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When you stop and think about all that goes into NBA All-Star Weekend, you could make a legitimate case that it's the most ridiculous spectacle in all of sports. In a good way. The best of ways.
It's actually perfect that this year in Dallas, All-Star Weekend coincided with the opening of the 2010 Winter Olympics. In every conceivable way, All-Star Weekend is the complete opposite of the Winter Olympics.
Most obviously, we're talking about probably the whitest major sporting event in the world—so white, it only happens every four years--and a weekend that's affectionately called "The Black Superbowl." But it doesn't stop there. For most Olympians, the next few weeks represent the culmination of a lifetime's work and boundless competitive energy, while the "competitors" at All-Star Weekend spend the weekend making paid appearances, hosting lavish parties with hip-hop superstars, and mostly, congratulating each other on being insanely rich and famous. Nowhere else in sports is the actual game so completely irrelevant. This while the Winter Olympics emerges as probably the purest form of competition and "sport" you'll find anywhere.
But before you dismiss the All-Star Game as superficial and self-indulgent, there's something to be said for pomp and circumstance. "Sport" may have originated with the Olympics, but "sports" have evolved to where All-Star Weekend is probably the more representative experience. Where entertainment, culture, and competition converge. And for better or worse, here's to betting that it was a lot more fun in Dallas than Vancouver this weekend.
I spent the weekend in Dallas as a guest of T-Mobile, and this being my first experience with All-Star Weekend, it was everything I'd imagined and more. With that in mind, let's break down the Saturday and Sunday's festivities, dunk contest-style. On a scale of 1-to-10: what worked, what didn't, and which contestants deserve a perfect 10 for their All-Star performance.
If nothing else, we can promise it'll be better than the actual NBA Dunk contest.
This looks really cool, but Nate probably missed this dunk, and then made it three tries later.
DALLAS, HOST OF ALL-STAR WEEKEND. Listen, it's not Dallas' fault that it snowed on Thursday, and most visitors spent the weekend wishing they'd packed an extra layer. Things happen, and all told, everyone still had an awesome time. But here was my problem: Why would the NBA take the chance? It's not like Dallas was the perfect host city. Cowboys Stadium was a perfect spectacle to pair with the All-Star game, but the rest of the weekend was spent hopping in cabs all over the city to get to different events, parties, and other hotels. It's not that everything was that spread out, but in 40 degree weather, a $12 cab ride is a necessity.
In a warm weather city? We could have walked those distances, and it would have been awesome. The NBA probably figured temperatures in Dallas would be a little bit warmer, but especially since current weather patterns have gone all Herschel Walker on us, there really should only be five cities that host the NBA All-Star Game. Mr. Stern, here are your options.
It should rotate every year among those five choices, just like the BCS Championship Game. If the NBA went with this plan, would anyone seriously cry foul?
(And yes, Las Vegas would be the Rose Bowl in that scenario.)
H.O.R.S.E. STARRING N.O.B.O.D.Y. To be honest, giving this event a seven is being generous. Very generous. Like, "Chris Kaman making the All-Star team" generous. In person it was hard to watch, and I can only imagine what it looked like on television. But you know what?
I'm holding out hope for H.O.R.S.E. at All-Star Weekend. Right now, the NBA has paid absolutely no attention to giving this a proper production strategy, but if done right, I firmly believe it could be one of the best events of the weekend. The biggest problem right now? The players.
Horse is a little bit like fantasy football—if you're playing it seems exciting, and if you're gambling on it even better, but otherwise, there's only so much intrigue for the outsider. So how do you add the intrigue? Pick the right players. Earlier this year, I threw out my dream candidates for the field. For various reasons, I went with Steve Nash, Rasheed Wallace, and Tim Duncan. But the common denominator with those three? They're all incredibly charismatic.
TNT and the NBA need to pick guys that will talk trash, banter with the analysts, and involve the crowd. Mic up each player, and you'll have one of the funnier, more engaging events of the weekend. Instead, we got Rajon Rondo and Kevin Durant, two guys that make Yao Ming look gregarious, and then Omri Casspi, an Israeli rookie that still speaks in broken English. So, yeah: given the choices the NBA made, the execution was a 4. But the idea's still a 10, so we'll average it out to a 7.
