The 2008 SLAM New Orleans All-Star Experience

by February 19, 2008

By Sam Rubenstein

It was a weekend of wildness, a lot of quality production for the website, and one of the great All-Star Weekends in NBA history. After all of the stormy clouds of playoff teams unable to crack 70 points, players behaving badly, the malice at the palace, ref and league controversies from the Wade free throws to the new ball debacle to the dress code to the Amare suspension to Tim Donaghy, and just an overwhelming sense of negativity aimed at the NBA for years… it really does feel like this weekend was a big statement that the future is bright.

But there’s plenty of time for the future in… the future. For now, I’d like to guide you through the All-Star Weekend that was.

Ben Osborne, Lang Whitaker, Khalid Salaam, and I, were scheduled to go from NYC to Cincinnati, then a quick turnaround right down to New Orleans. I was supposed to interview someone at the celebrity game around 5 P.M., and we even expected to be at All-Star media day, which is one of the most convenient times for SLAM writers to get tons of quotes.

There was ground traffic at LaGuardia, there was an hour of sitting on a plane on a runway to nowhere. There was blood. The first thing I wrote “from” All-Star Weekend was to let the world know that much like Chad Johnson, we were stuck in Cincinnatti.

Fortunately, Senior Writer Aggrey Sam recently moved to New Orleans, and he was able to attend the EA Sports party to watch Tony Parker win the NBA Live tournament.

Ben was on a different flight plan, so he left the rest of us behind and headed down to Atlanta on his way to New Orleans. He settled in and wrote the first from New Orleans post of the NYC contingent. This happened as the Rookie-Sophomore game was being played. Lang, Khalid, and I, were nowhere near a rookie-sophomore game. Delta gave us $7 food vouchers to make up for our inconvenience.

Quote of the Ohio segment of the trip: “WHAT KIND OF MAN EATS A SEVEN DOLLAR MEAL!” – K. Salaam

I had a burrito. Big mistake, because the airport laid our backup plans A, B, and C to waste. We had 10 minutes to get to the shuttle, and then the next gate for a flight to… Atlanta, just like Ben. We ran full speed. The burrito was jumping around inside me like the Rim Rockers off their trampolines. I thought I was so clever wearing flip flops to save 5 minutes of security time. The moral of the story: dress like Bill Belichick, go down in flames like him.

On our way up an escalator, Khalid threw a woman out of the way, felt bad about it and patted her on the back. Lang said it was like the Seinfeld episode where George runs over old ladies to get out of an apartment on fire. Two of us overran the gate, and thankfully Lang yelled out. Of course the flight was delayed anyways, so we could have walked. Strutted, even.

In Atlanta, the woman at the gate told me a dirty, horrible lie. Right to my face. I asked “Are you sure our luggage is on the plane?” She said “Yes.”

We arrived at our next destination, Baton Rouge, where we had to rent a car to get to New Orleans after finding out that our luggage was not with us. Aggrey Sam covered the D-League Skills Competition. The Celebrity Game had already been played and the Rookie-Sophomore game was in progress. Russ watched from back home in NYC and took notes.

I’m sorry I had to take you through all of that travel writing. I know none of you feel sorry for us. Think of it as an allegory for the NBA. It was struggling for a while, people wanted to whine all day long about how much they hate it, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The great weekend the NBA had, with players giving so much of their time to charitable work and behaving like concerned citizens, and then going out and putting on a great, energetic show for the fans, was like our weekend. Rough start, then once we got there it was all good behy-bey. (That’s how they talk in New Orleans. Expect to read more about that later.)

We got to our hotel…. The Jordan Party was calling. We were there. Oh, we were there.
Saturday, I wrote a quick morning update to let everyone know we were alive, and Lang wrote his thorough Friday night recap, detailing who we ran into at the Jordan Party, the ESPN party, and the ESPN late-night breakfast. Basically we ran into EVERYONE. Even Shaq, who was supposed to be the missing and missed person of the weekend.

Ben and Lang got up early and headed over to an adidas/Peace Players event, where Ben talked to Antawn Jamison. From there they met up with Khalid at the players practice – a huge chaotic free-for-all. Lang was able to fight through the crowds and put this video together.

Meanwhile, across town… I spoke with Deron Williams about the Skills Challenge he would win that evening. I sat there and talked to him as he trained to win over his arch-rival in a building where the crowd was probably 98% pulling for Chris Paul. Basically it was like hanging out with Rocky before he beat Drago in Russia.

