For most fans, All-Star weekend has gradually simmered in excitement over the past few years and although this year’s contests seemed to prove little to change that trend, the event remains to be a high profile one, and we were on the scene in Houston to experience it all.
All-Star Saturday Night, which especially hosts the most popular events, failed to impress and the rash of empty seats at the Toyota Center was a clear depiction of that. I guess fans were confident that a combination of Phillip Phillips, Fall Out Boy, Nick Cannon and the lack of REAL All-Stars participating in the events just wouldn’t draw enough interest, if any at all.
The Dunk Contest featured plenty of athleticism but minimal execution as guys like James White and Gerald Green consistently had their balls clank off the backside of the rim. Yeah, I know that statement didn’t sound right at all but we’re still going to go with it. Anyway, both of those contestants respectively finished an entire round failing to slam the ball in, causing a total three minutes of my life being spent snapping shots of missed dunks. Thank God for my free media pass. But to James White’s credit (for whatever it’s worth), he actually had the flashiest non-dunks I had ever seen. Several of his attempts drew gasps from fans despite the ball bouncing hard off the back iron.
At least James White's failed dunk attempts were photogenic. - Photo by Abdullah Sharif
The All-Star Game itself had its moments but stalled at times thanks to too much of Joakim Noah setting screens and an unfavorable amount of Luol Deng attempting 3-pointers. And for nearly the entire third quarter going into the fourth, both squads had their second and third stringers out, which caused for too much Lamarcus Aldridge and Jrue Holiday.
Kyrie Irving attacks the rim. - Photo by Abdullah Sharif
If it weren’t for Kobe Bryant’s ownership of Lebron James in the final minutes of the game, fans would’ve had little excitement to share on Monday. But even Kobe’s three minutes of shine draws enough of an argument to suggest its insignificance, considering it’s the All-Star Game.
As for the players themselves, they were having a blast with each other and fans and seemed to have made most of their time away from the regular season. James Harden spent an ample amount of time around his former OKC teammates Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant while Kyrie Irving and Brandon Knight had a friendly ISO exchange with each other for nearly the entire second half of the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge -- although the end result of that battle was Knight’s ankles being left in the Toyota Center Lost and Found.
Bradley Beal: As a teenaged rookie who has still yet to fully settle within the NBA lifestyle, Beal seemed to be having a great time in the spotlight with his young peers. Beal participated in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, an event that allowed him to showcase his skill set in front of a national audience, and he did just that. Beal not only knocked down a number of jumpers but his biggest highlight came after he dunked the ball off an absurd between-the-legs pass from Minnesota point guard Ricky Rubio. It was nice to see the kid with all smiles and having a good time.
Abdullah: The celebrity access. It was pretty special to hang courtside listening to Kevin Hart talk reckless and cause an eruption of laughter amongst other celebs like Nas, Drake and Bill Bellamy sitting nearby. Several times throughout the weekend, my sub-average height was a detriment to my photography, but Kevin’s growth impediment helped my cause.
Nas and Bill Bellamy sitting baseline. Bill's teaching Nas 'how to be a player.' - Photo by Abdullah Sharif
2Chainz tagged up with Dwight Howard on the court after the game to have a chat while I excitedly gave dap to Trinidad James’ manager. Trinidad himself was a camera phone magnet with his noisy attire and the obnoxious pube forest on his head.
Although Craig Sager isn’t considered a celebrity amongst other media, his blazer always is. I thought I’d be over his flashy wardrobe the first time I encountered it at the last year’s NBA Draft, but I was wrong. His silver and black jacket made of unknown texture with Native American design was quite head-turning as well.
Mike: While it may appear me picking Bradley Beal’s performance was chosen because this is a Wizards blog, I can assure it was not—and here is why…
He had a pretty solid outing in the rising stars game, he was part of the best play of the night and he showed the world his athleticism on the biggest weekend in basketball.
But it had nothing to do with what he did on court.