SUPERSTARS IN THE 3-POINT CONTEST. This idea doesn't always work, but Saturday Night, having Paul Pierce in the NBA's 3-Point Shootout was just awesome. Is he one of the best shooters in the league? Of course not. But he's probably one of the toughest players in the league, and a terrifying player to root against in the clutch. Saturday, he hit 8 of 10 money balls in the 3-point shootout, and that won it for him. I realize it's cool to see the best shooters in the league duke it out for 3-point supremacy, but watching a superstar lock in and beat the specialists is even better. There was plenty of crowing from basketball folks when Pierce got selected to participate, but this is why it's always smart to include one or two superstars. You just never know.
BENNY THE BULL. We're about to start a run of perfect tens here... The first goes to none other than Benny the Bull, easily the best mascot I've ever seen. Above comes one of the funniest moments of the weekend, as I described then: "Jay-Z and Diddy were just DISGUSTED by a lap dance from Benny the Bull." It's difficult to tell from that photo, but the moment was broadcast on the Jumbotron, and neither superstar cracked a smile when Benny approached. (Picture via HoopsVibe)
Sensing their discomfort, Benny didn't back away, but got more intense with his dance moves, all while Jay-Z and Diddy scoffed and checked their blackberries. And neither Jay nor Diddy was in on the joke, or "playing the straight man." They were both extremely pissed off to be involved, which makes Benny's efforts all the more awesome.
There were mascots running around all weekend long in Dallas, but none better than Benny.
MY ALL-STAR WEEKEND MOMENT. Benny the Bull's ridiculous display is probably the best segue into the most surreal moment of my weekend. Sort of a "you had to be there" moment, but let me attempt to set the scene. After the Dunk Contest on Saturday night (we'll get to that), I left media row and retreated into the bowels of the American Airlines Center in search of bathroom. After walking halfway around the stadium, I finally found one inside the "Jack Daniels Club," some swanky restaurant clearly reserved for people beyond my paygrade. Nevertheless, I really had to pee, so I went in without thinking twice, and nobody stopped me.
After using the bathroom, washing my hands, getting my swagger right in the mirror, etc, I left with my head down... And immediately bumped into none other than Jay-Z. Like, actually bumped into him. He and his bodyguards were walking down the small corridor to the bathroom, I had my head down, and BOOM! I bump into my favorite rapper of all time. Unsure of how to respond and impossibly starstruck, I just yelled "Hov!" and kept walking.
As I turned the corner, there was P. Diddy, walking in with his bodyguards, and suddenly it was just me, P. Diddy, and his bodyguards in the restaurant. Again completely in shock, I blurted out the lamest, most ridiculous "amateur" question: "Didddddayyyyy, where the parties at tonight?"
Not necessarily the whitest moment in my life, but definitely top three. To his credit, Diddy crooked his head to the side, and then just completely ignored me. Because he's Diddy. The Black James Bond. He's riding jet skis in tuxedos.
But just to reiterate... Walking out of the bathroom, I physically bumped into Jay-Z, and then asked Puff Daddy about his plans for later. If that's not an All-Star Weekend moment, I don't know what is.
WOLF BLITZER. It's kind of a long story, but through a family friend, I loosely know CNN's Wolf Blitzer, one of the most famous news anchors in America. Like, really loosely. We'd met before. That's it. But as All-Star Saturday progressed, I still had no invites to any of the parties that night. And let's be honest: seeing All-Star Weekend without going to any of the parties is like seeing Las Vegas in the daytime.
Desperate times called for desperate measures. I'd seen Wolf at the rookie game the night before, so I knew he was in town, and with the help of some family, I managed to get in touch with him via e-mail. We arranged to meet at the Dunk Contest that night, and after talking to him for maybe 30 seconds, I'd explained my predicament, and he was taking down my name and that of Matt from Blog-a-Bull. Just like that, we were on the VIP list at the TNT All-Star afterparty at the House of Blues.
How cool is that? Not even that we got to go the afterparty. But that Wolf Blitzer would help Matt and I out like that. He couldn't have been nicer about it, too. Just handed me two tickets and said "See you there." Just awesome.
THE TNT PARTY. Let's preface things by saying this: if you were looking for an authentic All-Star Weekend experience, this probably wouldn't be at the top of your list. Not because it wasn't a phenomenal party, but because there were no hordes of groupies, gigantic entourages, or He Got Game-type exploits taking place in the back rooms of the club. But for Matt and I, it worked out great.
Instead, we got to see Cheryl Miller's AWESOME dancing display, hang out at an open bar next to people like Steve Smith and David Aldridge, and watch as Mike Fratello made the rounds all night, never taking off his floor-length overcoat, always with a drink in hand, and generally just being the coolest 63 year-old either of us had ever seen. The whole night was perfect.
