I'm 40. It's significant for two reasons when it comes to All-Star weekend. One, I was an impressionable youth in the mid-80's when the NBA introduced (borrowed from the ABA) the dunk contest for All-Star weekend and the 3-point shooting contest. Two, I'm not into the whole pop culture thing. The first of these two reasons was significant on Saturday. The latter was significant on Sunday.
The charger was easy. I returned it with something bordering on 47 thank yous. I had been panicking about the phone. There are two implied parts of the deal in getting credentials when you are in my position. One is that you do something with them. Two is that if you don't you won't get credentials again. For anything. Another all-star weekend, another summer league, or the playoffs. I think part of the reason I was able to be in a position to get all-star credentials for LatinD and myself was the work I did at summer league. Had I gone there and written one article, I don't think anybody would be impressed. But putting in the time and work like I did let's people know I won't waste an opportunity. And let's be honest, I'm on a merit based system right now.
So when my phone died, I was deeee...pressed. Amy saved my bacon. Therefore, if you are a baseball fan or just like following people on Twitter or just want to show your gratitude, follow her on Twitter (http://twitter.com/amyknelson), and keep an eye out for her stuff on espn.com as baseball season gets into gear.
Now, it was time to find my seat. I knew the destination. Section 306, row 3, seat 7. It was the getting there that was the challenge. When you walk into an arena as a fan, they have signs all over the place for you telling you how to get to your seat. When you come in through a back door and are in the basement, they don't have signs for you. You are just kind of expected to know where you are going. I found my way back to the elevator that was near where LatinD was, and I entered via stairs. I waited for several long minutes for it to arrive with about 15 other people and when it did, I hopped in.
Here's probably a little known fact about arena elevators. They are manned. Somebody is in them to push the buttons. Many times, they will also be helpful in answering questions. But you usually just tell them where you need to go and they punch the buttons. We all hollered out our destinations and away we went. Once you exit the elevator you take a few steps and then you are in with the masses trying to find your seat and it is pretty straight forward. It's the getting back to the elevator that is hidden in an alcove that can be tricky.
I got to my seat during the introductions of the participants of the Shooting Stars. There were me and two other guys in the entire 30 seat area. Hmmm, nice turnout. The contestants were warming up and I was checking out who was participating trying to piece together the teams, and I couldn't do it. It looked like a couple Houston Rockets, Dirk Nowitzki, a San Antonio Silver Star, Joe Johnson, and a few people missing. As it turns out, it was a TNT rigged set of teams. Steve Smith with an Atlanta team. Chris Webber with a Sacramento team. Kenny Smith with a Texas team. Brent Barry with a Los Angeles team. I'm not sure if they had the TNT guys talking trash on television or not, but it didn't translate to the arena. It just made for some awkward teams. First, Sacramento's WNBA team shut down and is out of business. Second, a Rocket and Mav and a Silver Star? Really? We hate the Mavs and Rockets. How can I root for Becky Hammon when she is playing with Dirk and Kenny? Third, an LA team? Mixing the Clippers and Lakers? I was, and still am, confounded.
The event itself is pretty fun and has some drama. It all comes down to who can hit a half court shot first. I think the only change I would make would be to have more shots needed to be made. Almost all the teams made their non-half court shots within 20 seconds. But, the final times were often at the 1:00 mark or higher. I think it would be better if each participant had 3 spots they had to make a shot from and then they all tried the half court shot. But it is an exciting and fun event.
The Texas team won, in about 35 seconds, thanks to Dirk hitting a quick half-courter. I'm pretty sure it was on his first attempt. Interesting tidbit to me, Brent Barry shot his half court shot just like he shoots his 3-pointer. Now, and only now, was when LatinD showed up at our seats. Yep, after the event. Just in time to head back to the basement for the post event interviews.
BlaseE is probably one of those guys who, 15 minutes into a movie, will figure out who did it and yell out in the theater, "He did it. It's obvious. We can go home now." and that people glare at. I'm just saying he strikes me as the type. I bet his girlfriend has probably punched him in the ribs something like six times just this year and said, "Shut. Up. Let me watch the movie."
Yes, I had arranged for LatinD to be able to ask Becky Hammon some questions. Since they won the event, it took a little bit longer to make happen. The contestants get treated in one of two ways down in the media area. Winners. And losers. The winners get to sit up on the podium in the press conference room. The losers get to hang out in the 'mixed' area. The mixed area is dark, dark, dark. The press conference room is bright, bright, bright. Oops, sorry, I'm treading into LD's area. Anyway, I went to the mixed area and hung out to see what I could see. From the three losing teams, a few people didn't show. No Kenny Smith. No Joe Johnson. No Brent Barry. Not many people were interested in anybody but Pau Gasol. Lots of media, probably Spanish, were surrounding him. I was trying to think of something to ask Steve Smith, you know on account he's a former Spur, when Brent Barry walked up. Since he was on the LA team with Pau, that is where he was supposed to stand. However, there were too many media people around Pau so he just stood next to me.
