By Craig Kwasniewski
I know it's been many weeks since All-Star Weekend in Dallas, but bear with me... I still feel the need to do a review and since the NCAA tourney hasn't kicked off just yet, It's still kind of relevant... right? Okay maybe not, but since I went to Dallas on my dime, I have the right to write a review whenever I damn well please, so there. Without further adieu, my annual Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down on my All-Star Weekend Experience.
Like Phoenix last year, the trip was on a very tight budget. I used a soon-to-be-expired free ticket on Southwest (translation: TWO connections, so my flight from Burbank to Dallas took 8 hours!!!!), I stayed in a very cheap Residence Inn and steered clear of all the major events (I don't have the coin to drop $500 to see All-Star Saturday Night or the All-Star Game itself). So with that in mind here we go:
Thumbs up to the All-Star Celebrity Game: A VERY surprising thumbs up. I really expected this to be the worst event of the weekend. Think about it, a roster with 4 Harlem Globetrotters, Nancy Lieberman, Michael Rapaport, Dr. Oz, Chris Tucker... just sounds like a terrible experience. I killed the list of "celebrities" a few weeks ago:
We're really using the term Celebrity loosely here. Seriously, for the right price, and I'm talking $100 cash, they'll show up to your kid's Bar Mitzvah even if you're not Jewish.
I was waaaay wrong. First off, the Harlem Globetrotters toned down their act and were actually ballin'. Obviously they wanted to prove they have game, blocking weak shots and throwing down a few sweet dunks. Terrell Owens made a surprise appearance and was gunning for the MVP right from the opening tip. Call it showboating, call it attention grabbing, but TO was like the Globetrotters, out there to prove he's got game... which he does (D-League talent but whatever).
But the best moment was seeing Robert Horry and Rick Fox go at it on opposing teams. I watched these guys up-close from 1999-00 to 2002-03 while the Lakers won three NBA titles and all those amazing memories came flying back. The clutch jumpers, the cruel elbows, the Sacto rivalry, it all came back. It was weird seeing them both age and obviously out of basketball shape (Horry was Magic-like big but with skinny legs and Fox was all peppery haired and distinguished and has that I'm banging Eliza Dushku air about him). The Celebrity Game was on a temporary court at NBA Jam Session, so you're right up close to the action for only $35 (staying within budget). It was easily the best event of the weekend and it was a damn shame to I had to leave it early to run across town to catch the Rookie Game.
Thumbs Down to the Event Scheduling. I know television plays a big role in all of it, but really you couldn't put a little time between the Celebrity Game (6:00 PM) and Rookie Game (8:00PM)? Some of us here are sicko hoops fans that want to see EVERYTHING. But instead I had to leave the Celebrity Game after 3 quarters (insert typical Lakers fan joke here) and grab a cab to go a few miles over to American Airlines Center for the Rookie Game. Why not start the Celeb game 30 minutes earlier? It was on ESPN, but I'll guarantee it was used as a time filler and not aired for ratings. Just start it a tad sooner.. for me, your biggest fan. Speaking of cabbies...
MAJOR Thumbs Down to the Dallas Cabbies. Come on now! You're telling me you can't drive 3 miles in 30 minutes? Oh and they weren't pulling the "let's take the slowest route to drive up our rates" (like they ALWAYS do in Vegas), because the cab fares are dirt cheap in Dallas. Every cabbie is Dallas drives like my mom! Nothing like sitting in a cab that let's EVERYONE cut in from of them. And this wasn't just one guy, this was every time I grabbed a cab. I actually got out halfway to AAC and walked to the game (I seriously would have been 20 minutes late if I didn't).
Thumbs up to the an improved Rookie Game. Last year all I remember was Durant reigning supreme and kids screaming. Oh the kids... screaming, screaming, screaming throughout the game and almost ruining the experience.
It wasn't like that this year. Maybe it was because the game was better or they just know how to raise kids in Texas (probably that). By the way, Texas is the only place where they refer to local law as Texas Law. Like, "Texas Law states that you can't serve alcohol after 2:00 AM." Only Texas can pull that off... "California Law..." just doesn't sound right. And Texas Law totally sounds ominous enough to work. Maybe Texas Law states that kids shut the hell up during the Rookie Game.
