All-Star Weekend Recap

by February 17, 2009

by Ryne Nelson

I’m finally back in my Brooklyn apartment after my first All-Star Weekend. I’ve done a few things like take off my shoes, watch the end of The Reader (I mean the very, tail end…still can’t believe I got there…with my sanity), change into some comfortable slippers. And here I am.

Here to reflect on the tidal wave that just hit me.

You haven’t formally heard from me this weekend, and I’m somewhat sorry about that. Only somewhat, though. Before I explain, let me get to what’s most important. I want to say thank you to everyone who came to SLAMonline to participate in this wonderful community of readers and commenters to talk about one of basketball’s best weekends. It’s a time to celebrate the game, and I can’t tell you how honored we are to have each and every one of you here to share that love for the game. Thanks to the people who dropped at least one of the 752 (at this very moment) comments in The Links during and after yesterday’s All-Star Game. Thanks to those who read the live blog and the comments. Thanks to all who take a moment in their day for this game—whether it’s playing basketball, arguing about basketball, writing about basketball, or simply just skimming through the news and feature articles on SLAMonline’s site. adidas talks about Brotherhood. Well, you honestly can’t beat this one here.

Alright, so you already know one thing about how All-Star has effected me: I’m feeling very reflexive. As I said before, I spent my weekend taking in the scenes, trying to stay afloat. Treading was a lot easier, no doubt, because of Lang and Ben’s guidance, nice weather, nice accommodations, nice attractions (*wink, wink*) and lots of food and drink. Still, the non-stop action still was enough to keep me focused on updating the site’s images, videos, news, features, Kicks of the Day (aghhh!!) and that pesky thing called Twitter (Lang’s clearly taking Twitter by storm since joining the ranks last month, so if you’re following just @SLAMonline, you must also follow @LangWhitaker as well. You must.).

Anyway, to make a long story short, I still have two fat bags to unpack, a quickly growing beard to trim and a tall pile of grapefruit rinds to get the hell out of this room (how could I omit a mention of my mass grapefruit consumption upon my return?!). So here’s the deal. Rather than letting my muse—dubbed Jones, Basketball—direct this further and further and further away from the weekend (of which I’m already exponentially loosing minor details), I’ll give him a break and let the all-encompassing entity that is the internet do its work on me. Yes, if you didn’t know already from checking the notes in Lang’s live blog from last night, the Internet was ruling all of press row during the entire weekend.

The Internet owned us.

It simply was all-powerful. No matter how cool, or experienced or talented you thought you were, the Internet told you that you were wrong. Like that old girlfriend, when you needed her most, she was gone. And all we could do was sob and complain until she felt enough pity to return. It was by far the most frustrating element of the entire shebang, and so I’m going to play a cruel little trick on it—and that’s make it finish the recap for me. A word of warning, the following will seem a bit raw and contrived, but that is the true nature of this maddening beast that is the internet. Some say the internet enlightens…well, I implore you to tell me if you like it better than my buddy Jones, who has so kindly stepped aside for a moment, hopefully to inhabit another basketball mind and provide even better inspiration. Read on, and you’ll hear about the random press buddies I made, why I’m eating so much citrus upon my return, and something about The Lorax. Yup. Without further ado, I present to you the work of The Internet, to whom I am so closely dependent yet so often deeply disdainful. Sounds like a solid muse indeed. Please don’t chide it for its lack of rhythm and random spelling errors. It doesn’t know better. Alright Internet, take this piece away!


by The Internet, All-Star 2009, via Ryne Nelson

I’m going to make you a bet. I bet I can pick any adjective from an online dictionary, and make it work for the experience Lang, Ben and I had over the weekend at All-Star. I’m actually so confident that I can make it happen, I’ll do it with the first six adjectives that can be thrown at me—maybe this is a good idea for a future All-Star recap live blog.

Let me tell you right now, even if this bet/experiment is a bust, it will at least make the weekend’s recap a little more interesting than your typical, 1000 words of basketball terms you’ll find in a search box. So, instead of trying to encompass everything about the 58th annual All-Star Game, I’ll let this handy tool dictate the direction of this piece. The first six “Somewhat Uncommon” words to travel the digital airways onto my screen are what you’ll find below. Learn them. You may never know when you’ll need to impress a friend at a future All-Star Game with some SAT-II-quality words.

And they say you can only lose, not nourish, brain cells while staring at a screen 24 hours a day, eh? Okay, on with the random word generator to help guide us with this All-Star 2009 recap.

