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.
The games are obviously always fun, even if the media attention is so great that you don’t always get a courtside view. From Greg Monroe punking John Wall at the end of the Rising Stars Challenge to LeBron James sulking next to Craig Sager like he had just lost his balls and blown an NBA Finals Game, it’s cool to be close for those things. But the stuff you’ll remember happens off the court. Even the smallest things, like when Jameer Nelson’s entourage wouldn’t let me on the elevator with them (I guess I wasn’t cool enough to be included) become instant jokes.
The highlight of the whole weekend for me was being invited and playing ball at a special Jordan Brand event about 20 minutes away from the hotel. Media guys from just about every major national publication were there, and so were a few celebrities. The first run was ordinary â€“ just a bunch of media members. Everyone super excited to be rocking JB’s newest gear. Everyone super hyped with the DJ bumping music in the background. With all of that added energy, the game was pretty sloppy. Warming up for the second run, DJ Clue came over to get some shots up before we checked ball. You want respect? Dude could’ve missed 10 shots in a row, and he would’ve kept getting the ball back.
Going up against Jadakiss in the actual game was interesting. I figured he’d be garbage. Instead, he scored four or five buckets, most of them double-pumping in the lane. At one point, he scored on me (even though I obviously fouled him) with an up-and-under at the rim, yelling the whole time in that unmistakable voice.
It was weird. I’m sitting there thinking to myself, Okay. Do I talk junk to this dude or not? He’s Jadakiss. It’s not every day you start trading jabs with a man who does it lyrical for a living. Other than the fact that they’re worldwide famous, the games took on a rather ordinary feel. Every pickup game must include two of the following three things: a) a couple of guys who don’t pass and call every foul, b) the fat guys who play lazily for the first five points and then start colliding with everyone who tries to run through the lane, and most importantly c) a major, 5-15 minute argument about the score. I think we had all three.
By the time All-Star Weekend was all over, I was rushing out of the hotel to meet a shuttle to make my flight. Extra gear I had been given over the weekend consisted of some Air Jordan 2012s, the adiZero Rose 2.5s, some All-Star edition adidas originals, an adidas bag, an NBA bag with a t-shirt stuff inside, adidas and Jordan socks, Jordan shorts, two All-Star jackets and four All-Star shirts from adidas and a reversible and t-shirt from Jordan. You always pack light on these trips. I came back feeling 20 pounds heavier and sweating three times as much from carrying enough luggage to clothe a family for a week.
What was your favorite part of the weekend?
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