NBA All-Star Saturday night is important to me.
I was nine when the 2000 dunk contest took place in Oakland, but it’s one of those incredible moments in life, no matter how old you get, you will always remember. What I was eating (pizza), what I was drinking (Sprite), where I was (my home) and who I was with (three friends and all of my immediate family) are all aspects of that night I remember with vivid clarity.
That night changed my life. Seeing Vince Carter do the things he did at the Arena in Oakland, single handily changing the way we look at what can be done with an open court and a basketball, it’s impossible to look at the game the same way. It’s still the greatest dunk contest I’ve ever seen, and even after seeing the great MJ vs. Dominique battles and the more recent Superman vs. Lil’ Nate shenanigans, that still very much holds true.
After 2000, All-Star Saturday night wasn’t just my favorite night of the year, it became a ritual. I planned for that night, making sure all the food and drinks were in place, the VCR was ready to record (remember those?) and making sure my homework was done so I can watch the events on Sunday in peace. The events were incredibly fun for me, even during the days of the Corey Maggette front-flip two handers.
So this year, as you can probably imagine, my excitement ratcheted up just ever so slightly as I would be watching all these events unfold in person. From watching Vince Carter perform inhuman acts through my Mitsubishi TV to sitting press row in Houston watching the festivities right before my eyes. Amazing.
My Saturday started off at the George R. Brown Convention Center, where the Jam Session and media sessions were being held that morning (just across the street from the Toyota Center). Here, all 24 All-Stars (and both coaches) were made available to the media for about 30 minutes. Each All-Star had their own chair, sitting on a slightly elevated stage with nothing but a fence just inches in front of them for protection from us media hounds.
I arrive at about 10:30, 15 minutes before the stars were set to be available. When I arrived, LeBron, Kobe and Dwight already had a good number (20-25 people) of the media conglomerate surrounding their respective chairs. As I quickly found out, I wasn’t going to be able to hop to different chairs and ask questions to whoever I wanted. I had to choose which player I wanted to ask a question to, and I had to make that decision quickly.
While I’m here in Houston on behalf of WarriorsWorld, David Lee wasn’t on my radar for this media session. After about 3.1 seconds, I nailed it down between LeBron and Kobe. Kobe was sitting next to Dwight Howard (with David Lee on his other side), so I knew the usual Los Angeles buffoonery would be present. The media surrounding both — with numerous cameras, lights and microphones just inches from their chairs — easily made them to be the hottest attraction that morning.
While asking Kobe Bryant why he decided to destroy the Warriors in the fourth quarter and overtime of their December 22 matchup was enticing, I had to take a rain check on the future Hall of Famer. Instead, I chose another future Hall of Famer, the current (and future) MVP, the best player in the world on the best team in the NBA: LeBron James.
LeBron’s chair wasn’t nearly as crowded as the Lakers frenzy, so I was actually able to find a place in front with just a couple people in front of me. I already had a couple questions in mind for each player (not knowing moving around would be virtually impossible), so that wasn’t an issue. It became a waiting game, an anxious one at that.
Erik Spoelstra is the first to come out, sitting in between LeBron and Dwyane Wade. He’s answering questions for about five minutes before the likes of Brook Lopez and Paul George come out. Finally, about ten minutes after Coach Spo sits down, his two Hall of Fame players walk with each other, laughing and enjoying themselves. LeBron sits down and is quickly bombarded with questions about what he’s doing that night (dinner with Jay-Z), what he’s wearing to the festivities and why the Heat are better this season than last.
I had to ask him a question, it was only right. Between answers, you have to speak quick, because there is always someone that has a question. I speak up and ask LeBron who he’s especially excited to play with on Sunday. Quickly, he says “Paul George…and Kyrie Irving.” He continued to explain why, and my question was answered.
A few questions later, the session was over.
I understand journalistic integrity. I understand that we’re not supposed to be “fans” of anyone. We can’t cheer in the press box or wear any type of team gear while covering games or events. Still, what had taken place during that media session, although routine for others, was a memorable moment for me and my career. Walking around media rooms and sessions, looking around, I’m 90.7% sure I’m the youngest person with a media credential here. As I said in my last post, I never take anything for granted. This moment, while insignificant for others, was incredible for me.