Gabby – There’s a reason why they called this “Somewhat Uncommon” list of words. Honestly, I had to guess what this word meant. I said it had something to do with being talkative (Note: Since consulting with Lang, he agrees “talkative” is indeed the word’s definition). In that case, Dwight Howard was all sorts of gabby this weekend, appearing and speaking at virtually every sponsored event. The gregarious destroyer of rims (and opponents’ egos) had virtually the green light to say whatever he wanted. Well, until a couple things happened.

Superboy, as I think he should be called for the time being—at least until The_Real_Superman retires—didn’t have the best weekend on the court thanks to Nate Robinson and Shaq’s pwnage on consecutive nights. I’ll touch on the conspiracy/marketing elements later with a more apropos (how’s that for remembering the good ‘ole 7th Grade vocab list?) word down the line. The long and the short is his super popularity could have been used at his expense, but Dwight’s still the media’s baby. Always smiling and willing to say the same thing over and over and over (and somehow make it interesting every time), Dwight loves the attention and we’re more than happy to give it to him. Then again, what else can you expect from a gabby Superboy?

Glutinous – As I write this, gluttony is on my mind. Yes, it’s a tough life to be eating free food all the time. Not only am I eating free food, but it’s food precisely of this makeup (determined by scientific calculations, careful food scale usage and close readings of nutritional labels):

Mini hot dogs (40 percent)
Cheeseburgers (24 percent)
Meatloaf (11 percent)
Bacon (10 percent)
Cake (8 percent)
Ham, egg and cheese breakfast bagels (7 percent)
Fruit, veggies and…starfruit (!!) (1 percent)

Yes, there was an extra percent added for fruit and veggies…for mom.

The only way this weekend could have been better is if the cake and the cheese where combined, but who’s complaining? I heard this was the American traveler’s diet closely resembles that of the Ancient Roman Olympic athletes, anyway. Just give me some olive oil, flyer miles, a couple thousand for cab rides, a video camera and a map with every American city called Rome, and I’ll have you one helluva documentary in a couple years!

– Going to All-Star makes you ashy on the inside. You’re not literally ashy, covered in soot and dirt (although I wouldn’t count that out, either). Conventional thinkers would find this to be the most difficult adjective—most think of it as Santa Claus at the end of Christmas Eve.

The Information Gods wanted me to look past the ideas that were popping into my head: “Ashy”, when in context of All-Star Weekend, seemed as out of place as the person handing out free McDonald’s at a raw food festival. “Ashy” is a credit card without a serial number. “Ashy” is like the Oscars without the Dark Knight nominated best picture (I just had to throw that in there). The word is like Dikembe Mutombo in the middle of Phoenix’s airport Monday morning, bargaining with kiosk workers to upgrade him to first class, so he can sit with Clyde Drexler because he can’t in economy seating, dammit! He ended up in the exit row

Clearly, this wasn’t working. But then I thought a little deeper.

Real ash comes from fire, and I definitely came across fire in Phoenix, so there’s something. Flames added to the ambiance at Friday’s night’s T-Mobile party which happened to be pretty nice. Lang, Ben and I ate copious free food grew out of steel buffet cornucopias. We dank and ate and talked beside the warming stanchions on our first night among the Phoenicians. I spent most of the time dining fine on meatloaf (see above), gourmet mini burgers (see above), grits (veggie?) and Grey’s, tonics and limes. In between bites, I talked with  Converse reps and a handful of women—all who didn’t have a clue who Amar’e Stoudemire was. Tsk.

The beauty about words is that their meaning changes over time. So, for the purposes of All-Star 2009, let’s derive a slightly different meaning for “ashy.” I think this can catch on…

When you travel, you always are feeling like you’re a hot shower and a change of clothes away from being clean. You share the dirty restrooms. You’re crammed beside the sickest person on planes, who hacks on you every six minutes, on the minute, for the next four hours. You eat ancient preserved food. You’re not allow to move. Still, you appear clean on the outside. You take all of that—the parties, the travel, the random Marv Albert appearances on your plane ride home—and you combine them. By the end, your mind is a busy whirlpool that Dr. Suess’s Lorax would be up in fumes about. That’s part of the fun, though, because these thoughts can be 100 percent recycled into 100 percent great stories and memories. That’s ashy on the inside—an alternate mind frame that leads you to do and say unexpected things, making great memories in the process.

I clearly was a little bit ashy when I called Yao Ming to be All-Star MVP and said, “The West has absolutely no chance of winning” on the ride to U.S. Airways Arena. I wanted to make the gutsy pick so, on the off-chance that the world turned upside down, I’d get the credit for the disaster. After that confused statement, I kept quiet during the actual game. Bravo to Shaq and Kobe.

