I started going to Vegas in the mid-90s. I went about once a year for 10 years. Whenever Vegas comes up at a party, it is discussed in one of two ways--by people who love it or people who have never been there. Nobody ever admits to going there and not liking it. For the people who haven't been there, I always start by saying, "You have to go." They always come back with "I don't like gambling" and various other "I don't like" things. You know, like cards, or dice, or hookers, or shows. I tell them it doesn't matter--they still have to go. After several years of regular trips, my description of Vegas boils down to this: It is a sight unlike anything you will ever see. It doesn't matter if you never step into a casino, go to a show, or ride a roller coaster. Everybody, everywhere in the world, should go to Vegas one time. You only need to spend two days there. But you absolutely positively have to, have to, have to see it. It's everything good and bad about the U.S. all wrapped up into one over-the-top experience. It's a spectacle.
Ladies and Gentleman. I give you the 2010 NBA All-Star Game Spectacle.
The Arrival and Going To Hell
All-Star weekend really starts on Thursday with various things that I didn't get to see. The inclement weather in Dallas (they got 9 inches of snow) monkey-wrenched things, and some stuff got moved from Thursday to Friday. I missed those events, too. The rookie game, the media availability stuff for all the participants. Yep, I missed those. I was working on Friday. I didn't show up until Saturday.
LatinD's flight in from Denver arrived Saturday at 10:00 in the morning and I got to Dallas about 11:30. By 1:30, we had checked into the hotel, dropped Mrs. ATS at her brother's place, and picked up our media passes. Next stop, the Renaissance Hotel to catch the shuttle to the Dallas Convention Center so that we could attend the D-League All-Star game. We were starving. Neither of us had eaten. However, the media hospitality room had shut down at 1:00. So we headed over to the shuttle. We hopped on board, the only two people until none other than John Hollinger came on. I would describe him this way: He looks just like me, but smart. Off we went. Hollinger got a phone call and proceeded to break down the impending, or maybe at that time completed, Dallas Mavericks-Washington Wizards heist. It is very cool to listen to how a man thinks when he is a smart man.
We got out of the bus and asked some questions and found the media entrance. Immediately upon entering I ran into Michael Arcieri. I met him in Vegas. He is the only non-NBA, non-Spur, non-media person I know, and he is the first person I saw. Crazy. After he informed me that he is now working with the Frisco D-League team that is starting next year, I asked him for directions to the court. He said, "Go up these stairs, turn left, then make your way all the way through the insanity." Sounded fun. Up the stairs we went. We made our left and my day turned to shit.
Michael was right. It was insanity. I. Was. Not. Prepared. Not for this. The D-League All-Star game was part of something they were calling NBA All-Star Jam Session at the Dallas Convention Center. I think the purpose of NBA All-Star Jam Session was to take as much activity and jam it into a giant place with the most noise they could muster. Upon entering, I stepped on a basketball court where a game was taking place. I had to walk on the baseline just to get in the building.
It was a full court game being played by kids who were in the 10-12 range. Just as I crossed the edge of the court, a kid stole the ball from the opponent, the opponent fouled the kid and the whistle blew. But play didn't stop. Oh no, that would be too orderly. The kid with the ball drove to the hoop and took a 10' baseline jumper as a coach screamed, "Stop. What are you doing?" The ball was rebounded. The whistle blew again. Play continued. There was another shot. The whistle blew. Play continued. All the whistle blowing was by the ref at mid-court. The other ref, on the baseline next to me, was still watching the game and following the continuing play. You see, there was such insanity, the ref on the baseline did not know that the other ref on the court was blowing her whistle.
That wasn't the crappy part. The crappy part is that I pulled out my phone to take a picture and it was dead. D-E-D. Dead. Nothing. I had been using it on the way over from the hotel. I even took a picture of LatinD on the bus. Now, nothing. This was a catastrophe. I had planned my whole media weekend around using my phone to Tweet, take pictures, record interviews, and in general make myself useful. Now, nothing. I couldn't even turn it on. Shit. Shit. Shit. I can't tell you how depressed and upset I was. This was an important weekend for me. I needed to be prolific in my coverage. Now I was going to be deficient.
