was really great to catch up.

Eventually the clock ticked past 2:00 AM. Ben was fading fast. Arthur was texting with Dominique Wilkins, who was trying to get us to come to some party he was having there in Dallas. It was late but…heck, it was Dallas, it was All-Star Weekend…whatever, let’s go. After something of a fiasco at the coat check counter, we finally got downstairs, grabbed a cab and headed out. While the cab driver tried to find this place Nique was allegedly having his party, I tried to get AT, since his defenses were at least weakened, to divulge what really happened to Mike Woodson’s eyebrows. He still pleaded that he had no idea. Not sure if I believe him or not.

We finally pulled up to where Nique was supposedly having this huge party, and the club was dark, the parking lot completely empty. Which was for some reason hilarious. I thought it would’ve been great if we went inside and found Dominique sitting alone at a table in an empty club.

But we didn’t even bother going inside. Instead, we turned and headed for our hotels. It was around 3:30 AM when I finally drifted off to sleep.

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The alarm on my Crackberry is the most annoying thing in the world. Every time I hear it, I want to pick up my damn phone and hurl it against the wall and watch it shatter into a million little pieces. The key part there is picking it up: It wakes me up, makes me move. By the time I wake up and grab it, I’m up and my sense of fiduciary concern kicks in and I don’t throw it anywhere — I quietly turn it off and set it down. Perhaps angry, but definitely (or defiantly) awake.

On Saturday morning the Crackberry alarm went off at 9:00 AM, and I looked out the window at my picturesque view of beautiful downtown Dallas (above). I threw on some clothes and went downstairs to get coffee and breakfast from the lobby Starbucks, needing something to get me going. I was on the elevator, which was stopping at like every other floor and filling up with people, when I suddenly noticed I hadn’t zipped up my pants. Good morning!

Ben and I left the hotel by 10:30 AM and went down to the American Airlines Center, where the Mavs play and where All-Star Saturday night would be held, grabbed our credentials, then rode down to the Dallas Convention Center to hit All-Star practices and media availability.

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Dropped by the NBA TV booth to see what time they’d scheduled me to sign autographs. Wisely, they hadn’t.

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They had, however, constructed a special area just for David Aldridge to eat his meals.

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Finally made it over to the practice court, where the Eastern Conference team was finishing up practice. Here’s Derrick Rose pretending to be interested in whatever Stan Van Gundy was yelling at him about.

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“I mean, at some point did you think that jacket was a good idea?”

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Melo.

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I can think of about a dozen jokes for this, but the picture might just be funny enough on its own.

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You knew Zach Randolph would come with the custom kicks. The socks, however…

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“He who denied it supplied it!”

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After we left the Jam Session, we went by ESPN’s Winnebago, parked outside. Ben spent 10 minutes talking to this cardboard cutout of Mark Jackson.

My friend Matt, who I’ve known since sixth grade, lives in Dallas, so he swung over and picked me up, along with former SLAM contributor/current ESPNlosangeles.com columnist Arash Markazi, and took us to lunch.

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Seeing as New York City is the food capital of the world, you’d think you could get whatever kind of food you want. You would, however, be wrong. It’s damn near impossible to get even decent Tex-Mex up here. So when in Dallas, I head to Mia’s for great Tex-Mex. Above is the brisket taco (with gravy for dipping!) that Matt and Arash and I all inhaled in a matter of seconds. Just thinking about it is making me wistful. And hungry. This was the first real meal I had in Dallas — about 18 hours after arriving.

From there we went over to the LRG Gifting Suite, which was sponsored by SLAM. We met up there with Ben and Maurice, and we all caught up with our dude Saia from LRG. While we were sitting in there, Detroit Lions QB Matt Stafford walked in. My friend Matt and I both went to UGA, as did Stafford, though he was in school a few years after us. We were all surprised that Stafford was so much smaller than we thought he would be. A few minutes later, Kevin Love and his whole family rolled through, and they’re about as real of a crew as there is.

(Continuing my theme of wardrobe malfunctions, Saia blessed me with a dope LRG jacket that I brought home and wore to work yesterday. I wore it from my apartment, on the subway, into the office, put it back on and wore it out to get lunch, came back into the office and sat down at my desk, then noticed the tags were still dangling off the back. Hopefully people think that’s a new style.)

After an hour or so there, We went back to our hotel, dropped stuff off and freshened up, and then Ben and I headed right back out to go downtown, where we had a super-secret meeting with some sneaker company folks.

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From there we headed inside the American Airlines Center for All-Star Saturday Night. I live-blogged it, and honestly, I don’t have much to add. Oh, except this:

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That’s Darryl Dawkins, who was wearing a blazer that seemed to be made from a kimono. I think he’s angling for Sager’s job.

(Also, I mentioned in the live-blog a tremendous moment when Benny the Bull walked over in front of Jay-Z and Diddy during a timeout and started doing the “Single Ladies” dance, and they both looked like they’d rather be anywhere else in the world at that moment, particularly Jay-Z. They showed this on the scoreboard live as it was happening, but because it was during a commercial break, it never aired on TV. I’ve been looking for it on YouTube since I came home and couldn’t find it, but my peoples at NBA TV unearthed some footage from somewhere and we showed it yesterday on The Beat. It’s the first clip on this segment from yesterday’s show. That look on Jay-Z’s face at the very end is priceless.)

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By the time all that was over, it was nearly 11:00 PM, and we were running on fumes. We walked from the AAC over to the Jordan space, where Wale was going to be putting on a secret show. As Maurice, Nima, Ben and I walked in, we could hear someone rapping inside, and Maurice said, “Is that Bun B?” Sure enough, it was. Bun B went for about half an hour, and then he left and Wale (above) came out and did about an hour. And it was great — relatively small space, not crowded but not empty, maybe 300 people there. And Wale is so good, too. Made me proud that we put him in Dime Drop in SLAM about six months ago.

