by Lang Whitaker

I know, I know, The Links needs an update. That’s why I’m here right now. Actually, though, I was trying to not post anything for a minute. The truth is, I’m pacing myself: All-Star is just days away.

To me, All-Star Weekend has always been the most fun NBA event of the year. The Finals are great, and the Draft is cool and the games are tense, but All-Star really is a big party. We’ve always blown out the All-Star coverage here on SLAMonline, and we’ll be doing the same thing again this year. In fact, we’re going to try something a little different this year with the live blogs from the events, which will hopefully be funnier and even more interactive. (Oh, and I’m doing three different live NBA TV shows from Dallas, so keep it locked on NBA TV when the games aren’t on.)

Over the past decade, I’ve covered All-Star Weekends in Washington, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Houston, Las Vegas, New Orleans and Phoenix. I’ve seen and done things most people wouldn’t get to experience. Here are some of the best and worst of All-Stars past…

BEST CELEBRITY AUTEUR
Philadelphia, 2002
Just before the All-Star Game started, 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 Francis 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 Steve who he was making this tape for, and he said, “Myself.”

WORST ANIMAL SIGHTING
Phoenix, 2009

It was twilight on Saturday night, and Ben and I were leaving the hotel to go to All-Star Saturday Night. As the sun crashed into the desert behind us, I made my way to the media shuttle bus, where I came across a group of three or four NBA volunteers in identical white polyester jackets pointing furiously at the top of a butte rising high behind the media shuttle bus. I hustled over, curious to see what was going on. Was it a UFO? A pot of gold?

“Look!” said one of the women, urgently. “It’s a black-tipped mountain sheep!”

I took a look and, sure enough, there was some sort of fluffy white animal atop the hill, sitting in the shade on a rock outcropping. There appeared to be some sort of upper body movement going on as well, but I couldn’t clearly discern what was happening.

The three older women in the volunteer jackets were totally engrossed. I asked if there were a lot of mountain sheep around the area.

“No, not really,” the ringleader volunteer said. “It must have escaped from the zoo.” She said this as if it was her final answer. This was not open for discussion.

“And the zoo, that’s about two or three miles away,” added one of the other volunteers. “It’s amazing it made it this far.”

Indeed, I thought, it’s amazing that a sheep escaped from the zoo and made it two or three miles and NOBODY SAW A SHEEP RUNNING AWAY FROM THE ZOO!

I still couldn’t get a good view of this alleged sheep, which was about 40 yards away from us high up on this hill. I started thinking about it — isn’t it goats and rams that can live on mountains? Sheep need grass and stuff, right?

“Do you have a camera?” The lead volunteer was desperate to document this. I lied and told her I didn’t have a camera and climbed onto the bus.

The bus driver was a man in his 40’s with gray skin, wearing an ill-fitting NBA baseball hat. As I walked past him he said in a conspiratorial whisper, “Hey buddy, you know that’s not a sheep, right?”

“I can’t even see it,” I said. “What is it then?”

“It’s a cat,” he said, disgust ringing in his voice.

I laughed and asked, “Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” he responded, smiling. “Sheep don’t lick themselves.”

ALL-TIME BEST ANSWER TO A QUESTION ON ALL-STAR MEDIA DAY
Atlanta, 2003
Question: Why do you shoot so many threes?
Antoine Walker: Because they don’t have fours.

WORST DUNK CONTEST LOSER
Philadelphia, 2002
In 2002, Jason Richardson beat Desmond Mason to win the dunk contest. Afterward, once the locker room cleared out, the dethroned champ 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.)

