Behind the scenes at All-Star weekend
DALLAS -- Not all of us could enjoy the festivities in Dallas, and only so much can be captured on television. So we sent out Gary Gramling to give us an inside look at All-Star weekend. Here's what he found:
8:30 p.m. CT: Just one mention of the weather: A record snow storm dropped about a foot of snow in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Now, I'm not going to say the city was unprepared, but they don't own a single snow plow, making the drive into the city treacherous on Thursday night and into the early hours of Friday. People in Dallas apparently don't own many shovels either, as most of the sidewalks are still covered in slush. Because of the weather (it's warming up a bit, mid-40s) and how spread out the city is, there are shockingly few fans just walking around the streets compared to past All-Star weekends.
8 a.m. CT: The media got a sneak peak of the Cowboys Stadium court this morning. Shockingly, it sneaks up on you. Yes, part of it is the thick fog out here from the melting snow. But I was expecting something more like Foxboro or Orchard Park, where you see the stadium like a palace from a distance as you drive past motels and makeshift parking lots. Here in Arlington, there's a Six Flags an exit away, and this section of Route 157 is a pretty busy strip, complete with your chain restaurants (Buffalo Wild Wings, TGI Friday's, Hooters... sadly, no Applebees in sight) and fast food joints (Taco Bell, Panda Express, etc.). When you pull up to the intersection at Randol Mill Road, there's a Chase Bank and a Walmart on your left and then about 100 yards or so behind it... oh yeah, there's the NFL's third-largest stadium.
Once inside? Well, you win this round, Jerry. This place is beautiful and overwhelmingly large. And the fact that it's all enclosed makes it feel even larger than, say, The Big House (relax, Michigan fans, I know it's not actually larger).
One other thing: Jerry's giant TV (which is indeed humungous and an amazing picture quality) will be put to good use. Looking down from Section 205, you'd think you were in the nosebleeds. But of course, you've got three levels of sections above you. Looking out on the court from here, you'll be hard-pressed to tell David Lee from Canadian rocker Geddy Lee (though he probably won't be in attendance... unless Steve Nash brought him along).
8:45 a.m. CT: Right now they're running through a rehearsal for mascot game introductions. They've got two staffers jogging out in street clothes and playing the role of the mascots, which is a pretty awesome job to have. (And gambling community take note: The rehearsal included an announcement that the West mascots had won. Let the Benny the Bull point-shaving scandal begin).
9:30 a.m. CT: For better or worse, the Slam Dunk Contest isn't far from turning into a series of one-act plays (though I would be curious to see Nate Robinson's adaptation of Arthur Miller's A Memory of Two Mondays, capped by a 360 tossed off the backboard). "I like watching the props and costumes the past couple years," dunk-in winnerDeMar DeRozan said, "but I treat the dunk contest as a chance to show off my athleticism."
Not surprisingly, all of tonight's participants -- Robinson, Shannon Brown, Gerald Wallace and DeRozan -- are guarding their dunks like they're state secrets. Danilo Gallinari has seen Robinson working on his dunks, but wouldn't give any details. His only comment: "What he has is going to win, and I'm going to be very happy for him when he wins."
A very unscientific survey for tonight's dunk contest: Brook Lopez and Zach Randolph are picking a Robinson repeat, James Harden (quite confidently) says DeRozan is going to win the dunk-in and the whole thing, Al Horford likes Wallace and Anthony Morrow is going with Brown.
11 a.m. CT: Amar'e Stoudemire is showing the patience of a saint this weekend. Not surprisingly, the only questions coming at him the past two days have been about trade rumors. I've only been around him at media sessions for about 15 minutes total and I've heard six different reporters ask him about going to the Spurs. He's dishing out the same bland answers, but he's going it politely and is still making eye contact with reporters. Though considering he's riding around the city in a Hummer limo that's about half a street block long, he's not keeping a low profile.
11:45 a.m. CT: So there's a tradition at the public practice sessions: The team tries to break some obscure Guinness World Record. This year, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade tried (and failed) to break the record for "most overhand halfcourt shots made in one minute" (five, if you're wondering). Then, Dwight Howard attempted to set a record for longest shot made while sitting down. He made from halfcourt (41 feet on the practice court), then backed up and made from 52 feet, 6 inches. Apparently, the record didn't exist before today, but now it does according to a British guy who made the announcement to the crowd.
Noon CT: It's ridiculous when members of the media complain about their jobs when they're at an event like this (sports writer is still one of the coolest, cushiest jobs out there). But I have to say, there are few things in life more unpleasant than the media session between All-Star practices. You have all the All-Stars and an absurd amount of media crammed onto the practice court, and anyone under 5-foot-10 is going to absorb a couple cameras to the head.
The players seem to hate it just as much. You spend your time elbowing for space to try to milk out one interesting quote from a guy, and it often results in exchanges like this one with Gerald Wallace, when asked whether his tweaked hammy will affect him tonight in the dunk contest:
Me: Are you ready to go for tonight, as far as the leg goes?
Admittedly, it wasn't the most fascinating line of questioning , but yeesh ...
