Yep. That time again: ALL-STAR!!!!!!!
And the SLAM crew is in the house. Ben and I actually touched down in Hell-Ay just a few minutes ago, and we’ll be joined on the ground here by a couple of All-Star vets. We’ll be cranking out content all weekend, with reports from various events and parties, and we’ll have live-blogs every night from the actual basketball games.
To get your mind right for All-Star, last year I did a post with a bunch of the varied All-Star experiences we’ve had. I wanted to include a few scenes from All-Star 2010 in Dallas, so I chopped a couple of items off last year’s list, added and edited, and here’s the new and improved list of the SLAM’s Best and Worst of All-Star Weekends past…
WORST ANIMAL SIGHTING
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 volunteers running the transportation area, wearing identical white polyester NBA jackets and 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 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 cap. 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
Question: Why do you shoot so many threes?
Antoine Walker: Because they don’t have fours.
WORST TRAVEL FIASCO
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, someone who may not have traveled as much as I have, you should 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, 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 got on a commuter plane at JFK, sat on the runway for hours, and eventually made it to DC, missing our flight into Phoenix. I got on the phone with United to see how we could get to Phoenix. The next flight on United from DC to Phoenix? The Tuesday after All-Star Weekend. We stood in a customer service line for over two hours, and when we finally got to the front of the line, the woman there, bless her heart, was actually very helpful. She put us on standby on several flights, and wrote out about 5 or 6 alternate options for us. 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 were on the standby list for a flight into Denver. We made that flight, and then in Denver we sprinted over and caught a flight that was just finishing boarding. We got into Phoenix 18 hours later than we were supposed to arrive. At least we got there.
BEST FOUND ITEM
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. Against our better wishes, we turned it over to the proper authorities.
BEST YAO MING SIGHTING
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, since it was probably less than a mile. 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.
FUNNIEST/TERRIBLE TRAVEL FIASCO
New Orleans, 2008
Our crew this 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 — do people really travel for President’s Day? 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, our flight out of Newark was delayed, so we didn’t make our connecting flight in Cincinnati. 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, while Sam, Khalid and I were given tickets telling us to see the people at the customer service desk.
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 Friday night in New Orleans on All-Star Weekend.
Momentarily defeated, 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 were missing their flights and 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. Once we arrived, we were told if we hurried we could get on a flight to Baton Rouge. Again, figuring Baton Rouge was closer to New Orleans than Atlanta, I said we were in.
Sam, Khalid and I had to run through the Atlanta airport to make the plane. This was difficult because Sam had inexplicably decided to wear flip-flops to travel in, so as Khalid and I sprinted, Sam clomped along behind us.
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 coming through it. We ended up driving into New Orleans and arriving around 10:30 PM, in time to check into our hotel and hit the Jordan party, which Sam attended in sweatpants and flip-flops.
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.
And remember, Sam didn’t have any clothes. So a few minutes later, 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 really 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 NARROWLY-AVOIDED DISASTER
It was Friday night in Atlanta, around 10:00 PM, and after Russ and I attended the Celebrity game, coached by Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley, we got hungry. We were in the Jam Session, where there were a couple of food courts set up, but couldn’t figure out how it worked, as people just seemed to be coming and going without any money changing hands. Then it hit us: 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, I wondered, 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.
WORST AIRPORT TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT
The Monday morning after All-Star is traditionally the worst time to try and catch a flight, because everyone in the city is leaving, or trying to leave, 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 gate 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 AM. (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.
Arriving at the airport, he warned us that 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 LA and flying home 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
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.
MOST SURPRISINGLY GOOD PARTY
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 arrived, 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 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…”
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
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 natural light, 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 we’d been invited to attend. When we arrived it wasn’t very full, but we did see Matt Bonner and Pat Garrity standing around outside. 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 single 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 wandering around for a while, 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. So 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 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.
I got in the elevator to head up to my room, 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…
BEST SAVE OF A BAD TRAVEL SITUATION
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). 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 stream on NBA.com live 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. Ben and I were in the office on Thursday, and 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, the managing editor I work with at NBA TV, who said the NBA had told him there was a charter flight leaving NYC on 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. Told Tony thanks but no thanks, and I’d keep him posted.
Thursday night I started packing, after reading more and more Twitter tales of people trying to get into Dallas but getting stranded. Around 9:00 PM, 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,” hopefully arriving in the nick of time.
Because of the travel problems all week, we were told to arrive at the airport in Newark at 8:00 AM to make sure we had time to clear security. 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.
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. The bellhop told us it would probably be about $15…or there was a stretch limo available that would take us for $20. You better believe we took that stretch limo. 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 standing in line 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. Instead we just went inside.