BEST YAO MING SIGHTING
Atlanta, 2003
It was Yao’s rookie year, and Yao Mania was at a fever pitch. On Sunday afternoon, a couple of hours before the All-Star Game would tip off, the SLAM crew was on a shuttle bus from the hotel to Philips Arena, inching through the horrible Atlanta traffic. It was only about a mile from the hotel to the arena, and as we sat there in the gridlock, we wondered aloud if perhaps we should have just walked. Moments later, we saw a shuttle bus ahead of us open its door and Yao Ming step off, his athletic bag slung over his shoulder, as he set off on foot to start in his first All-Star Game. He actually walked the entire way to the game, while hundreds of fans sat trapped in traffic.

WORST TRAVEL FIASCO
Phoenix, 2009
I don’t know how many times I’ve written here on SLAMonline that connecting flights are the worst idea ever invented. As a little tip from me, a veteran traveler, to you, never, ever take connecting flights. Ever. Never.

(For future reference, here are a few of my travel rules. Bookmark them and refer to them whenever necessary.)

That said, last year Ryne and I were booked on connecting flights on the Thursday night of All-Star Weekend, going from New York to Washington DC, then from DC to Phoenix. On that Thursday, it just so happened that New York City was so windy that Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt were allegedly driving around the JFK runways trying to release a bunch of ping-pong balls. Ryne and I eventually made it to D.C., hours late, and we missed the flight into Phoenix. The next flight on United from D.C. to Phoenix? The Tuesday after All-Star Weekend. We stood in a customer service line for nearly three hours, and when we finally got to the front of the line, the woman there, bless her heart, was very helpful. She wrote out about 5 or 6 options for us and put us standby on several flights. And that was about all she could do.

So Ryne and I spent the night in Dulles Airport, which was deserted and dark and quiet. I never did go to sleep, and I roamed the empty concourses feeling like Will Smith in *I Am Legend*, spotting only intermittent signs of life. I finally found the one newsstand in the entire airport that was open all night, and there were several stranded travelers milling about, like we’d all happened upon this singular source of life.

Early the next morning, Ryne and I got onto a flight into Denver, and then in Denver we sprinted over and caught a flight into Phoenix about 18 hours later than we were supposed to arrive. But at least we got there.

BEST FOUND ITEM
Washington, 2001
After the Rookie/Sophomore Game players left the media availability area, Russ and I found an envelope laying face-down on a table. We picked it up, flipped it over and saw “Stephen Jackson” printed on it, along with an NBA logo. We looked inside and saw it was filled with tickets and passes to every event of All-Star Weekend. Hey, nobody ever said Stephen Jackson was well-organized. Against our better wishes, we turned it over to the proper authorities.

FUNNIEST/TERRIBLE TRAVEL FIASCO
New Orleans, 2008
Our crew that year included myself, Ben, Sam and Khalid. We flew out of Newark airport really early on Friday morning, and the airport was a mess for some reason. For even less-clear reasons, Sam and Khalid decided to check their luggage, even though this is specifically against my time-tested travel rules.

We were flying on Delta, and supposed to go from Newark to Cincinnati, and then change planes and go on to New Orleans. Of course we didn’t make our connecting flight in Cincinnati, and for reasons that are still unclear to this day, Delta’s automated customer service machine immediately put Ben on another flight to Atlanta and then to New Orleans; Sam, Khalid and I were given tickets telling us to see the people at customer service.

I went up and talked to them, and was told there wasn’t any way for us to get to New Orleans that night. For a while it appeared that we’d have to spend the night in Cincinnati, which was a far cry from New Orleans on All-Star Weekend. Sam, Khalid and I sat down in the vapid Cincinnati airport trying to figure out our next step. Delta gave us $7 food vouchers so we could get something to eat. Khalid was fed up, and he yelled, “What kind of man eats a $7 meal!?” A minute later, Khalid pulled out a book called “Black Pain.”

As it turned out, so many people missed their flights and were getting piled up in Cincinnati that Delta organized what was basically an unlisted flight to Atlanta. They asked if we wanted to get to Atlanta, and I said yes, figuring it was closer to New Orleans than Cincy. So we took a half-full plane to Atlanta, where once we arrived we were told if we hurried we could get on a flight to Baton Rouge. Again, figuring it was closer to New Orleans than Atlanta, I agreed.