(Also of note: Matt Stafford showed up at one point with two of the most attractive girls I have ever seen. This is neither here nor there, but I really can't decide whether to hate Matt Stafford, or just be insanely jealous of him. From all indications, he lives his life exactly the way I would if I were a famous quarterback... But then, if I were a famous quarterback, I have a feeling I'd be a complete prick. So tell me: how am I supposed to feel about Matt Stafford?)
OH YEAH, AND... Charles Barkley! You know how I said the TNT party was maybe not the most authentic All-Star Weekend experience? That may be true. But there is nobody that embodies All-Star Weekend more than the Chuckster. Larger than life, completely unapologetic for his indulgence, and a spectacle that truly has to be seen to be believed. The TNT party would have been fun regardless, but with Barkley there, being anywhere else seemed like amateur hour.
He's equal parts cartoon and cult-hero in the media, but up close, Barkley's just the coolest guy in the room. Just about everyone at that party worked for TNT, and Barkley was mingling with all of them. Dancing, drinking, hugging, and generally being the life of the party. Watching him for a few hours, it's clear that none of his on-camera stuff is schtick. And even though he could have been at any party in the city, he was hanging out and partying with co-workers for the night, dancing with Cheryl Miller, mouthing the words to old school rap, and just being the life of the party. He's got the biggest personality in any room, and yet, he takes care of the little people.
And yeah, even though I was trying to play it cool in VIP and not take photos, I had to get one picture with Barkley. Because I met Charles Barkley, and some things in life just need to be documented.
THE DUNK CONTEST AND NATE ROBINSON. Now don't get me wrong, I don't have any problem with Nate Robinson. Anybody that starts out as a football player and becomes a basketball player is cool with me, particularly if that person is 5'8 and obviously willing to fight anyone in the league.
But that dunk contest was terrible, and Nate personifies the problem. It seems like every memorable dunk he's ever had in the NBA Dunk Contest has come after five failed attempts that then ruins the suspense. Want to know why the Dunk Contest is dying? Nobody can make their dunks on the first try. It's not that the dunks stop being impressive, but it sort of ruins the Moment when you already know what's coming. That's just one reason Saturday's Dunk Contest was the worst of all time—so bad, in fact, that we should just stop talking about it.
HOW TO FIX THE DUNK CONTEST. This year's dunk contest was so gawdawful that it might have actually put the whole concept in jeopardy. And that would be a travesty. Because it's not the concept that's a problem; dunk contests are not the problem. It's not that "everything's been done."
You could fix the dunk contest with two simple steps. First, make a rule that every dunker has to make his first attempt. That's just a no-brainer, and it'd keep people from screwing around on all their initial attempts. And second...
Let everyone dunk. Amateurs, D-Leaguers, NBA players... Whoever wants to compete should have the opportunity to make it to All-Star Weekend. A guy named Taurian Fontenette can do a 720-dunk. Why can't he do that on All-Star Saturday night? James White been bouncing in and out of the league for a few years now, but as anybody will tell you, he's proabably the best dunker on the planet. Think he could have beaten Nate Robinson? And what about the D-League? Here's 6'4 Dar Tucker dunking over 7'0 Brian Butch:
The Dunk Contest isn't dead. The NBA just needs to get creative. If the superstars won't compete every year, then open it up. And then if the superstars do compete, you'll have a whole other level of intrigue. Can this average Joe beat Lebron James and Dwight Howard? Find out next. There's no way it would fail.
COWBOYS STADIUM OHMYGOD OHMYGOD. Put it this way, anything I say over the next few paragraphs won't do it justice. The picture's don't do it justice. This quote from Steve Nash does not do it justice: "I felt like I was on Battlestar Galactica or something. It just felt like a huge spaceship in there. ... Some of those fans who were so far away from the floor, it was like they were in the greatest sports bar of all time. They had the best big screen, the beer was cold, you could hear the crowd and the action. I'm sure they had a blast, too."
When a spaceship metaphor fails to adequately capture the impossible scale of a place, you should probably just go and see it yourself. It's not just big, but beautiful. Given all the gushing accounts I'd heard since it opened, I almost hoped it was a disappointment. But nope. Just as breathtaking as advertised. And for the NBA All-Star Game, it's pretty much the perfect venue. (If it were in South Beach, this would be the permanent home of All-Star Weekend, no questions asked). You couldn't see everything, but you didn't need to.