Anyway, the Rookies really came out to play. Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans took turns breaking down the D and getting to the cup over and over. This was the first time I saw either player in person and they totally live up to the hype and the sense of the moment. Meaning, they know it's an event to entertain on a weekend meant to entertain and they did just that... entertain. Omri Casspi had a few funky dunks where he went right at the defender and leaned in and dunked with his left hand... hard to describe but very creative. And DeJuan Blair dominated the glass with 23 boards... in an exhibition game! (And it wasn't like he was bustin' his ass and stat hawking all game, he just found the right spots and had a good time.) Now if Patrick Ewing followed the lead of the Rookies and understood the moment...
Thumbs Down to the Worst Rookie Game Coach Ever... Patrick Ewing. Easy big fella, NBA GM's aren't scouting your coaching abilities in an exhibition game between 1st and 2nd year players. So when Russell Westbrook has 40 points with 5 minutes left and is scorching hot... you might NOT want to sub him out. Yeah you read that correctly, Ewing subbed out Westbrook right as he was ON FIYAH from three point range, with the crowd rocking and the NBA vets sitting courtside rolling. The guy was going to drop 50 and Ewing subbed him out... it's an exhibition game meant to entertain, it's not a trial for a head coaching spot. Court awareness Pat!!!!
Thumbs up to the American Airlines Center. Cool venue, big and spacious like Staples Center but with better HD jumbotrons, in-stadium entertainment (the Mavs Dancers even way high up are smoking hot!) and most important of all... fairly priced beer. I was expecting a crush of screams inundating me from the kids so I helped dull the senses with a smooth glass of Guinness (for $6. maybe I'm used to LA prices, but that seemed like a good deal). Hey maybe that's why the crowds weren't as bad as last season. Texas Law says I need to down two beers before watching a sporting event with 10,000 screaming kids. BTW - my ticket cost $35 for upper corner seats at the Rookie Game and they weren't that bad.
Thumbs up to the media hospitality room. Hung out with a few friends in the media at the hospitality room Friday night. FREE BEER! Do I really need to say any more? In fact I won't. Simply, it was nice to hang out with a few of the many people who cover the NBA and I finally to go put faces to the words I read all the time.Thumbs Waaaay Down to the All Star Practice Session. This is the third year I've been to the practice session and it was easily the most disappointing of the weekend. Maybe it's because the previous two events were so good, or maybe because my seats were high in the corner (see below), or maybe it was a repeat of the now very tiresome Guinness Book of World Records routine...
No wait a minute, I'll tell you EXACTLY what went wrong: Y'all took waaay too much time to get the ball rolling!!! I had an early afternoon flight back to Burbank and I THOUGHT I timed it well enough to see the entire practice session, grab a cab and get the hell out of Dodge, I mean Dallas. Except that the Eastern Conference started 15 minutes late and the Western Conference went "headline act" and took FOR-EV-VER to get out on the floor. Or was it never? I'm actually not sure BECAUSE I HAD TO LEAVE BEFORE THEY GOT ON THE FLOOR!!!!
That's right, I came halfway across the country to see and experience NBA All-Star Weekend and hang out and have a few drinks with friends. Got to see 2 1/2 events of All-Star Weekend because the damn Western Conference took too damn long to get on the floor. But hey, at least I got 30 minutes of (doing the television production hand sign of stretching out the time) the PA pump-up-the-jamz guy or whatever they call him doing the whole "Dallas, we... can't... hear... you!!!!" routine that is fingernails on a chalkboard. And like last year, the crowd got tired of the crap and started chanting "We want the stars!"
Now I don't blame the pump it up guy, it's his job to get the event to run smoothly, even as the "talent" is running late (and maybe this is a sign of maturity, because a year ago I would have killed the guy... "WE CAN'T HEAR YOUUUUUU!!!!"). I blame the event organizers. Come on man, mix in a clock and get these guys to move their asses on to the floor. I saw the Eastern Conference guys and the 30 minute media session... in previous years I would have been happy just to be there, except that I travelled a long distance and only saw half of it. Boooo!!!
Glass half full. Despite the failure of the Practice Session, I enjoyed the rest of my time in Dallas. NBA Jam Session was, as always, a well-organized good time. I got to pick up some fresh gear and hang out. The Celebrity Game was my favorite and overall I had a blast. Can't wait until next year when it comes out here in LA. THUMBS UP DALLAS!