Living the dream at All-Star Saturday

Published: February 16, 2008

I scored a media pass for today’s NBA Jam Session via Adidas, who were hosting a Basketball is a Brotherhood event with PeacePlayers International. I wasn’t sure exactly how much access I’d get, but I thought the chance to meet folks like Garnett, Duncan, Howard, Billups and Jamison would be well worth the $1.25 for the streetcar ride downtown.

I got to the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center about twenty minutes later than advised; almost 9:30am. Picking up their credentials right behind me were Lang Whitaker and Ben Osborne from SLAM magazine, suffering a little after living it up at a Jordan party last night. Good people.

Once inside I stroll around for a while. I was here as a paying customer last night, but I’m eager to see how much more access I can get with this media pass.

9:50 – I get down to center court, which isn’t very central at all but will play host to All-Star practice starting at 11am. I follow the media arrows and come to a security checkpoint. There’s a big board with pictures of all the different media passes, almost all of which feature a giant X running through them. Not mine.

Thanks, Adidas.

The media section is basically a bunch of seats behind the far baseline, and a couple of rows along the sidelines. Regular paying folk get to sit in raised seats further back from the court.

There’s not many people about when I get there, and I find myself a nice seat just behind the basket, front row. The D-League All-Star dance team is practicing a routine on the court. It’s not boring.

10:50 – It’s getting busy. The fans have been let in and plenty more media folk have arrived. I think there might be some unwritten rule about photographers being entitled to the front row seats, but I’m just playing dumb as they squeeze in around me.

11:05 – Karl Malone is the first person of note to show up, as some basketball trickster-type people and various emcees warm up the crowd.

11:08 – Chris Bosh leads out the Eastern Conference All-Stars, who will practice first. A billion camera people, 98% of whom appear to be Asian, rush in front of me along the baseline and completely block my view. Thankfully, some serious looking dude comes by and tells them all to sit down. Damn right.

The practice is pretty tame. Jumpshots and layups mostly. Doc Rivers has crazy eyebrows in real life, while Jason Kidd doesn’t appear to have any. It’s about this time that I consider myself a complete tool for not having a camera today. Oh well.

11:30 – It’s like the United Nations around me. I get talking to a lot of the media folk, and discover representatives here from Portugal, Israel, Croatia, Venezuela, France and the ever-tropical New York City.

The Croatian dude tells me about a Bosnian cab driver he met in New Orleans yesterday, who earlier in the day had gotten into a fender bender with one Peja Stojakovic. The two former Yugoslavians apparently settled it amicably.

11:45 – The Eastern Conference All-Stars attempt to set a brand new Guinness world record for halfcourt shots in a minute. LeBron James beats out his teammates, making three. That’s the record, at least for now.

11:55 – Media availability, on the court. Madness ensues. Half of Asia and some other people descend on the Eastern Conference All-Stars. Their Western counterparts come out for interviews, too. First guy I see available is Carlos Boozer, but I don’t particularly want to talk to him.

12:00 – Oh shit, there’s Byron Scott. I approach him from the side, like you would a pony, and wait for some TV dudes to stop asking silly TV questions. They soon do and I introduce myself to the coach. It’s about this time that I realize I’m a complete tool for not having one of those voice recorder things today. Oh well.

Byron has never heard of but I can tell he’s lying. You know the man has us set as his homepage. I ask him if he’ll start Chris Paul in the All-Star game tomorrow if Kobe doesn’t play and he tells me that sounds like a plan. I come up blank on anything else to ask so I congratulate him on the whole All-Star thing and keep rambling.

12:07 – Oh shit, there’s Kenny Gattison, strolling through the crowd and looking like he wants me to ask him a question. He apparently hasn’t heard of either, and I begin to realize all the coaches might be in it together with this denial thing. I ask Gattison about Hilton Armstrong’s development, and he tells me the kid has a good work ethic and expects him to keep improving. Being an old-school Hornets fan, I then ask the original KG about his own playing days as a Hornet, and running with Muggsy, Zo and LJ back in the day. Fond memories, says the coach, especially that initial franchise Playoff run back in ’93.