Sam, Khalid and I had to run through the airport, which was difficult because Sam had inexplicably decided to wear flip-flops to travel in, and we made the flight to Baton Rouge. Once in Baton Rouge, Sam rented a car, while we found out, unsurprisingly, that Sam and Khalid’s luggage had been lost many hours earlier. Khalid was mostly upset that the Baton Rouge airport only had one computer to track all the luggage. We ended up driving into New Orleans and arriving around 10:30 PM.

The next morning, Sam had to return the rental car. As he wrote at the time…

As you know by now, we had to rent a car in Baton Rouge to drive here, and that car needed to be returned a few miles away from out hotel. I drove there, dropped it off, paid the ridiculous bill, and the whole process took about 15 minutes. I stepped out into the street to look for a cab or think about walking back, and as is prone to happen I was right in the middle of a feed the hungry parade. So I marched with hundreds of 12 year olds for a few blocks, behind the marching band, and then they suddenly turned left.

I was all alone on “the wrong side of the tracks.” This was not the touristy safe part of New Orleans. There is a place that is called Tent Town I believe, where the homeless live in tents under the freeway. It was a lot like the current season of The Wire, where the lying reporter spent the night with Baltimore’s homeless. One guy seemed to be walking straight at me. I’ve been in bad neighborhoods before, dodged muggings, been chased. But this time, I tensed up and I really thought he was about to stab me…

No knife, no stab wound. 
Back to work. By work I mean brunch.

Remember, Sam didn’t have any clothes. So he was walking down Canal Street and saw a men’s clothing store eponymously named Rubenstein’s, so of course he went in. They sold him a dress shirt that looked more appropriate for the Player’s Ball than All-Star Weekend. But even better was that Sam didn’t try it on at the store, so that evening when he got dressed for All-Star Saturday Night, he had on a tight pimp shirt. Unfortunately for the rest of us, his luggage eventually showed up.

On Sunday night after the All-Star Game, we hit Bourbon Street, where Sam ordered a drink called Blue Crack.

BEST JOKE PRESENTED WITHOUT CONTEXT
Atlanta, 2003
“I don’t know, but I think he’s reading his Caesar salad.”

WORST TIP
Philadelphia, 2002
One of the bellhops at the Marriott where the players were staying in Philly came over to me and put Wang Zhi Zhi on blast because he had only given the bellhop a $1 tip.

In retrospect, I’m not even sure what Wang Zhi Zhi was doing at All-Star Weekend.

BEST NARROWLY-AVOIDED DISASTER
Atlanta, 2003
It was Friday night in Atlanta, and after Russ and I attended the Celebrity game, coached by Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley, we got hungry around 10:00 PM. We were in the Jam Session, where there were a couple of food courts set up, but I couldn’t figure out how it worked, as people just seemed to be coming and going without any money changing hands. So I secretly followed Hawks television announcer Bob Rathbun, who walked in and served himself up a plate of chips and salsa and walked out. Then it hit me: The whole thing was free!

Russ and I went in and served ourselves a few plates of steak, potatoes and salad. We were standing at a table eating when we heard a commotion behind us at a paella stand — banging pots and pans and people yelling. A fire had broken out near the stove, and flames were shooting high into the air. No one really seemed sure of what to do. One cook ran over with a small glass of liquid that he threw on the fire, sending the flames a few feet higher into the air. (What was in that glass, kerosene?)

Russ and I calmly kept eating and watching. Two other chefs decided to try and douse it with a tablecloth, which they yanked off a table devoted to breads, sending hundreds of biscuits, rolls and baguettes soaring into the air.

“That was dope,” Russ commented.

