I knew it was for real when I hadn’t taken more than three steps off the flight before I nearly ran into some cat wearing a Bobcats hat. The NBA All-Star Game was here. Turns out that man had a game the following night. Turns out that man was Kemba Walker, who was hounded all the way down to luggage claim, and then was overwhelmed enough with picture requests that fan pressure pushed him all the way up against the bag ring in the corner. Thursday afternoon, and a weekend with the best basketball players in the world was already starting.
The media hotel – Orlando’s Marriott World Center – was so much like a city, I wasn’t the only one who had to ask three or four people how to get to my room. The place has towers, elevators only going to certain floors, spiderwebs of rooms on every level. The pool area is so unbelievable – I’m talking slides, rock formations, probably a dozen different Jacuzzis – that I should thank the NBA for keeping me busy or else I probably would’ve left with a John Candy in Summer Rental-level burn.
Stories are what make All-Star Weekend. After spending Thursday night out, dishing on the best recollections of the past, I had my own at just before 9 in the morning on Friday. Eating my makeshift breakfast – a Caramel Frappacino and bagel from Starbucks – I turned to my left. There was Dennis Rodman, a woman on his hip and an eye at getting some All-Star gear. He had just come from breakfast, and probably before that, a night out. Rodman up at 8:45 in the morning? Rocking a Fedora, shades and greeting nearly every person in the lobby with a handshake? No way had he been to bed. Later on, I had the same waitress who took the Worm’s breakfast order. He had wanted some Bloody Marys, but was told they couldn’t sell him any liquor until 11 a.m. Predictable.
Friday is always the craziest day for media. The NBA makes all of the participating players available, and with time slots to organize it all, hundreds of media come pouring in. Trying to get to the biggest names never works out. You’ll be stuck with – as in the case of Dwight Howard – the same cliche and tired answer and questions sessions. Where do you want to play? Do you want to be traded? Do you love Orlando?
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But if you latch on to other names, you’ll occasionally find some interesting stuff. Tony Parker blew it on his first date with Gregg Popovich. Track and field announcers always butchered Andre Iguodala‘s name as he growing up. Derrick Rose didn’t start paying attention to the Olympics until the Redeem Team.
I had gone in hoping to ask them about girls. Groupies. The throngs of them are one of the first things you notice at an All-Star Weekend. But the hardest part is finding a way to transition. A one-on-one interview is one thing. That’s easy to blurt out crazy questions. But when there’s 15 media members crowded around one person, and suddenly someone yells out, “Yo Roy. What do you think about all these All-Star Weekend groupies?” they’ll be laughter and a possibly very awkward moment. You have to be slick about it.