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HOUSTON -- From the city that the NBA insisted on calling "H-Town" all weekend, it's the 2006 NBA All-Star Game. We pick up the action as seen from press row .
The players move from locker room to warmups to orchestrated intros, with everything planned down to the minute, literally. Raymond Ridder of the Warriors shows me a media timetable: for example, at 7:17 p.m., Steve Nash is to meet TNT's David Aldridge for a "one-minute interview." D.A. also gets a one-minute shot at LeBron James. It's the journalistic equivalent of speed dating.
The Eastern starters are introduced and, at what appears to be the urging of Shaquille O'Neal, bust into various comical dance moves. The West starters respond with some sort of pseudo-breakdance line that begins with Kobe Bryant and flows to his left, ending with Yao Ming doing a passable shoulder-pop robot move. It is a rare glimpse of NBA stars, generally so posed and reserved, acting goofy and enjoying themselves. It is especially telling to see Kobe -- who last year in Denver offered up a jutted-lip frown during the intros -- cackling and grooving. How a year and the settlement of a trial can change a guy.
It's also easy to spot the first-timers. On the Western team, Pau Gasol and Tony Parker look genuinely touched to be introduced, as does Rip Hamilton for the East. With his puffy beard and scraggly hair, Gasol also looks like he should be in a '70s biopic about Cat Stevens.
The national anthem is sung by Destiny's Child and it's quite good, full of merging harmonies and high notes. It brings to mind what will always be the standard-bearer -- the 1983 All-Star rendition by Marvin Gaye in which he somehow made the dawn's early light and the twilight's last gleaming sound like sexual metaphors.
0:00 -- The All-Stars take the floor in uniforms that look like sartorial representations of a diet soda can. The Eastern players wear blue shorts and jerseys that are striated blue rising to white, with a little star and futuristic font numbers. One half expects it to read "Pepsi One" across the shoulders. Combined with the various tights being worn (Tracy McGrady wears a red one, Dwyane Wade sports two black, Shaq has one red, Vince Carter two black), the ensembles are quite garish. The way we look back on certain sports fashions -- short shorts, the old Pittsburgh Pirates hats -- and consider them quintessentially dated, we will look back on these uniforms and tights. We already are.
As for the starters, the majority of the Western All-Stars were not born in the mainland U.S. (Tim Duncan, Yao, Nash). Five years ago this would have been a story; now it's not.
8:20 --Allen Iverson brings the ball upcourt and launches an alley-oop to Carter that sails so far above his head that one is tempted to think Iverson did it purposefully, like a QB throwing the ball out-of-bounds when nobody's open. This is to be the theme of the night: guys who don't usually throw lob passes proving why that is the case. Any time Shawn Marion, Carter, Wade or, for that matter, anyone but Nash runs the wing, another All-Star decides to chuck the ball in the general vicinity of the top of the backboard. In the first six minutes of the first quarter alone the Eastern team piles up six turnovers on bad alley-oops. It's reminiscent of Nate Robinson in the dunk contest, and not in a good way.
3:38 -- All four Pistons come into the game together, alongside Paul Pierce. Pierce looks a bit rusty but appears to be enjoying himself. This brings to mind a story relayed earlier by Brian Gleason of the Celtics staff: During the Saturday media session at the Convention Center, Steven A. Smith came up to Paul Pierce. Pierce greeted him enthusiastically, then commended Smith. "Hey man," Pierce said, "I love PTI!"