The tablecloth didn’t work, and the fire continued growing. I got some more potatoes and settled back in to see what would happen. While all the chefs kept sprinting over to battle the blaze, someone knocked the tremendous paella frying pan onto the plastic-covered floor, and the awful smell of burning plastic began filling the air. Finally someone managed to put the thing out, and everyone broke into applause.

It was more entertaining than the Charles and Kenny game, I know that much.

BEST OVERHEARD LINE AT A PARTY
Phoenix, 2009
Late one night at one of the parties, I needed to hit the bathroom. I walked down a hallway and noticed the women’s restroom was closed off so the custodial staff could clean it. I turned the corner to the men’s room and saw two ladies entering the restroom. The men’s restroom. Hmm.

I wasn’t sure how to react. Should I wait patiently? Should I barge in and perhaps catch these two ladies in the midst of something unseemly?

Being a Southern gentleman at heart, I waited. So I stood there in the hall, alone, patiently wondering what in the world was happening, when two other guys came walking up.

“Is there a line?” one of them asked me.

“I guess,” I said. “Actually, two girls just went in there and, well, I thought I’d at least give them a few minutes before barging in.”

“Eff that,” one of these fine young men responded. He pushed open the door slightly and all three of us stuck our heads in the door. One of the girls was standing just inside the door, I guess on guard duty. The other girl was in the toilet stall, on her knees, facing the toilet.

“Hurry up,” yelled the girl on guard, noticing us. “Just go ahead and throw up. My house is only 15 minutes away. Throw up now and then we’ll be at my place in no time.”

One of my classier male counterparts then blurted out, “Just stick your finger down your throat.”

And from inside the toilet stall we heard, “I know how to throw up — I was bulimic for four years, b*tch!”

BEST STORY FROM TIM DUNCAN
Houston, 2006
We were at an adidas photoshoot and ended up hanging out with Tim for a while. I asked Tim about the Spurs game in Jersey two weeks before All-Star, when Tim 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 a few days earlier, Chris Webber noticed them during the game and asked him if he was wearing nicotine patches.

WORST AIRPORT TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT
Vegas, 2007
The Monday morning after All-Star is traditionally the worst time to try and catch a flight, because everyone in the city is leaving within a two-hour window. On Monday morning in Houston in 2006, the airport was a mess, but we bumped into Josh Smith and a few Hawks, who were on a commercial flight out to their next game, and managed to get through a secret security game and skirt any problems. Vegas was rough, though. After a late Sunday night at the blackjack tables, I fell into my bed around 6:00 a.m. and woke two hours late to pack my bags. The SLAM fam met up in the lobby of the MGM at 9:30 a.m. (I don’t understand why, but the lobby of the MGM always smells overwhelmingly like liquid soap.) The taxi line was completely manageable, and before long we were on the way to the airport. Our driver was coherent and sensible and only mildly offensive, a rarity among Vegas cabbies.

Arriving at the airport, he warned us it was worse than anything he’d ever seen. Before we could process his words, we noticed people: all over the place, in lines, standing around, angry and frustrated. Several lines of people stretched hundreds of yards from the domestic terminal to the international terminal. Nobody seemed to have any idea what was going on.

Ben and I dropped our bags to the ground and sat down to begin planning alternate escape routes, including renting a car to drive to L.A. and flying from there. Then Khalid magically divined which line was the America West line, so we hopped in there, and maybe an hour later found ourselves ticketed and ready to roll.

BEST PREFACE TO AN ANSWER AT A PRESS CONFERENCE
Houston, 2006
I’d been invited to a secret brunch meeting with David Stern, and someone asked him about the initial reactions to the then-recent dress code. 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.

BEST OVERHEARD ENTERTAINER INTERACTION
Philadelphia, 2002
During a break at All-Star Saturday night in 2002, Hall & Oates got dusted off long enough to play a set of their greatest hits. Both of them. Afterward, I ran into the duo in the tunnel below the arena, where all the interesting action was taking place. One person chirped “Nice job!” to the blonde guy from Hall & Oates, who responded, “Yeah, right.”