As we continued through the insanity, I pointed out Bill Walton to LatinD. Bill looks like a man whose body doesn't make him happy. He doesn't move too well. Still, he had an enormous smile on his face and seemed to be having a great time showing little kids how to play the game. Me, not so much. I was still jacking with my phone and still getting no response. Nothing. More courts. More games. More kids. On and on it went. Finally, after what seemed like half an hour of messing with my phone, it turned on and I saw the problem. The battery had been drained. Hmmm, well, things could be worse. The phone wasn't a lost cause. I just needed a battery charger. I like solvable problems. This felt solvable so I felt better, but not much.
It was about this time I heard a guy say, "Two hours? They want me to wait in line two hours to buy their stuff. I don't think so." I started looking around. I was in front of the NBA store. The line came out of the door, hugged the wall, and stretched off into the distant fog. Wow. The crazy part is that everyone in line looked happy. Hmmm.
I think we were about halfway through the insanity at this point. Eventually, we came to the end and the walled off area that contained the "gym" where the D-Leaguers were playing. Thank you. After much guessing and confusion, lots of questions and answers, and more guessing we still didn't know where we were supposed to sit. Luckily, I found somebody I knew and who I knew would know. The charismatic and energetic Joanna Shapiro. She's in charge of the D-League PR. This was her event so I asked her where we were supposed to sit. She pointed to the baseline area and asked if that was ok. I said yes. She then asked if I needed anything else. I said, "Well, in fact, I do. You don't by any chance have an iPhone charger, do you?" "Yes. I do." Thank you little 8-pound baby Jesus. "Oh wait, no, sorry. I left it in the hotel." Ugh!! Gut shot.
Here is what you need to know about Joanna. She loves the D-League. She really loves it. She loves talking about the game and she loves the guys that play it. When you talk to her about the players, you'd think you were talking about her younger brothers. She also may be the hardest-working person I have met.
LatinD and I grabbed our seats, second row on the baseline, with only a couple of minutes gone in the first half. The thing that initially surprised me about the D-League All-Star game is that they were actually trying to play some team basketball on offense and a modicum of defense. They ran some plays, they didn't do anything really ridiculous, it was like watching a competitive and talented pick-up game (the guys haven't had a chance to practice, so the plays were ragged).
Dwayne Jones of the Austin Toros is a great guy. I first interacted with him at the Toros media day back in November and I wasn't sold on him. In fact, I was a bit put off. I had asked him what had happened with his European contract (he was there two days before leaving) and he had seemed evasive and unwilling to speak. I was wrong about him. Dead wrong. Every time I have seem him since then he has shown to be a great person and great teammate. This game was no different. He always got off the bench to cheer guys on. He brought water to his teammates at timeouts. He got off the bench during play, walked over to the baseline seats, and high-fived this little 2-year old girl. She was thrilled. He did it for no other reason than to make her happy. We need more people like him in the world.
My favorite Dwayne Jones moment was when the whistle blew and one of his teammates took a jumper. The opponent jumped up and goal tended the shot, swatting it over toward where we were sitting. Dwayne got up and asked the fan for the ball, put it under his arm, and starting yelling at the ref that it was a goal tend. The ref just looked at him. Dwayne kept yelling for a goal tend and wouldn't give up the ball until the ref started laughing. Then he laughed and threw the ball to the ref.
Sitting next to me was Aron Phillips from Dime Magazine. We BSed for a while. Then a guy named James Harris-Hogarth, a Brit from basketball247.com, came by and started talking to Aron. This guy is a first-rate character. I spent a good 5 minutes just eavesdropping on their conversation. They'll both appear later in the evening.
