HOUSTON -- The e-mail arrived about a week before I was supposed to go to Houston for the 2013 NBA All-Star Game, inviting someone from SB Nation to cover a PRO ATHLETE AND CELEBRITY INVITATIONAL TOURNAMENT on February 15 at 3 p.m. at a theater in downtown Houston.
Could this be a disaster?
The greatest thing ever?
A potential nightmare for David Stern?
All of the above?
Of course, I had to go.
Bourré, for those who don't play professional football or basketball, is a variation on spades and/or poker that's outrageously popular among NBA and NFL players. It is the game that inspired Javaris Crittenton and Gilbert Arenas to bring guns to the Wizards locker room. It sparked a fistfight on the Grizzlies' plane between O.J. Mayo and Tony Allen. And it's probably the source of 1,000 other incredible NBA legends, half of which hopefully involve Charles Oakley. So yeah, there could be no better way to kick off All-Star Weekend than with a Celebrity Bourré Tournament.
The tournament was organized by Bigg City Bouree, a company that's trying to standardize the Bourré rules and take the game mainstream in casinos from Las Vegas to Macau, a process that will possibly involve a reality show along the way. (Yep, that sentence exists). The "celebrity" part of the tournament didn't quite materialize Friday, but Antoine Walker and Clipper Darrell were prominently involved, so I call it a success.
I walked in a half-hour late, and immediately found myself standing next to Darrell, who was hired and flown into Houston to MC the event because life is just the best.
Clipper Darrell is about as great as you'd imagine. As we waited for the rest of the players to show up, we talked about his Clippers and my Wizards, the NFL, LeBron and bandwagon fans. About his clothes (he has four of those suits and eight of those satin shirts). About Kobe, and the time he pulled up in his Lamborghini and told Darrell to come cheer for the Lakers. About Dwight Howard: "In Orlando he was a Lexus, in L.A. they need him to be a Ferrari." About Corey Maggette and Sam Cassell, two of his favorite people on earth. About NBA fashion: "Guys want to be trendsetters, but some trends ... just don't work."
About his fame, he joked, "When people write stories and compare you to Spike Lee and Jack Nicholson, that's when you know ..." And because Clipper Darrell and I are now best friends, he also offered his wisdom in case I'm trying to meet any women this weekend.
As for the actual tournament: I had to leave before they finished, but Antoine Walker eventually tied for first place with Travis Johnson (white shirt, below), a gigantic NFL defensive tackle who a) helped explain the game to the media while we waited for things to kick off, and b) talked endless shit the entire time. They split a $10,000 prize, each donating $5,000 to charity.
(You may ask: Is it strange for a pro athlete like Antoine Walker, who has publicly admitted that gambling helped him go broke, to be embracing gambling like this? Sure.)
(But he WON dammit, and everything went to charity.)
(I'm still kinda baffled that all this really happened.)
The rules kinda melted my brain so I didn't play, but the scene was pretty great as an outsider. The rest of the group was a perfect cross-section of All-Star Weekend. A few random professional athletes (football players like Johnson and Casey Stoddard), retired NBA stars ('Toine), some dorky-looking media, a handful of beautiful women whose reason for being there wasn't entirely clear, and then, obviously, some people in suits trying to sell their business. It was great.
Oh, and rap music blasting in the background the entire time. I was there for two hours and just about every single song they played was Jay-Z. The lone exception was when, just before the tournament officially started, R Kelly's "Ignition (Remix)" hit the loudspeakers. Then I looked up and five feet away Clipper Darrell was dancing and singing the chorus.
Perfect way to start the weekend.