Ben played ball at an open run for media members, while Khalid, Lang, and I headed over to the LRG showroom, which was partially sponsored by SLAM. Khalid is writing about that whole afternoon as well as some other stuff, but his computer found the glitch in the matrix. It may have been possessed with a spirit from a local attraction, the above-ground tombs. Seriously, Khalid’s computer was on some Poltergeist ish. I’m getting scared just writing about it.

We had lunch at a really good restaurant (see Khalid’s report when it’s filed), which was a drastic change from Vegas last year, when I don’t think I used a fork the whole trip. Big difference between New Orleans and Vegas, N.O. has a “soul.”

Up next was All-Star Saturday night. I was on live-blogging duty. On our way to the arena, we accidentally took the fan entrance, because we are friggin’ morons. When we got to the front of the line, security was laughing at us. Or as they say in New Orleans, “You got a band beih-bey? For your bag beih-bey? You got a band for you bag beih-bey?” Ahhhhhhhhhh… you had to be there. I met Aggrey Sam for the first time. Still have not met Mutoni, Holly, Myles, or Emry. Who says the internet is de-personalizing the world?

Russ watched the Saturday Night action on TV and took notes.

On the way out of the arena, I gave a pound to the hard-training Deron Williams, making sure to interrupt his conversation with DJ Clue, whom I do not respect. You could feel the city buzzing with energy from the performance, especially Dwight’s. The Saturday night parties began.
The next morning, I wrote about taking it easy in the Big Easy (heh heh heh), and told my story from Saturday morning of returning the car, accidentally marching to feed the hungry, and walking through Tent City. Lang and Khalid’s Saturday night was much more eventful. Playboy… LebronWESJay-Z. Another monster party recap from Lang.

I don’t know how he unwinds from a night of partying, but we were sharing a hotel room, and I woke up in the middle of the night and Lang was asleep with Free Willy on the TV. N’awlins Beih-bey!

Sunday we started the day off at a brunch hosted by an NBA super-agent, did a little schmoozing, politicking, and so on. Met up with DJ Toney Blare, Aggrey, and XXL Lifestyle Editor Branden Peters and some friends of his. We ate at a cafe called Napolean House. I had the jumbalaya. It was effing delicious! My biggest regret of the weekend is that I did not purchase a bottle of cognac shaped like Napolean’s head, which was for sale.

DJ Toney Blare took Aggrey, Khalid, and Ben on a tour of the areas of New Orleans hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina. The 9th ward for instance. Lang and I headed over to the Converse suite to claim free swag. I closed out Sunday afternoon with a pre-game nap.

Lang was on live blog duty for the All-Star Game. Many of you played along at home. Really great game. All-Star games are never perfect, but this had everything you could ask for. I would even go so far as to say that the absence of Kobe, KG, Shaq, and even Gilbert was a welcome change because it gave some newer faces a stage. LeBron stole the show, especially with that dunk at the end (savage!), but old good guy veteran Ray Allen got to show off his stroke, Amare did horrible things to Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade could barely get off the ground and yet he may have sealed the win by blocking a 7 footer’s jump shot… Really entertaining game.

Russ covered the game from home, focusing more on the TV presentation.

Sunday night after the game, we hit the media hospitality suite in our hotel, then Bourbon St. with some TV personalities, national writers, and of course, Aggrey Sam. One thing I learned, just because a guy writes a column condemning NBA players for their crude behavior, does not mean that writer is above posing with strippers. Do your thing, unnamed beat writer.

Oh by the way, I drank blue crack. That was the name of the drink. Why am I still alive?

The next morning, Ben caught the early bird home, but the rest of us did some walking around, went to Cafe Du Monde, hit the tourist spots to buy people gifts, and that was that.

At the airport there was a 70 year old man working a computer and removing tiny stickers to track luggage while a guy 60 years younger than him pushed around a cart. I bought a $9 sandwich that was horrible. Khalid showed up with cookies, pretzels, and a cup of cheese for lunch. It was like Knicks game food. I had a full-on giggle fit like a high school girl. Delirious.
We had one final delay with our connection in Charlotte, but we’re home now. Lang had a family issue to take care of, and had to continue his travels, and he probably won’t be around this week. I got back to my place, where my girlfriend was up writing a term paper for a grad school course. Very different weekend experiences for me and her.
And we are back. Hope you enjoyed the story of the trip. I know we loved being there beih-bey.