WORST AIRPORT CELEBRITY INTERACTION
Atlanta, 2003
On Friday morning, by 6:45 AM, as I stood around outside my apartment waiting for Russ to roll through and pick me up so we could fly out to Atlanta, the snow was piled in the streets, getting gully in the gutters. We still made it out to LaGuardia pretty quickly. We’d been in line for maybe ten minutes when Shandon Anderson came rolling in, wearing a beige sweatsuit, a plain baseball cap pulled low over his eyes. He hustled to the first class line, where he settled in behind Craig Sager and Danny Ainge, who was wearing a colorful McDonald’s Open 1993 leather jacket with a huge Phoenix Suns logo on the back, the orange collar turned up. At least Ainge wasn’t trying to draw any attention to himself.

As we hit the security checkpoint, Ainge, who has no idea who I am, suddenly cut me off.

“I’m sorry,” he said quickly, but still not stopping to let me back in ahead of him.

“You should’ve said, ‘Tree Rollins wasn’t,’” Russ noted.

BEST RASHEED WALLACE SIGHTING
Washington, 2001
Around 1:00 a.m. on Thursday night/Friday morning in D.C., Russ, Ryan and I left an And 1 party and walked over to the Grand Hyatt, where the players were staying, to hook up with our dude Chris Palmer from ESPN. Palmer was late, so Russ, Ryan and I grabbed a seat in the lobby and were hanging there, when Rasheed Wallace came strolling down the escalator with his posse; they quickly ducked into the lobby bathroom.

I had written the cover story on Sheed in the previous issue of SLAM, calling him out on his mad scientist behavior while pointing out that he’s also allowed to act however he’d like to. I hadn’t seen him since that issue dropped, and I was a little concerned with how he’d react. When they emerged, Sheed spotted me and said,

“The story was cool,” giving us the official thumbs up. I exhaled.

We were then introduced to one of Rasheed’s friends named Perv, who also claimed to have liked the article.

We didn’t get a chance to ask him what Perv was short for, though we had an idea.

WORST DUNK CONTEST ARTIFACT
WASHINGTON, 2001
Does anyone remember the 2001 Dunk Contest? Of course you don’t, because it was terrible and boring. By far the funniest moment was when Baron Davis tried to dunk while blindfolded with a headband. He ran up, jumped into the air, windmilled the ball and slammed it home — except he missed the rim by about three feet.

After the dunk contest, Baron gave me his headband, and it had two small eyeholes cut into it. Not big enough, apparently.

MOST SURPRISINGLY GOOD PARTY
Houston, 2006
On Saturday night, after the dunk contest 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 PM, and by 10:30, Travis Barker (from Blink-182) and DJ AM were on stage. AM, best known for being engaged to Nicole Richie, 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 who 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 mentioned a bartender telling a girl that Arash was a director, then he claimed 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.)

Also there: Jay-Z, Beyonce, MC Lyte, Warren Moon, Kelly Rowland, Chingy, the new Superman aka 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.

BEST OVERALL PARTY EXPERIENCE
Vegas, 2007
The 2007 All-Star Game in Vegas has gone down in history as a mess, one of the worst All-Star experience ever, though I couldn’t disagree more; it was by far the most fun I’ve ever had at an All-Star Weekend. And the most fun was on Saturday night. To sum it up, what follows is the post I posted on Sunday morning.

I’m not sure I should even be doing this. I’m working on a combined 150 minutes of sleep over the last two days. I hate lights, fresh air, water, fruits and vegetables. All-Star Weekend in Vegas is turning out to be both remarkable and outrageous. I’ll do my best to catch you up on Saturday night’s doings.

After the Dunk Contest, the SLAM Crew headed back to our hotel, where we parted ways with Khalid (he was on some secret mission). Ben, Sam and I dropped off our bags, changed into some presentable clothes and rolled out to the Venetian Hotel and Casino for the Steve Nash/GQ party.

