ORLANDO, Fla. -- A month ago, All-Star Friday probably would have been a waste of time. The Rookie game -- or this year, the "BBVA Rising Stars Challenge" -- is the sleepy, sloppy opening act of the weekend, and the sort of game that's probably best enjoyed on TV, in the background at a bar somewhere. But this year was different, at least beforehand.
That's because Jeremy Lin was there, which meant that everyone had to be there, too. He held a press conference scheduled for seven. By 6:30 the room was mostly full of reporters. As we waited for Lin to arrive, someone asked a Knicks reporter, "What more could you possibly write about?"
A few minutes later, we got an answer, sort of. The press conference led off with a question about NBA2K. "The world has seen you progress over these last weeks. A few of us have gotten to see you progress virtually through video games in NBA2K12. Can you tell us how they had you ranked if you know, and the progression through the last few weeks?"
This was Linsanity in the flesh -- where every inch of the story's been covered, covered some more, and then summarily beaten to death. At that point, why NOT ask about video games?
To his credit, Lin was good-natured about the question about his progression in video games ("Not too worried about that," he said, "But it's cool"), and the question from People Magazine about whether he's splurged on any big purchases recently ("No, I'm still a minimum guy"). There was also an answer about his jersey number that turned profound.
"Seven was my number last year," he explained, "and it's one of God's numbers that he uses through the Bible. And I chose 17 because the 1 was kind of to represent me, and the 7 was to represent God. When I went to the D-League I had 17, and so everywhere I go, He would be right there with me." As an understated testament to faith, that's actually pretty fantastic.
Which isn't to say Lin's drowning in piety. At one point he was asked whether he thought his race played a role in getting overlooked over the years. "It has something to do with it," he said. "I don't know how much. A lot of people say I'm deceptively athletic and deceptively quick, and I'm not sure what's deceptive."
"But that's fine," he added. "It's something that I embrace, and it gives me a chip on my shoulder."
His performance in the rookie game a few hours later was mostly forgettable, but watching him hold court beforehand gave us a little reality check of sorts. Kind of like David Stern's "State of the NBA" press conference he holds every All-Star Weekend. The state of Linsanity?
From a media perspective, we're all grasping for straws and shreds of news that are somehow, maybe, a little bit new. But for the most part, there's not much left to discuss. Except for the obvious takeaway from Friday night's press conference: If you wonder why there hasn't been much backlash in the face of all the hysteria the past few weeks, watching Jeremy Lin up close is the best answer. Even as the storm of insanity spirals into full-on People Magazine territory, the guy at the center of it still seems kind of normal. Not preachy, not too proud, not too spiteful. Just normal. And that's kind of awesome, isn't it?
Now, elsewhere in Orlando...
IMPORTANT ALL-STAR NOTE: ALL THE COOL KIDS WEAR GLASSES NOW
I got into Orlando Friday afternoon and just missed the chance to attend "media availability" for all of this year's All-Stars, but I'm pretty sure the biggest takeaway from that question-and-answer orgy is that today's superstars REALLY like to wear glasses.
Really. If the de-facto uniform for groupies this weekend is a two-sizes-too-small dress with stilettos no-less-than-eight-inches long, then the uniform for the superstars their courting is a plaid shirt with at least two unnecessary pockets, and those new-agey wire-frame glasses. It's really kind of incredible. Is the NBA ruining the eyesight of all its superstars?
(photos via Nicki Jhabavla and Getty)
SPECIAL SHOUTOUT TO ...
The guy sitting on a bench in front of my hotel in a white-tee and flip flops, drinking Hpnotiq at two in the afternoon. Really couldn't have asked for a better welcome to All-Star Weekend.
ADDITIONAL SHOUTOUT TO...
Jeremy Lin's parents, who refused to kiss on the Kiss Cam during the rookie game.
YEAH THE ROOKIE GAME'S DEPRESSING BUT JUST GET OVER IT, OKAY?
It's a complete mess every single year, and 2012 was no different. But at the same time, if you're watching the rookie game expecting anything less than outright chaos, then you only have yourself to blame. This year, inside a blur of awful defense and failed alley-oops and half-assed pull-up threes, we also got to enjoy at least five different incredible plays from Ricky Rubio, John Wall looking like John Wall again and reminding everyone why Washington fans used to have high hopes for the future, and Kyrie Irving, who was lights out all night long, and used his 15 seconds in the spotlight to remind everyone why the Rookie of the Year race probably should've ended a month ago.
It was sloppy, it was half-assed, it was whatever. But five years from now, when Rubio and Irving are starting in an All-Star game and DeMarcus Cousins is one of the two or three best big men in basketball, I'll have fond memories of watching those guys screw around in Orlando, and still look pretty incredible doing it. Plus: No matter what happens, this .GIF lives forever.
FINALLY, THE NBA IS WHERE CORPORATE WHORING HAPPENS
Everywhere you go in Orlando this weekend, everything's sponsored. It's just part of the game now with the NBA. You know going in that they'll have sold every inch of the All-Star Experience, and at some point it becomes a little spectacle of its own. Anyway, a few minutes before the rookie game tipped off, an announcer took to center court to introduce, "A very special guest ... Extreme, the flavor-blasted goldfish." Then there was an interview with Kemba Walker about the NBA's fitness program, while Extreme the Pepperidge Farm mascot just sorta hung out in the background like this was all completely normal.
And you know what? When corporate whoring is THAT blatant, you can't even complain. That kind of audacity demands all of our respect. (Plus, Goldfish are the best and I eat at least one bag almost every week. It'd be hypocritical to sit here and knock Extreme the Flavor-Blasted Goldfish.) (Plus, GOLDFISH COSTUME.)
What the NFL does with the military and the American Flag, the NBA does with snacks and Sprite. And Haier. And KIA motors. And whatever "BBVA" is. Walk around Orlando and I swear, NBA marketing becomes its own source of ongoing entertainment. Amazing's happening all around us.
SATURDAY: We'll go inside Jam Session, recap David Stern's State of the NBA press conference, and talk about
the best Shooting Stars contest EVER the dunk contest, of course. Until then, please enjoy this photo of John Wall, reminding the world he still exists. And he's still totally awesome.