(I worked as a Sports Editor from late 2004 until the summer of 2006. This is one of the many columns I was able to save that were originally published in The Sun-Times of Heber Springs, Arkansas.)
The NBA proved again this weekend why they have the best All-Star festivities of all the major sports. The league took its annual mid-season break, and featured spectacle and competitions on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
And if you are lucky enough to have NBATV, there were player interviews, sit-downs with the participants in the first ever Slam Dunk competition, and the Legends Luncheon hosted by Cedric the Entertainer on Sunday.
ESPN Classic was also replaying great All-Star games from the past. So, this weekend was like heaven for me, and like the other place for my wife.
I was in Shirley Friday, and Mountain View on Saturday, but still managed to catch all the action thanks to NBATV replaying everything straight through the weekend.
The festivities began with the Rookie/Sophomore game on Friday night. That first game began a trend of questionable music choices that would last the entire weekend.
Before the Rookie game, TNT played Skid Row’s ‘Youth Gone Wild’ while showing highlights of the game’s participants. That might not have been the wisest choice of songs considering the image makeover Stern and the boys are trying institute.
Saturday saw the Skills Challenge, the 3-point Shootout and the Slam Dunk contest. The Skills Challenge looks fun. If that were an attraction at a carnival or fair or something, I would spend every last dime in trying to beat Steve Nash’s winning time of 25.4 seconds.
Next came the 3-point Shootout, and during player introductions, Metallica’s ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ was playing. While I was trying to figure that one out, they showed the cheerleaders that I assume would be cheering for someone during the Shootout. Just wasn’t sure who, unless it was teen idol Kyle Korver, who looks like Ashton Kutcher and Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer’s love child.
It quickly dawned on me that the Grizzlies, currently leading the league in 3-point percentage, had no one suiting up for the contest. Mike Miller is shooting treys at a 45-percent clip, and he wasn’t invited. In fact, none of the top 10 percentage leaders were there. I guess it was more important to have Voshon Lenard in the Shootout, since he’s only played in one game this year.
And is it just me, or does it seem like Bird could come out of the stands in street clothes and win that competition every year?
The dunk contest was next, and after years of mediocrity, this year’s was pretty good. Josh Smith deserved to win, if for no other reason than he paid tribute to Dominique Wilkins. I loved Nash’s header to Amare Stoudemire, then the foot pass in the final round.
Too bad it took Amare like 10 times to get it right. And if the contestants keep using props and teammates, they might as well change the contest to see who the best dunker in traffic is. Because, in game action, the best throw downs always come out of the half-court offense in some defender’s mug.
Sunday’s All-Star game began with a white girl singing ‘Rocky Mountain High’ with just an acoustic guitar, which was pretty street come to think of it.
During player introductions, the stars were announced, then had to stand still for a couple of seconds while fake snow fell on their head. If the game ever comes to Memphis, will the players be pelted with unbearable heat and humidity during the line-up announcements?
Destiny’s Child performed before each squad’s intros and changed clothes in between the two. Their song ‘Soldier’ was questionable since it’s pretty much a song about thugs and almost every other word was omitted during the first verse.
There was a smattering of boos for Kobe’s intro, and I almost felt sorry for him. Almost.
Grant Hill’s wife sung the Canadian national anthem, and a lump the size of Devil’s Mountain grew in my throat. Then America’s anthem was performed by an “award winning” armed forces choir, which sounded like they couldn’t win first place in a contest down at the Gem.
Kobe and Shaq didn’t shake hands, (I thought this was supposed to be a love fest) and the game began with Tim Duncan shooting 3-pointers, Shaq making open court steals, and Vince Carter shooting every time he touched it.
The West jumped out to an early lead, because of better outside shooting, but the East stormed back with Paul Pierce, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Allen Iverson leading the way.
At the half, LeAnne Rimes and Big & Rich performed. More love for hip-hop nation from Stern and the boys, who are so concerned with portraying their league as something it’s not, bored us all to tears with the bland halftime performances.
And Big & Rich, sung their song, ‘Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy’. I’m not sure how wholesome that song is, but it was offset with their exploitation of a midget, and the ‘rap’ in the middle of the song.
The game remained competitive in the second half, and there were some “Oh my gosh moments” and some “why can’t anyone shoot anymore” moments. It turned out that this was the first All-Star game since 1981 when a player failed to finish with at least 20 points.
Is that more of a statement on the lack of fundamentals, or an example of the parity in the NBA? Personally, I think it’s because there’s only about five pure shooters left in basketball.
Allen Iverson deservedly won the MVP, then called Shaq “The greatest player ever to play this game”. Maybe AI was drunk from lack of oxygen to his brain, or maybe he was just giving Shaq a little gamesmanship for the stretch run in these next final months of the regular season.
All in all, it was a great weekend of basketball. Unlike the NFL, players enjoy being named to the team, and unlike MLB, there is no reason to manufacture an importance for an exhibition game.
NBA All-Star weekend is simply pure fun for hoop junkies, and an ear sore for music fans.