The game itself was okay. They scored points and threw down some dunks. They hustled a fair amount and the West, the Toros team, won. Afterward, I asked Dwayne how they approached the game. Were they having fun or were they trying to take it serious? He said it was a real catch-22. On the one hand, the league had told them to have fun. On the other hand, they knew scouts were there and if they didn't play defense and jacked shots it might affect how they were viewed.
It was now 4:00 and LatinD and I had still not eaten and I still had an uncharged phone. We left and took a cab to the American Airlines Center where the evenings festivities were going to take place.
My Savior, Great People, and Terrible Food
We finally found our way into the bowels of the AAC and found the media workroom. I didn't see anybody I knew enough to ask if they had an iPhone charger so we went to the hospitality room. I only have two complaints with the league on Saturday, and this is the first. The food was turrble. Just turrble. Hamburgers, hot dogs, and fries. I had some of each. The burger was truly horrible and the dog was passable. I had two plates of salad. I'm sure LatinD will elaborate. I'll just move on.
After eating, LatinD had to make a brief exit from the festivities. I was still trying to figure out how I was going to salvage my day and get my phone charged. As it stood, my best option was going back to the hotel and sitting in my car while I charged it on my car-charger. I didn't like this. It meant two 20-minute bus rides and over an hour of sitting in my car. After thinking about it where I think best, I waited for LatinD to finish his business and I said, "I'm staying. I'll find somebody."
Then a magical moment happened. A person who needed to get where she was going and didn't know where she was. I'm a sucker for helping people find their way. Introducing Amy K Nelson, ESPN baseball writer, and soon to be my favorite person in the world. She was trying to find the media workroom, and having already located it myself , I said I would show her the way as I said so long to LatinD. It's wasn't a long walk, but it wasn't short either, and we chatted as we walked. Blah, blah, blah. I said, "by any chance, do you have an iPhone charger?" She looked at me askance. And I really mean askance. Narrowed eyes and everything and slowly said, "Yes." She must have seen my eyes get big. "Can I borrow it?" She looked forward and said, "I don't know. Let me think about it." Uh-oh. You'd think I had asked her...hell, I don't know what. It wasn't that she was cold. She was protective. You know, like maybe I asked if I could hold her baby daughter while I had swine flu or something. We got to the media room and she asked if there was a way to get on the court. I had seen that already so we went to the place and I said, "here you go." She stopped. Pulled her charger out of her purse, held it up, and said, "Where are you going to be?" I told her I would be in the media room. "If I don't get this back", she said as she handed me the charger. "I will kill you." I think she meant it too. In that way that I think Bellasa means it when she says she is going to kill me. And you know I like being threatened like that. And you know I couldn't have found somebody I liked more. And you know I've got this warm little place in my heart for women that threaten to kill me if I disappoint them. Then I gave her my card and said, "If you can't find me, call me." I like to cover my bases. I don't need to be bludgeoned to death by somebody wielding an uncharged iPhone.
Back to the media room where I sat, charging my iPhone with great relief, and watching David Stern's State of the NBA speech.
People in the league revere David Stern. Almost universally. One guy described being around him as being around the Hugh Hefner of basketball. That's a compliment, right? It has to be, doesn't it? Anyway, David is very well liked. To me, though, he just looked tired. You can find the video of his speech on NBA.com, I'm sure, so I won't talk much about it. The one thing I did find interesting was his bit about the anonymous league executives who had supposedly bad-mouthed the stars of the league. I think he was really mad. Not just acting mad, but "this does not happen in my business" mad. Like Godfather-betrayed mad.
That's when I ran into one of the other great people in the league. Maureen Coyle, PR honcho and Joanna's boss. The person who allowed LatinD and I to attend. I won't describe her any further. It will just come off as brown-nosing. I'll leave it to LD. Then I saw Karen Case who is the WNBA PR person. We had exchanged emails and I had needed to find her. I spied her name on her badge and introduced myself. I had something up my sleeve and she was part of the plan.