Hours pass, words are typed and notes are taken, All-Star Saturday night was finally upon me. Before the night began, David Stern held his an annual press conference which takes place every All-Star Saturday. The commissioner — attending his last All-Star weekend — came off interested, cordial and rather amusing. This was obviously my first personal encounter with Stern, and many in the room don’t enjoy his snark. I did, but that’s because I enjoy a good joke (those who follow me on Twitter know).
My sources informed me that I was visible on NBATV for a short time when ESPN TrueHoop’s own Henry Abbott asked a question. I even was sent a picture, which was especially awkward to see while I was still in the press conference. It was fun (yes, fun) attending David Stern’s last All-Star press conference, I know it won’t be my last one.
The night begun with the Sears Shooting Stars competition, an event normally suited to put small children to sleep. It’s tough watching the geysers, the once great legends in the NBA struggle to make a jump shot and failing to hit the backboard on a halfcourt heave. The event is pretty stale, but I understand the meaning behind it. Everything is business, and this event gives the WNBA (for better or worse) some shine. Does this mean they should keep the event? Absolutely not, but the reasoning behind the event is what’s keeping it alive.
As for the result, I picked Team Westbrook, and as you’ll soon figure out, a trend was forming for the night.
Up next was the Skills Challenge, an event that might as well be named “The Tony Parker Experience.” Parker has only won it once, but with an otherwise weak field I was sure he was going to take it easily. Parker continued my trend of horrible Saturday night selections and nearly finished in last place. This event has isn’t without its flaws, but it was good seeing the Oakland product Damian Lillard take the crown even if it was at the cost of my pick.
Follow the Skills Challenge was the FootLocker Three-Point and the most important event of the night for Warriors fans. Stephen Curry, one of the Splash Brothers, was first up. Curry was rushing early on, making only two shots his first two racks and missing his entire second rack — the splashes were few are far between. Finally, after Warriors fans collectively groaned after his first two racks, Curry found his stroke. He made 12 of his last 15 shots for a final score of 17.
I’m sure Curry was nervous, most would be in that situation. He’s on a national stage, he’s the only member of the Warriors participating that night and considers himself one of the best shooters in the league (which he easily is). The courts at the Warriors practice facility have been nice to Curry over the years, and seeing him making 27 shots in practice video was exciting. It would’ve been great for Curry to come out on top, he just looked nervous early on and his first two racks doomed him. He’ll be back multiple times, probably win at least one when it’s all said and done, but this was definitely a disappointing performance.
Let’s hope Curry is joined by another Splash Brother next time around.
Finally, the dunk contest had arrived. A great field on paper, this contest was slated to be one of the best in recent memory. Sadly, the field didn’t deliver. I still believe Gerald Green had the best dunk of the night, his opening slam off the side of the backboard bringing it down towards his knees. Eric Bledsoe had another beautiful dunk with his second attempt, throwing it to himself and spinning with a 180. Terrence Ross saved an otherwise forgettable dunk contest with his last two dunks, especially his first one. It was another off the side of the backboard attempt, this time reaching way way way back and throwing it down with one hand.
I enjoyed the contest. It wasn’t MJ or Vince Carter, but it was fun to watch. The league has a great young crop of dunkers, and this contest was a great showcase for this talent. Terrence Ross and Gerald Green especially. It was fun seeing the theatrics in person. Even the misses, although disappointing and large in quantity, were special to see in person. What these players do on a nightly basis is severely taken for granted, and during a dunk contest these talents are on the ultimate stage. These guys are good.
The only gripe I had about All-Star Saturday night was the format. The East/West formatting didn’t work for me, and judging from what I saw on Twitter and from what I heard on press row, it didn’t resonate with many at all. I understand the charity aspect, but the NBA can write a check regardless can’t they? The point system didn’t work, and it forced situations and matchups that didn’t need to happen. Just a waste.
Regardless, this was an incredible night. From watching Vince Carter do unthinkable things on the Mitsubishi in 2000 to seeing some of the best talent in the NBA on display, in person, was special. It was All-Star Saturday night, my favorite day of the year, here right in front of my eyes. Quite a change.
I much prefer it this way.