Moving on, I realize I really need to find Chris Paul and David West, but they’re nowhere to be seen. I pass by Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony, Ray Allen and Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard and Rasheed Wallace. Screw all you guys, you don’t play for the Hornets.

12:16 – Score. There’s Chris Paul sitting along the sideline, and David West a couple seats down. I get to talk with CP almost right away, and he not only knows about this fine site, but also our super-fantastic giveaway. Apparently he’s never seen the Air Jordan CP3 in that black/teal color line before.

Once I’m past all the self-justification questions, I ask Chris about his troubles with Deron Williams. He doesn’t sound too worried about it, but realizes that Deron has dominated almost every meeting they’ve had in the NBA. He figures it will balance out eventually. Utah is the team that he thinks will be the Hornets’ toughest matchup should they meet in the Playoffs.

Real media folk with microphones and cameras close in on Chris so I leave it at that and move on to Mr. West. He’s actually surrounded by more people than CP, five mics shoved in his face. A lady asks him how he’s handling his first All-Star experience. West responds with something like, “I’m just chilling, man. You know… just relaxin’.”

I get talking to him eventually and he’s never heard of either. I believe him. I bring up the whole nicknames thing and tell him the true origins of “Fluffy.” He laughs at the story but assures me there’s no way he wants to be known by that. Sorry, Ryan.

I go on to ask DW about the Hornets toughest foe in the West, and he thinks it could be one of the big-trade teams (the Lakers or Suns, possibly the Mavs) once they get healthy and start clicking. Then I get to the question I really want to ask: What part of your game do you think you most need to work on? The fan in me is delighted when “defense” is the first word out of his mouth. He also talks about working to extend his range, and how he goes hard every summer to improve. I wrap it up by asking about boxing. Apparently he does some ring work in the off-season, but took it easy last year so that elbow would heal all the way. I ask who his favorite boxer is and he names somebody I’ve never heard of. It’s about then I realize I know jack shit about boxing.

12:25 – Media availability is over so I thank West and float back to my seat. Did I just interview all three Hornets’ All-Stars? Craig Sager’s ugly jacket and the numerous token hot female reporters lingering about assure me that this is for real.

Thanks, Adidas.

13:02 – Brandon Roy leads out the Western Conference All-Stars for a later practice than advertised. Same tame layup and jumpshot drills.

13:20 – I spy CJ Paul, brother and right hand man to Chris, over on the sideline chatting with ESPN’s Chris Palmer. I make my way over and do the introduction thing. CJ turns out to be super cool, even more engaging than his brother if that’s at all possible. He tells me he can’t wait for the weekend to be over because the schedule is just crazy. I can only imagine how busy his life is. He has no plans to become some kind of NBA super agent, but he would like to surround CP with a management team like LeBron James has put together.

13:33 – Back in my seat, and the West are trying to beat LeBron’s halfcourt record. Nash, Amare, Iverson and Duncan all fall short. Chris Paul will be the last to try, and the crowd gets hyped for him. He knocks in three in the first thirty seconds, then hits a fourth with ten ticks left. A new world record and I guess we should all drink Guinness tonight.

13:35 – All-Star practice is done. Next up is the D-League All-Star game but I’m done. I make my way towards the media exit. Along the way I see Antawn Jamison signing autographs, Paul Pierce setting up a kids shootout at the T-Mobile thingy, Darryl Dawkins chilling in the shadows, and Byron Scott giving a bunch of kids the “work hard, stay in school” talk at the NBA Cares court.

I drop by the Hornets ticket stand just before I leave, and one of the guys there tells me they’ve gotten some good leads this weekend. Sweet. Let’s pack that Hive.

So that was my morning. Thanks, Adidas. You guys rock. Everybody should wear your stuff.

And now I just got a call about some free Dunk Contest tickets this evening. Life is good.

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