12:20 p.m. CT: Sorry, just one more media complaint: I'm on the small side (a shade under 5-9 with a short wingspan) with no camera, so it's especially difficult to get anyone's attention at these things. That said, patience is usually rewarded, but not always. I politely waited for a couple TV crews to do their thing with Paul Pierce when he was suddenly pulled away to do an interview with ... wait ... Is that McLovin? WTF!
I'm not sure what was going on, something with David Aldridge, McLovin, Pierce, K.G. and Rajon Rondo. McLovin was mic'd, but didn't seem to be asking any questions, just telling K.G. how much he liked him while Rage Kage pretended to pick him up by the scruff of the neck. They all seemed to be having a good time. (If you're curious, I assume this will air on NBA TV.) And I'm not sure why I noticed this, but he was wearing the skinniest of skinny jeans I've ever seen (McLovin, not David Aldridge, that is).
Anyway, that was the last we saw of Paul Pierce. The moral of the story: If you want any respect at media day, get a supporting role in a Michael Cera vehicle first.
(And sorry to refer to you by the name of a character from a three-year-old movie, Christopher Mintz-Plasse. But I -- and I assume most of the American public -- recognize you as McLovin and only as McLovin. At least until that Marmaduke movie comes out.)
2:15 p.m. CT: One of the best things about All-Star weekend: The obscure jerseys people bring out of the woodwork. My standards are high (my closet includes Detlef Schrempf and Clifford Robinson Blazers jerseys and a Joe Smith Golden State, among others). But Dallas has been a bit of a disappointment. Not surprisingly, there are plenty of Dirks and Kidds, and I've seen all 53 of Cleveland's LeBron alternate jerseys. The better ones out here today: A Spud Webb Atlanta throwback and a Dr. J '80s All-Star jersey. Props to the young man in the J.J. Barea jersey, and another with a baby blue Karl Malone Louisiana Tech throwback. The most surprising find, though, was a man sporting a Jordan Farmar jersey. The shocking twist? It wasn't Jordan Farmar.
2:40 p.m. CT: Sorry if this sounds like a commercial, but if the All-Star Game ever comes anywhere near your hometown, take your kids to the All-Star Jam Session. Unlike a certain league with a midsummer classic whose fan fest is basically a giant mall, the NBA has plenty of interactive fun, from shooting contests to gaming stations to something having to do throwing a five-foot kickball into a giant hoop (it's a lot more fun than it sounds). The best one here though is the WNBA BungeeRun.
I'm not sure whose brainchild this is, but it's pure genius -- fun to do and even more fun to watch. Basically, there are two giant inflatable lanes about 20 feet long. The goal is to make it as far down the lane as you can and toss a basketball pillow into a hoop. But the kids are strapped into bungee cords while they do it. Some kids took the cautious route and slowly stretched the cord, making it a pretty easy shot. But most kids went with an all-out sprint combined with a desperate heave as they're pulled off their feet and yanked back. The YouTube upside is definitely high (and it's likely the biggest reason everyone has to sign a medical waiver before participating in any part of FanFest).
3 p.m. CT: The All-Stars have cleared off the practice court and now it's game time, D-League style. And what would a D-League All-Star Game be without Morris Almond, who deserves some kind of lifetime achievement award for his three-year stint in the league (he won a scoring title for the Utah Flash as a rookie -- 25.6 points per game -- and is second in the league at 26.8 ppg for the expansion Springfield Armor this year). Almond is also the only former first-round pick playing today (25th overall to the Jazz in 2007), though M.J. draftee Alexis Ajinca (20th to Charlotte in 2008) also made the team but won't play because of a thumb injury.
5:30 p.m. CT: The Sony PlayStation folks invited me to their player's lounge for a Q&A with Brandon Roy as part of my day job at SI Kids.
Security at the players' hotel is intense. Everyone involved with security has been polite, but there's just so many of them. My cab had to go through two check points, then I had to go through three more once inside the hotel. My cabby (and plenty of other folks around here) think it's ridiculous, but it really isn't. I remember two years ago attending a Dwyane Wade event at the All-Star Jam Session where he was going through fitness drills with kids. A very large, very loud crowd of women gathered around. With his back to said crowd, Wade started a stretching routine by bending at the waste to touch his toes and... well, think The Beatles on Ed Sullivan.
Anyway, things went fine once inside. Roy's the cover athlete for NBA 10: The Inside and he was being presented with his customized PSP and some other swag. He was running 90 minutes late, which is the equivalent of 30 minutes early for your average NBA player. No worries though, they had MLB 10: The Show to keep us occupied (by the way San Francisco Giants fans, judging from the svelte look of the Kung Fu Panda Pablo Sandoval in that game, his off-season weight-loss program is either going extremely well or the Sony people are being very nice).
I also didn't mind waiting because Roy's an excellent interview. I'm not going to claim "he's a great guy" since I've talked to him for a total of one hour now, but he sure seems to be. He's one of the guys in the league who will actually listen and make eye contact when you ask him a question and then give you a thoughtful answer. He's also got a great courtesy laugh for when you make an attempt at humor, a strong weapon to break out when dealing with the media.
NBA Truth & Rumors