Orlando was the place to be over the weekend if you’re an NBA fan, if nothing else just for the star gazing. I came face to face with Julius Erving, Bill Russell, Clyde Drexler, Kevin Love, George Gervin, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson and actor Michael Rappaport, just to name a few. And I met Chris Paul in the hallway a couple hours before game time on Sunday when he looked at me and said “What’s up, bra?” I also had a beer and talked hoops with other writers like Frank Isola, Jason Lloyd and Mitch Lawrence, and hung out with Probasketballtalk’s Kurt Helin. The weather was perfect on Saturday and serviceable on Sunday, and everyone was generally in a good mood, despite the dunk contest, and shaky appearances from Pit Bull and Nicky Minaj.
We parked across the street from Amway Center on both Saturday and Sunday for just $10, but it’s a little more pricey to get in the door. A friend of mine paid over $1,000 for a decent seat to the All-Star Game, and $300 for All-Star Saturday night, which I believe was face value. And based on the other prices we saw, he might have gotten a deal.
As for the actual competition on Saturday night, the team representing New York won the Haier Shooting Stars competition. Landry Fields, Allan Houston and Cappie Pondexter beat Texas, Orlando and Atlanta, and Allan Houston looked really good out there.
The Taco Bell Skills Challenge saw a finals matchup of Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker and Deron Williams, as Rondo got in after taking out John Wall in a sudden-death overtime situation. Wall couldn’t connect from the top of the key, allowing Rondo to cruise into the Finals. This is not the first or last time Wall is going to miss a bunch of shots from that spot this season. Like Wall before him, Williams couldn’t hit from the top of the key either, and Parker beat Rondo by just under two seconds. I’m guessing this event is more exciting on television than it is live and more than anything, it just interrupted my people watching.
Blake Griffin was quizzed by Chris Paul on videotape in between events, with Paul giving Griffin clues in hopes that he could guess 10 words that contained the letter ‘Q.’ They were successful, and while I’m still not sure why, it was an oddly entertaining 60 seconds.
My pick for the Foot Locker 3-point contest was Ryan Anderson, but I was also pulling for Kevin Love. Anderson didn’t even make it to the Final 3, which consisted of Love, James Jones and Kevin Durant. Jones disappeared, scoring just 12 points, while the two Kevin’s tied at 16, forcing a one-minute shootoff in the shootout. Love pulled it off wining the overtime period 17 to 14. Love’s amazing season just won’t stop.
My original pick for the Sprite Slam Dunk contest was Paul George, but I switched it up to Jeremy Evans once he replaced Iman Shumpert. Round 1 was intriguing, although my man Evans really blew it, as the ball nearly went in on its own after he bounced it high off the floor. Chase Budinger kicked it off by dunking over P-Diddy after a ridiculous and contrived setup by Kenny Smith, and Paul George pushed off of Roy Hibbert’s shoulder, but still impressed with a dunk over the 7-2 big man. But I’m still trying to figure what Dahntay Jones was doing out there hiding under Hibbert. Derrick Williams rode in on, and then dunked over, a motorcycle, which caused a collective yawn from everyone watching. was not impressive in the grand scheme of things. Generally speaking, jumping over large objects, or dunking with the lights on are good ideas in dunk contests.
Round 2 featured Budinger with a Dominique-esque windmill, George with a glow-in-the-dark number, which no one could see, and Williams with a nice dunk off the side of the back board pass. But it was Evans with the dunk of the night, as he threw down two balls on a perfect double-alleyoop pass from Gordon Hayward.
The final round was fairly miserable, with some hokey setup form Kenny Smith and Cedric Ceballos as Budinger brought back the “hocus pocus,” Evans did a Mailman tribute, and George did his tribute to Larry Bird that he actually said was for Larry Brown by mistake. Things went from bad to worse when Derrick Williams missed dunk after dunk on his last attempt until finally sinking a basic one at the buzzer, which may take some heat off Chris Andersen, who was previously known for missing dunks (and getting kicked out of the league, and covering his body with one massive tattoo).
The fans voted for my pick, as Evans’ double-oop was too much to overcome. I don’t know how it looked on television, but this dunk contest didn’t generate too much excitement in the arena. Kenny Smith’s emceeing skills, along with how contrived everything was, were both problems. At times it actually felt like I was watching a bad movie, written by bad writers and acted out by bad actors. Then you add in the lack of a big name on the roster, and it was simply destined for failure.
Something needs to be done, like maybe canceling the dunk contest for a year or two. Not taking it for granted would be a first step in bringing it back to respectability. But the biggest difference between today and yesteryear is the talent taking part in the dunk contest. Kevin Durant wants to see LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Dywane Wade and Derrick Rose dunk next year. I’d vote for Blake Griffin, JaVale McGee, Bron and Westbrook, but anyone with a big name would help. And if there’s any hope of LeBron ever dunking for a prize, that prize is going to have to be pretty massive. I felt, and still feel, privileged to have been in the building on Saturday night, but it could have been – no, it should have been much, much better.
We left the arena at 11 p.m. and I drove straight home, arriving just in time to take the kids to school at 7 a.m. Here are the highlights from Sunday.
Mary J. Blige absolutely nailed the National Anthem and I'm pretty sure it's the best rendition I've ever seen live, while Nicki Minaj absolutely played for too long, knocking out three songs during the longest introduction ceremony ever. Luol Deng will probably pick up a fine for wearing a shirt with Africa on it instead of his warmups, but I thought it was a very cool move. My buddy Alex got some amazing photos of everyone from LeBron’s mom to Apolo Ohno to LeBron and Wade smiling in the huddle, and those should be posted at any time at Lolasports.com. Check it out, as he did some fantastic work from his expensive vantage point. I met Lil Wayne, thanked Darrell Dawkins and Clyde Drexler for giving me their shoes 25 years ago, saw my first Bugatti up close, and generally had a blast.
The game was a good one, as the West was in control until late, but LeBron decided to pass instead of trying to win the game, and the West held on for a three-point win. Highlights included Kevin Durant going for 36 points and the MVP award, Kobe Bryant breaking Michael Jordan’s all-time All-Star scoring record, a triple-double from Dwyane Wade, and a real dunk contest to help make up for the disappointing one the night before – Blake Griffin and LeBron were the stars of this one. I think the highlight of the night for me was when I asked the two guys from NBA.com who were sitting next to me if Andrew Bynum was hurt. Without knowing that I was a "Rotoworld guy," they said something like "if Rotoworld doesn't say he's hurt, then he's not." About three minutes later we posted that Bynum's night was ending early due to his sore knee. A taped video of Dwight Howard moving a cookie from his forehead to his mouth without touching it with his hands was also one of the highlights of the weekend.
Lowlights included LeBron’s passiveness with the game on the line (he also scored 36), Kobe suffering a nasal fracture and mild concussion (to be evaluated Monday morning), Bynum's short stint, and LaMarcus Aldridge being ticked off about a lack of minutes from Scott Brooks. LeBron is catching more heat for failing to come through in the clutch, which should not surprise anyone.
Orlando did a great job of hosting the event, but it’s become too big for arenas, and might have to move to domes in the future. But everything seemed to go off without a hitch, the game was entertaining and everyone in the house seemed to have a good time. Well, maybe except for LeBron’s mom, which you’ll understand better in Alex’s photo essay.
I’ll be back overnight with a true Daily Dose to help you get ready for setting lineups on Tuesday. Kobe’s nose, Bynum’s knee and Stephen Curry’s foot (he's questionable for Tuesday) will all be covered in that one, so I’ll see you then.