I have a good friend who coached one of Brent's kids at the YMCA when the kid was 5 or 6. My buddy told me that one time Brent was at practice watching, so he asked him for some advice. Brent said, "tell them to shoot at the square". My buddy said it went horribly. So I started in with that anecdote. I eventually got around to asking him what he thought was going on with the Spurs this year. Let me tell you, you can tell Brent gets paid to talk for a living. He, like most people I run into, is very knowledgeable and very interesting and very interested in sharing. We talked about how hard the system is, we talked about how RJ is different than others, and we talked about Pop's coaching. To sum up, he thinks Pop has a track record of his team improving through the final months of the season. He thinks there is a proven track record of guys having a hard time adjusting to the system, including himself, and that with so many new guys this year it is much more difficult. He thinks that RJ's integration into the team is more difficult than other players because he wasn't expected to be one of the pieces that fit in around the big three guys. He is supposed to be another big guy and that he is good at doing different things on the court that the Spurs haven't had before. He said he wouldn't be surprised to see RJ really make some strides down the stretch. It was very much a "too early too judge" position.
This took awhile and lead to me wonder where the hell LatinD had gotten off to. Again, that's for his story. If you haven't seen it, here is the video of the press conference with Becky and Dirk. My question is the one that makes her hide her face and laugh and makes Dirk laugh and say, "Yeah, I want to hear that". That's what all-star weekend is about from my perspective. Fun questions and fun answers.
We met up and waited and then we did our interview with Becky Hammon. I asked about EuroLeague stuff and was fascinated by the answers. I'll write about it a bit later. She's something else. Very engaging. I'll leave the rest for LatinD.
All this took so long that Steve Nash came by on his way to the winner's room with his skills trophy. We missed that event. We took off and this time we hit the elevator and it immediately opened. I made a quip to the elevator attendant that I bet that never happens again and she said, "I'll make sure it never happens again for you." Back to the seats. Things had filled out in the last hour or so and now a handful of True Hoopers were there. Jazz, Mavs, Thunder, and the Paroxysm. Good guys, but I'll save them for Sunday night's recap.
The 3-point shooting contest was just getting underway. Here's where my age and fond memories of all-star weekend kick in. You need stars in the competition. Lots of them. The field has six contestants and Stephen Curry, Danilo Galinari, Daequan Cook, and Channing Frye are not stars. Paul Pierce and Chauncey Billups are great for this. Pierce is a big name and Billups is a clutch shooter. But Curry, Galinari, Cook, and Frye? You need the guys who are the great shooters in the league. Ray Allen, as much as I despise him, is a better selection. Dirk? What about him? How about a real competitor like Manu? You think he wouldn't step up his game for this? Or Stephen Jackson? I bet he still makes love to pressure like this. You need character and swagger. Oh, how about Steve Nash? Just the best shooter in the league for the past, I don't know, 10 years.
Paul Pierce ended up winning. I honestly didn't pay very close attention to the competition because I didn't find the participants all that compelling. I watched mostly, but I wasn't engrossed. Plus, I was talking.
Now the dunk competition I got into. From the outset, I had DeMar DeRozan. No surprise there since I jumped on the DMDR bandwagon back in summer league. A couple of the guys I was talking to were taking Shannon Brown. I'm not sure what went wrong with the dunk competition, but it fell flat for most people. DeMar's dunk off the side of the back board was hands down the best dunk of the night. After it, none of them really grabbed me. I'm not sure how it played out on television, but the finals being judged by fans texting was a bomb in the arena. And I don't mean "The Bomb". I mean stink bomb.
It just sucked the life out of the event. Part of the fun of the dunk contest is the anticipation of seeing the guys put up their cards to rate the dunk. It's the interplay between the dunker, the crowd, and the judges. When Nate did his first dunk of the finals, the crowd was quiet. Dead quiet. No way Nate gets more than a 28 out of that dunk. But since it wasn't judged, the crowd gave up. By the end, after the last dunk, the crowd had figured out there was nothing going on. There was no energy in the building while we waited for the votes to be tallied and for us to hear that the worst dunker won. A very anti-climactic end to a fun evening.
After blowing out of the arena and riding in the cargo area of a SUV and being forgotten, we got back to the hotel where I was parked. We went into the lobby to wait for Mrs ATS to show up. While waiting we ran into Aron (Dime Magazine) and James (basketball 24/7), who we met at the D-League All-Star game. After a couple minutes, Mrs ATS showed up. We then spent about 15 minutes listening to a New Yorker, a Brit, and an Argentine talk about dunking: who the great dunkers were, where they dunked, how they dunked, what they got paid to dunk, etc. It was a surreal conversation to be on the edge of. These three guys love dunking. Love. It. Also, they didn't talk about any of the dunkers from the All-Star game.
Two suggestions for the NBA: One, don't let TNT suck the life out of the events for the people who go to the events. You have to make the crowd in the arena involved. Get rid of the voting for the dunk contest winner. Two, this one is from LatinD, and it got unanimous agreement from all in the area. If you want a better dunk contest, you need the league's best dunkers.
When I started watching all-star weekend, the dunk contest was THE event. You looked forward to it for weeks, if not months. I was dying to see Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins strut their stuff. They were the most dynamic dunkers and two of the biggest stars in the league. They had appeal. Gerald Wallace? Is he the biggest name the league can get to participate? The dunk contest is the headline event. Bring some headliners.
It's that star appeal and amazing talent that will push All-Star Saturday from a fun night to an extraordinary night.