Superstar Experience

by Brendan Bowers / @StepienRules

Prior to arriving in Orlando this past Friday, I had never been to an All-Star Weekend. Despite that, I boarded my morning flight from Cleveland thinking I understood the star-studded circuit of events engulfing the NBA’s marquee on this particular weekend. It wasn’t until after my first attempt to navigate through this crowded maze for myself, however, that I began to truly grasp the actual magnitude of this annual celebration.

My trip began in earnest when I touched down at 1:15 on Friday afternoon, and made my way to a media bus parked at the Hilton Hotel. The taxi that took me there from the airport was first greeted by a security detail positioned way out on the street, in front of the place that David Stern and his NBA All-Star contingent called home for the weekend. As we made our way up the long drive approaching the front door, we moved past two more layers of security guards who looked more like secret service. I was convinced that Obama must have been staying there too, right across the hall from Kevin Durant probably.

I boarded the bus parked out back with my luggage still in hand, and proceeded to one of the three NBA Cares Day of Service sites. When I arrived on the Steyr Street Project, one hour after I landed, I found NBA All-Stars Kevin Love, Marc Gasol, and LaMarcus Aldridge on location at that time doing actual work. The Day of Service began earlier that morning, with NBA players, League officials, past legends, and local community volunteers all lending a collective hand throughout the day.

After I left Steyr Street, I made my way back to my hotel to check in. The traffic during that few mile trip was like rush hour in Chicago, and every commute to follow for the rest of the weekend felt the same way. Eventually I checked in, dropped off my bags, showered and quickly changed. I then met up with my two friends who accompanied me on the trip, and we headed off to a private Adidas Basketball dinner at Ocean Prime Restaurant.

We were seated at a table on an outside terrace, and the Cleveland winter I had just left that morning felt like a world away. I ordered the crab cakes and a Stella, and following an enjoyable meal with great conversation, we made our way out into the buzz of All-Star Weekend’s nightlife. The next stop on that Friday night was the Adidas Party hosted by Orlando’s own, Dwight Howard.

We arrived at Howard’s party to find a rented out airplane hanger transformed into a spaciously trendy outdoor Adidas nightclub. The location was lit up with neon lights, red carpet, and a media row that looked to be dropped in from Las Vegas. Adidas logos and shoe displays were hanging from the rafters in carousel like patterns, the bar was open, and the stage was filled with performances from Fabolous, NeYo, Common, Run DMC, B.O.B and others. I stood there feeling like Turtle probably did the first time Vinny Chase brought him out to LA.

After grabbing a drink, we positioned ourselves by the stage watching Fabolous perform. He was laced in a full white Adidas track suit and the gold chain ropes that Run DMC first introduced to the masses over two decades ago. Standing only a few feet away from me, wearing those same Shell Toes and an Adidas black logo T-shirt, was DMC himself. NeYo came out later for a song with Fab, followed by performances from B.O.B and then Common. This was all in just the couple hours I was there.

The long list of NBA All-Stars filing in and out throughout the night were too many to name. I was introduced to Ricky Rubio, who came through with his father, and he was as nice a kid as he seems on television. Dwight Howard was obviously in the house too, along with John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Demar Derozan, as well as sneaker execs, high profile agents, PR reps, corporate sponsors, and even the SLAM team’s executive board. The whole night couldn’t have kicked off All-Star Weekend any better.

On Saturday morning we then hit Jam Session, held at the Orlando Convention Center directly behind the official NBA Hilton. While there, I bumped into the familiar face of Cleveland’s DJ Step Floss, repping the Cavaliers team he DJ’s for every home game in a wine and gold warm-up suit. He had just MC’d a Chris Paul party the night before, he told me, as we watched the East and West All-Stars finish up their practice before a standing room only crowd.

The rest of the Convention Center was packed too, with what seemed like hundreds of interactive events that thousands of NBA fans were participating in. My friend took my picture in front of the NBA press conference backdrop screen, set up at one of those stations, while I pretended to be a frustrated coach answering a litany of ridiculous questions. After I got up, and let a 12-year old kid do the same, we made one last stop at Jam Session’s Adidas Store before heading off to lunch.

After lunch at a nearby pub, I made my way to the Florida Mall in order to cover the Jordan Brand 2012 Flight Lab Event. A couple hours earlier, Jordan Brand Star Carmelo Anthony had just wrapped up an interactive Q+A with the masses of fans in attendance there. On our walk through that parking lot, which was overflowing with cars, LeBron James was also on a separate stage nearby answering questions for fans at another Nike event.

The Flight Lab tour was incredible, jammed packed with science, technology and overall sneaker swag, and following that tour I linked up with legendary rapper Jadakiss. He had been playing hoops for the past two hours, on the Jordan Brand court next to the Flight Lab, with his kids and any other random fan that wanted to run with him. He was also cool enough to take a timeout and talk with SLAMonline about Jordan Brand’s weekend experience too, and I truly enjoyed that conversation.

We ended up seeing Jada again later that night, when we attended a Carmelo Anthony Party at Vain Nightclub. My friends and I were standing on the lower level of the three-story club when he walked in with Styles P for the party that followed All-Star Saturday night at Amway Arena. Fabolous was back on stage again there too, at the event presented by Hennessey VS, and the club was filled with LCD displays toasting “Athletic Excellence and the Pursuit of What’s Next” scattered amongst the thousands of people in attendance.

Kevin Durant and teammate Russell Westbrook came through next, as Carmelo and his wife Lala sat nearby. Andre Igoudala and Andrew Bynum also made appearances too. When the Orlando-based DJ shouted Bynum out upon arrival, he did so by saying, “we’re looking forward to welcoming you here to Orlando for good one day soon”. He didn’t mention any sources in his public report of that trade possibility, however.

On Sunday morning, I met up with a friend who was staying at the NBA Hilton, and we sat there in the lobby for lunch as her guests. Gary Sheffield walked by, Tony Parker, Anthony Morrow, Serge Ibaka and Luol Deng, all in the hour or so we sat there. As we were finishing up, Billy Hunter strolled by accompanied by four uniform police officers serving as his bodyguards for the weekend as well. They were all eating ice cream, something I suppose Hunter sprung for as a reward for their efforts.

As my friends and I watched Sunday’s game later on that night, we talked about everything we did over those last couple days. It was then that I first began to truly realize just how huge this weekend really is. I also realized I was out of gas by that point too. Completely exhausted. This without even attending any of the events that followed Sunday’s game either, or stopping through other notable parties like the one LeBron & Floyd Mayweather hosted, TNT’s Kenny Smith party with Mary J. Blige, P. Diddy’s party on Saturday, or anything else hosted by a long list of others.

An hour after the West had finished beating the East 150-148, with Kevin Durant named as the game’s MVP, I was ready to head back home. I was glad I made the trip though, and next year, I’ll have a better idea of what to expect down in Houston.

Special thanks to adidas Basketball, Sports Media World, Jordan Brand, and Cohn & Wolfe for a great experience.