The Venetian is loosely based on the city of Venice, Italy, although this is a very loose interpretation. For instance, instead of dozens of canals running in between ancient crumbling buildings, the Venetian has one canal that runs through a mall. They have gondola rides available, and gondoliers wearing white and black striped shirts. Also, nobody was riding the gondolas.

A bunch of people were massed together in a random corner. We investigated and discovered they were all hoping to get a glimpse of Jay-Z, who I guess was hanging out under a stairwell or something.

We finally found the V Bar, which was hosting the shindig. When we arrived it wasn’t very full, but we did see Matt Bonner and Pat Garrity standing around outside; we assumed they were looking for the white player’s party. They never did come into Nash’s party, but before long Nash arrived and then Kevin Garnett showed up with a crew that included Rashad McCants and Jawad Williams.

Nash and KG each had VIP areas set aside for them, but neither of them hid in their areas, instead moving freely around the small club, shaking hands and just acting like regular people. Andrea Bargnani also showed up, along with Darrick Martin, representing Canada and Raptors.

A DJ was playing some great old school hip-hop, from Brand Nubian to Poor Righteous Teachers, and before long KG couldn’t help himself: The Big Ticket staked out a spot right in front of the DJ table and started dancing, mouthing along to every lyric. An hour later, KG finally took a seat, drenched with sweat. Soon after, KG headed out, and by 1:30 we were gone, too. Nash was still there when we left, making the rounds, having fun.

We took the monorail back to our hotel and arrived by 2:00 a.m. Ben headed out to meet a buddy at the poker tables, and Sam and I were thinking about getting seats at a blackjack table when a friend sent me this text message:

Palms. Playboy Tower. Goooood. Shaq here. Wanna come thru?

This posed a serious problem. Should we play blackjack for an hour then get some much-needed sleep? Or should we do Vegas things and hit the Palms and get no sleep?

Minutes later, we were in a mile-long cab line outside our hotel. As we waited, we saw a guy bring out a huge, clear ice bucket filled with what appeared to be orange juice. The guy then produced three bottles of champagne and poured them into the bucket, creating an industrial sized Mimosa. He passed out dozens of straws and, inexplicably, women were drinking from it. Yuck.

After a 45-minute wait, we got into a cab with a driver who was eerily reminiscent of Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs. While Sam and I tried to concentrate on not being abducted, the driver went through some back roads and a parking lot and suddenly we were at the Palms.

Inside the Palms we bumped into Mark Jackson, who sent his love to the entire SLAM family. After a while wandering around, we found the entrance to the Playboy Towers and the club, which I think was called Moon, although don’t quote me on that. We were allegedly on “the list,” but when I squeezed my way to the front of the line and asked for the person with “the list,” I was told she was gone and to please move along. OK. I got on the phone, and minutes later our people came down from upstairs. After some wrangling, we were in.

After a quick elevator ride, we emerged into a Bret Easton Ellis novel. Lights were flashing. Women were dancing on furniture. We were invited up into a private area. Sam wandered off. I was escorted across the dance floor (where Mark Cuban was getting down) and out onto a huge open rooftop deck 50-something stories above the Vegas strip. It was nothing short of amazing, even moreso because it was like 4 in the morning and we were in Vegas and all of a sudden, we were singing “Baaaaaal-ling!” The whole thing redefined excess. And it was awesome.

A little over two hours later, after another hour-long wait for a cab, we walked back into our hotel. The clock ticked past 6:00 a.m. The sun was starting to rise, and people were stumbling around all over the place, coming home from long nights out on the town blowing off steam.

Got in the elevator and some dude muttered, “Man, I wish I could just click my heels and be back home.”

Understood. My throat was dry. My eyes were red. My voice was gone. I had to pee. I had to sleep.

But I had to be at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in less than four hours for breakfast with David Stern.

And it don’t stop…