Bradley Beal was truly visually ecstatic to be a part of this weekend. Sure it wasn’t in the All-Star Game and he wasn’t draining threes to try and beat Kyrie Irving on Saturday Night; but he was part of it. Take a second and think about the fact that he should be a sophomore in college right now. Instead, he’s hanging courtside with Lebron watching the festivities.
Bradley Beal aka Captain Happy. - Photo by Mike Andrews
After the Rising Stars game, I saw a sense of renewal for Bradley. This season has been anything but easy for the Washington Wizards, but it seemed as if he got a taste of fame this weekend. The look in his eyes made me believe he wanted more. This seemed like a renewal of commitment for him as he looked out onto the court and saw what he could become and where he could take this franchise.
It was refreshing to see a player just sitting there with a grin that wouldn’t diminish. He was truly soaking every single second of it in, and still yearning for more. And that is something that should excite every Wizards fan.
Least favorite moments:
Abdullah: Getting an earful from Jay-Z’s bodyguard after an attempt to stick my fully zoomed out Canon lens to the side of his temple as I strolled past him sitting courtside.
“HEY GUY (yeah he called me guy), THIS IS THE THIRD TIME I’VE TOLD YOU TO STOP DOING THAT!!”
I had actually never come across that particular guard at all that night, but I’m also sure my camera wasn’t the first one to be shoved in Jigga’s face either.
The passageway that separates the courtside seats and the first row of bleachers was crowded with a mosh pit of people, specifically consisting of media trying to milk as much unauthorized floor time as possible before getting their credentials revoked (guilty). Also found clogging the aisle were Asian tourists taking self-shots, flexing their 100 pound torso’s as Asian-humanly possible just to get an Instagram capture with Drake. Oh, and not to mention Scottie Pippen flaunting his wife’s skimpy dress.
Mike: I touched on this partially in my Saturday night recap, but the fact that All-Star Saturday Night has turned into just “Saturday Night” has to be my least favorite, and most disturbing part of the weekend for me. I love that guys like Terrence Ross and Damian Lillard are getting their shine in a league in which they are relatively unknown outside of their hometown to the common NBA fan, but to have Saturday Night filled with this caliber of player tends to devalue what the night used to be about.
Chris Bosh in the Skills Challenge. - Photo by Abdullah Sharif
I have yet to go back and watch the television broadcast, but I was shocked to see how empty the Toyota Center was on one of the most popular nights in the NBA season. Even in the lower levels and courtside—where were the crowds of players jumping all over the court after a huge slam? Where were the players videotaping it from their angle on their phones? Where had the energy in the building gone?
Lebron made it pretty clear in the past week that he would probably never enter a slam-dunk contest; and that’s a shame. If you fill these contests with the Lebrons and the Carmelos, the stadium is going to be packed. When you look back on the most memorable moments of the dunk contest and other events from Saturday night, you think of Jordan, Carter and Kobe; not Faried, Ross and White.
I give credit to Ross and Evans, who ultimately did bring the house down in the championship round. I also do believe there is a place for this caliber of player in the contest, as well. But that place is to be interspersed amongst the household names for a chance at an upset. You wouldn’t build a franchise around Jeremy Evans, so why is the NBA still trying to build the most popular night around him? Here’s to hoping Adam Silver can put a little pressure on these big names in New Orleans.
Most awkward moment:
We were on a mission all weekend to find a Wizards fan, or just ANYONE who was donning any sort of #WizGear. Finally, upon leaving the Sprint Jam Session area at the Convention Center on Sunday afternoon, we ran into a John Wall jersey right before we walked out. I caught the guy’s attention, told him who we were and expressed our excitement for his representation of the Wizards. Eventually after I gathered myself to take a picture, Mike oddly decides to step in the frame, claiming that I finger-motioned him to do so. This made for an extremely uneasy pose by both guys as John-Wall-Jersey-Man’s girlfriend looked on like “what the hell just happened."