For once, the setting matched the occasion—the most unbelievable athletes in the world, all gathered onto one court like some fantasy pickup game, and playing in a stadium that defies belief. Perfect.
COWBOYS STADIUM, BASKETBALL ARENA. Just so we're clear: Cowboys Stadium was perfect for the NBA All-Star Game. The scale of the place perfectly mirrors what's happening on the court. Twenty of the game's biggest superstars are playing pickup together. The sort of thing that's completely surreal when you really think about what you're watching—Lebron James passing to Dwyane Wade passing to Dwight Howard down low.
So it's appropriate for the spectacle to take place at a stadium that's just as impossible to believe. But that doesn't mean the actual atmosphere is conducive to basketball. There's no question that this weekend's All-Star Game will lead to future basketball at Cowboys Stadium, and that's a shame. It only works for All-Star Games, where the game, itself, is pretty secondary.
If, say, they brought the Final Four to Cowboys Stadium, it'd be terrible. The acoustics aren't built for basketball, the sightlines are terrible if you're on the lower level, and you lose a lot of the virtues that make meaningful basketball games so awesome. For an All-Star game? Perfect. Anything else? Not so much. But someone—almost certainly the NCAA—will find that out the hard way.
THE ALL-STAR GAME. So yeah, there's actually a game at the center of all this. It was your typical All-Star affair, with about a hundred different spectacular dunks, zero defense, the intensity of, well, a completely meaningless exhibition. Which isn't to say that weren't highlights... But still. Anybody that pretends the All-Star game is riveting is either lying, or such a basketball junkie that they can't bring themselves to admit that any pro basketball is boring. With that in mind, and we'll wrap this up with five things from the game that stood out the most.
GERALD WALLACE, DISAPPOINTMENT. It's unclear whether Gerald Wallace was medically sedated all weekend, or it was just hangovers. Either way, his first All-Star Weekend sure was forgettable, wasn't it? Even in a bad dunk contest, Wallace's performance was just embarrassing, and then he compounded it by floating through his stint in the actual All-Star Game. Ugh.
DERON WILLIAMS DERON WILLIAMS DERON WILLIAMS. Except for some boneheaded play in the last minutes, Deron Williams was a revelation on Sunday night. His athleticism, passing, scoring... It almost made up for the absence of Chris Paul. Williams was the best point guard on the floor, and after watching him do pretty much whatever he wanted all night (against no defense, but still), maybe he's the best point guard in the league? I know it's an All-Star Game and everything's relative, but that's the question that kept running through my mind as the game unfolded. Maybe he's the best point guard in the league?
YES, THIS HAPPENED. This goes without saying, but the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders are a welcome addition to anything, anytime, anywhere. I'm just surprised that neither Mark Cuban nor Jerry Jones contracted the SI Swimsuit Models for the occasion.
ZACH RANDOLPH, +9. That number can mean whatever you want. Is that how many strip clubs Mr. Randolph visited this weekend? The number of champagne bottles he had on his person at all times during the weekend? The number of NBA handlers that were charged with keeping him out of trouble? Technically speaking, it's his +/- from Sunday night's game, but again. Make it what you want.
DWYANE WADE. He was the best player on the floor last night, and really, it comes as a welcome reminder. While the draft class of 2003 shined last night, it was Wade—not Lebron—that shined brightest of them all. Chris Bosh and Carmelo were great, as well, and Lebron was Lebron, but Dwyane Wade was better than all of them. And while there's no question that Wade's place among the NBA's top tier is secure, we still sometimes forget.
On any given night, he's better than anyone in the whole damn league. Lebron has more nights like that than Wade, and Kobe is a murderer in crunch time, but Wade gets left out of the conversation more than he should. And for all the talk about Lebron carrying Cleveland, Wade does the exact same thing with Miami. The Heat aren't in first place because Wade's not quite as inhuman as Lebron, but still. He's freaking incredible, and it was nice to see him shine with the whole league watching. Although, if there's one person that understands Wade's brilliance, it's Mark Cuban. So maybe it was cruel, too.
In any case.... Dwyane Wade won the night, and we all won the weekend. I'm sure the Winter Olympics were pretty entertaining, too, but as spectacles go, you're just not going to top All-Star Weekend.
A huge thanks to T-Mobile for making this trip possible... Their hospitality was phenomenal, and not just because I got to fidget with their new My Touch during every moment of downtime.
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