After that we had a beer or two, sat down and unwound, then walked with Nima to his car in a parking lot nearby. As we walked through downtown Dallas, we looked inside some club window and noticed Snoop Dogg on a stage, rapping away. So funny the crazy stuff you stumble across. When we found Nima’s car, we also saw another hallmark of All-Star Weekend — a guy arguing with his girlfriend, who was so drunk her pants were falling off, then the guy jumping into his car and speeding away. It would have been more sad if the dude wasn’t driving a mini-van.

Time to go. Fell asleep around 2:00 AM.

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Woke up early Sunday morning and headed over to the Hyatt, where I met up with Tony from NBA TV and Shaun Powell, from NBA.com, to roll out to Cowboys Stadium well early. The game was set to tip around 7:30, but we were doing a live episode of “The Beat” on NBA TV from courtside in the Stadium. We drove about 30 minutes outside of Dallas to Arlington, where we were driving along in flatlands and all of a sudden happened upon what you see above, a colossus rising from nothing. We parked, went through security, went inside and walked out onto the concourse to see this…

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From down on the court it looked like this…

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Now, I’m no rube: I’ve been all over the world, been on the field and in the stands in some of the world’s most famous stadiums, from The Coliseum in Rome to the Maracana in Rio, from Old Trafford in Manchester to Neu Camp in Barcelona to the Superdome in New Orleans, but I’ve never seen anything like Cowboys Stadium. Just look in that first picture at how much bigger that scoreboard is than the court. The second picture is probably even a better example of just how big that scoreboard is. There were levels and levels and levels of seats, rising way up into the air. It was almost too much to comprehend.

It was still early enough that the stadium was mostly empty, which just made it seem even more cavernous.

We eventually made it down courtside to the NBA TV set…

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We hooked up with Marc Fein and David Aldridge, and our producer Damon Fisher, and we had a quick meeting in the Turner green room to discuss what we were going to talk about on the show. I was then introduced to Maxie, the Turner makeup specialist, who did her best to made me look less exhausted and puffy and tired.

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Hey, even people who are great at what they do have their limitations. As Pres. Obama said, you can put lipstick on a pig, but…you know.

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Makeup applied, we walked over and grabbed lunch in the dining area, then walked out onto the court where Shakira was rehearsing (above). I’d forgotten she was on the bill, so I sat down in the empty stadium and enjoyed a mostly private concert. Then she left the stage and Alicia Keys came out and ran through her set. It was a nice 15 minute break from running around all weekend, and a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see two of the most, ahem, talented artists in the world perform.

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And then we were live! It happened fast, and it was a pleasure to have the chance to do it live and in the flesh with DA and Marc and Shaun. I also learned that the TV does add at least 10 pounds (fact!), though I think HD adds about 18 (fact!). And of course, because it was live TV, there were all sorts of hiccups. For instance, as soon as the show started, the monitor in front of us went out, so we had no idea what was actually on the screen while we were talking. And then, just before we started broadcasting the final segment, we heard a deafening “Yeeeeeeeaaaaah! OK!” over the PA system, and Usher came out on the stage behind us and started rehearsing, which lasted through the entire final segment. (Watch the video clip below and you can see this happening.) We made it through intact. Also, you know how DA had no voice during the All-Star Game? He actually loses it during this clip:

And then the game started. The SLAM crew was sitting behind the basket, two rows back. From our seats were couldn’t really see the scoreboard because we were underneath it, and the baskets were in the way of us being able to see the stage across the court from us. Still, when the stands filled up and lights went off, it was a pretty awesome sight:

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Once again, I live-blogged the game, and by that point was so exhausted that I was running on pure adrenaline.

At halftime I walked over to grab a Coke and try to perk up, but found my path blocked. I peered around the crowd to see what the delay was, and of course…

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…it was the Rev. Jesse Jackson taking a photo with some soldiers. You see all kinds of things at All-Star that you never see anywhere else, whether it’s former presidential candidates meeting the military, or a row of inflatable mascots…

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When the game ended, I went back into the media zone, where people were asking the players what it was like to play in front of so many people. My man Joe Johnson was asked, “Was it exciting playing in front of such a huge crowd, the biggest crowd ever at a basketball game?”

Joe began with, “Well, it was exciting…”

And just being there, it was, it definitely was. I’m supposed to be good enough with words to describe what it was like, but it was one of the more overwhelming experiences I’ve ever had.

We finished updating the site and doing postgame interviews, and then Ben and I caught a ride back to the hotel with some NBA employees (which made it hilarious when some guys came up to our car in the parking lot trying to sell us bootleg t-shirts). We stopped in the hospitality room and grabbed a bite to eat (and since we were in Texas, a Shiner) and by the time I got back in my room it was 1:30 in the morning. I packed and fell asleep around 2:15 AM, and was awoken by my Crackberry at 4:10 AM.

Showered, grabbed my gear and did the TV-checkout system, then went down the hall to the elevator. I was on the 19th floor, and all weekend, whenever I went up or down on the elevator, it seemed to stop on just about every floor to pick-up or drop-off. I figured since it was 4:30 AM, I was finally going to get an express ride, as I stepped in and hit the “L” button. The elevator started descending…and stopped on 18. I rolled my eyes as the doors slid open, and who should step aboard?

DMC, of course.

Thankfully, the rest of the trip was uneventful. On the plane (commercial this time) by 6:45 AM, back in Jersey by 11:30 AM, back home by 12:30 PM.

I think this was my 8th All-Star Weekend, and it never ceases to amaze. There’s always something happening, some surprise waiting around every corner. It’s exhausting, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

See you next year, LA…