Socioeconomic – I don’t like to bore with financial specifics, but as everyone says, in these tight economic times, you have to face reality. David Stern answered questions about the NBA and its fiscal situation at his All-Star conference. The good news is ticket sales, attendance and every other financial measure is on pace to meet last season’s. But Stern and Billy Hunter have begun to discuss a re-negotiation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.  Although it doesn’t seem like the League is feeling the affects of the recession at the moment, they’re certainly anticipating the possibility of having to restructure. As Stern said, the NBA is doing very well. The thought that he and Hunter are taking such a pro-active approach to addressing the struggling economy can only be looked upon as a positive.

– As a credentialed media member, there are a lot of things from which you’re exempt. For one, you’re exempt from most restrictions—to locker rooms, practices…the entire “back end” of the performance. You meet players when they’re chilling and have a somewhat real conversations, if you know the right people, and they know you. You’re exempt from finding pregame meals. There’s no waiting in line. You’ll come away with new gear, and you’ll be on the guest list along with the athletes and the celebrities. This is a lot of “Can do.”

But there is a healthy dose of “Cannot Do” as well. The 24 consecutive hours Lang and I spent in airports and on airplanes, trying to get to Arizona, was a trouble that no one could have foreseen… or avoided. It’s simple to get used to everything being quick and easy, and you ask yourself why you’re not flying on a chartered media plane directly to your destination. Media becomes just your regular Joe once it leaves the premises of an event.

The League is non-exempt from the Kobe and Shaq hullabaloo. The LeBron and Kobe MVP questions were still thrown around like rice on a wedding day. David Stern still did his conference with the media. Stephon Marbury, to everyone’s knowledge, was gone, but his name was always a topic of conversation, and the butt of a fair share of jokes. The prevailing basketball mantras were sung over and over.

Seeing others use the weekend to ask the same three or four questions (which of course, have nothing to do with All-Star) seemed like a match only Craig Sager would have an eye for. Kryto-Nate jumping over Superboy, and Dwight using his weakest dunk at the end, essentially conceding defeat?

How about the co-MVPs? Let’s not even get into how predictable that was.

In the end, you’d think it almost a disappointment. But I found the entertainment quotient to be extremely high every night. All-Star Weekend is non-exempt from influence, nor should it be. We’ll never know exactly how things went down for certain, but it doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t change a thing if it meant guaranteeing this high level of entertainment again!

Uncoupled – There are too many ways to look at this, well, particularly because, according to Webster’s Dictionary, this word could refer to walking dogs…or separating multiple dogs on the same leash. Yes, you read that right.

To be honest, there were hardly any dogs in Phoenix (the extreme opposite of New York City. Sheesh!), but that’s not the reason why All-Star 2009 seemed uncoupled. For one, we were literally uncoupled from the events themselves. The Marriott was a 20-minute highway ride from U.S. Airways Arena. Lang, Ben and I would often forgo the media shuttle bus to hop in with the Arash Markazi from SI. The back seat was incredibly small, and my knees are still buckling from squeezing in  there, but a Mitsubishi beats a big bus anyday.

One of the more odd pairings was getting the show without the television. The game without the broadcast is a bit unsettling, but the more games you attend in person, the more natural that becomes. It was just a bit more pronounced over the weekend as multiple events unfurled with little to no warning. There was no one to prepare you for the player announcements. The halftime events (I.e. the summer Olympics tribute) just happened. The quarters wound down unexpectedly. I don’t remember if any team took more than 12 seconds on each possession, but if they did, no voice was announcing the ending possession.

You’d see some interesting pairings at the hotel hospitality suite during the night’s waning hours. Marc Berman from the New York Daily News was one of the coolest writers I met. He immediately seemed like a close friend. K.C. Johnson from the newspaper I grew up reading, The Chicago Tribune, was more than helpful and cordial to me. We had a good conversation—well, it was mostly an interview—about Derrick Rose for my upcoming feature on the Bulls’ rookie. My only regret with K.C. was forgetting to ask the 12 other questions that came to me only after I walked the 10 feet back to my computer. Ben Couch of and I had a decent BBQ diner before the Dunk Contest. He and I kept running into each other in what seemed like hourly occurrences. I’d be very surprised if Sekou Smith and Arthur Triche weren’t the two nicest and most hilarious people in Phoenix this weekend. I met plenty others, and they have nothing to do with being ‘uncoupled,’ but I felt I had to mention them somewhere. Don’t blame me, blame the Internet. It seemed to work as a good retort the past few days.

Now, it’s off to uncoupling that laundry from the rest of my luggage.