The stories you are about to hear are not fiction. They are not embellishments. They are true and they are undisputed. Mostly, though, they are wickedly fun behind-the-scenes looks into what goes down during the NBA’s most celebrated weekend of the year.
Thursday marked the first wave. Most players and reporters weren’t required to be in town until that Friday, but the truly devoted arrived a day early to dive headfirst into the madness. As for me, a Houston resident, it was easy like Sunday morning to get a headstart on things. Turner reached out to me to come hang out with TNT’s “Inside the NBA” crew at the Shark Bar for their live taping.
I looked on as Ernie Johnson, Kenny “The Jet” Smith, Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley did what they do best in the confines of Space City. The Jet won two championships with the Houston Rockets, so there were fans rockin’ throwback “Smith” jerseys and goin’ nuts for Chuck, I got a chance to interview Shaq and Chuck during the game break and learned that Shaq has a house in Houston and Chuck, unlike Michael Jordan, is comfortable in his own skin and not at all leery of turning the big 5-0. He’s happy with what he’s accomplished, with what he’s doing. And no, he’ll never get on “the Twitter” because they’re too many idiots on there and he’d have to go off on ’em.
Later that night, the good folks at Hennessy invited me to their shindig at Club Drake to see Trinidad James hit the stage and perform his breakout hit, “All Gold Everything” for the capacity crowd. Houston Texans’ Andre Johnson was in the house, as was Kevin Durant, the Miami Heat’s official turntablist DJ Irie, Trae tha Truth, Flo Rida, Meek Mill and copious amounts of scantily-clad beauties. There was Henny flowing like waterfalls all night for yours truly, so I can probably only remember about half of what happened the rest of the night.
Friday was gridlock. Everyone was in town and ASW had officially begun. It was also my busiest day. I had to hightail it to Media Availability to interview Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James for SLAM Magazine China. Imagine that. While everyone else is asking for pertinent details about getting voted into the All-Star game and their seasons to-date, there I was in the media scrum asking about how basketball has progressed in China and what they thought of it.
First up was Bean. He came in the room with his daughter in tow. All of us were packed around his table, but he faked us out and sat at Chris Paul’s table, causing the kind of pushing and jockeying for position only seen in mosh pits. Not for nothing, but I had to dish out an elbow or two. After 10 minutes, I yelled out my question and Mamba answered graciously, seeing as how he’s cashing mad checks from the People's Republic. They love him over there like he’s the new Bruce Lee. KG was mad humble. He looked me directly in the eye while answering my question. Big Ticket deflected the question about Melo and Honey Nut Cheerios, of course, and kept it G, appreciating what may very well be his last All-Star appearance.
’Bron was the hardest. Seemed like every reporter in the room wanted a sound bite from the King who, if SportsCenter is to be believed, is tugging on Superman’s cape as the best player the league’s ever seen. Scribes shot questions rapid-fire and LBJ answered each one with consideration. What stood out was when a 10-year old kid made his way next to him and wanted to ask questions he’d written on a large index card. A reporter tried to talk over the kid and ’Bron shut that down with the quickness.
“You guys don’t come before the kid, OK?”
The kid got his three questions answered and even got some dap from the reigning MVP.
After that, I had to zip back downtown to cover the Sprint Celebrity Basketball Game. I live-blogged the game and Kevin Hart’s eventual MVP performance before I got the chance to sit down with world-record holder Usain Bolt, who revealed that his favorite player on earth is Kevin Garnett. Backstage, after the game, the Jamaican speedster was like a kid in a candy store, taking pictures with all the celebs he’d just played with and against, like any fan would. Funny thing is they wanted to take a picture with him just as much as he did them.
There were way too many parties to consider Friday night, but the main one was Michael Jordan’s 50th Birthday Party at the Museum of Fine Arts. The intimate affair was the party of the weekend, with a surprise performance from R. Kelly who performed for an hour and a half. ’Bron, Kobe, Melo, CP3, Scottie Pippen and every player imaginable was in the house to celebrate His Airness’ born day.
Saturday was all about the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest. No matter what people feel about how bad it’s been in recent years, it’s still the biggest draw of the weekend. All of the celebrities were sitting courtside. Drake. Diddy. 2 Chainz. Chris Tucker. Spike. By the time I got to the Toyota Center, the Taco Bell Skills Challenge was underway. That was like watching paint dry. And that idiotic East vs. West scoring system was so arbitrary, it was hard to make sense of it at all.
The Three-Point Contest was actually a lot more fun to watch than it should have been. And who knew the kid Kyrie could drop three-point bombs like that? This really was a coming out party for Uncle Drew. I see big thangs poppin’ for this kid. For the main event, things looked promising initially when James White brought out those flight attendants. But things went south real quick after that. There were way too many missed dunks and not enough star power.
That night, I hit up the Nas party. Again, the drinks were free flowin’, so the deets are somewhat sketchy, but I’m told I had a good time. Still, I had enough presence of mind to make it to The Shadow League’s Chicken and Waffle breakfast at Lucille’s. I missed TSL’s head honcho Keith Clinkscales by a hair, but the party was still like a movie. Like House Party. The original one. Not the stupid ass sequels.
Note: Thanks to the good people that took care of me, especially Gina Torres (Big shouts, also, to the lovely Agnes Greenidge. Beautiful doesn’t even begin to describe her). Heck, with all the free food at every stop I made, the only thing I came out-of-pocket for was gas money.
Sunday, I got up early and hit up sports agent Bill Duffy’s annual brunch. ESPN’s Chris Broussard was there, as was countless other famous reporters and agents. Yao Ming towered over everyone there. The food was delicious (jambalaya and chicken and waffles) and the conversations were even better. Afterwards, I got an invite from Nike to come check out their space in the Galleria. Houston’s most popular mall was a madhouse. The Swoosh’s “Area 72” display was boss, though. They really did the damn thing. They had a bevy of one-of-a-kind sneaks on display, while hordes of ’heads waited in line to purchase customized Nike-iD kicks. As I was headed out, the Nike reps hooked me up with some dope LeBron’s. I could have posted them on eBay and got some cash, but I wanted to make everyone sick by wearing them.
After Nike, I headed to Under Armour’s “Kicks & Grits” daytime party. It was hosted by Common who also rocked the crowd on the 1s and 2s. I ate waffles, grits and fried yardbird while chatting up a couple of straight gorgy girls from Toronto. Common hit the stage and ran through a couple of his biggest hits, including the classic, “I Used to Love H.E.R.” After getting fat-full, I headed over to the All-Star Game just in time to catch Ne-Yo’s pause-worthy introductions via love songs performance. What was the NBA thinking with that one? Better yet, why did they pick Alicia Keys to perform? If I hear her sing that god-awful “Girl On Fire” one more time…
The game itself was better than expected. CP3 went off on cats with 15 dimes, while Kobe D’d up ’Bron like it was two minutes left in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. And what can I say about Chris Bosh? All three of his airballs were chopped and screwed.
For the capper, I hit up the Drake party at, coincidentally, Club Drake. Drizzy sat in the section next to me and Nelly was across the way. Ne-Yo redeemed himself a little by bringing in a harem of beautiful women to the spot. After the lights came on, there was a dude outside selling fish fry plates. I ate fresh catfish nuggets and fries while walking back to the car and drove into the night satisfied, completely spent and counting down the days until I’d be doing it all over again next year in New Orleans.