All-Star weekend has come and passed. The mid-season showcase, with 24 of the best players in the world (minus Jimmy Butler, who fell victim to LA’s nightlife), thrilled and entertained, while also leaving us wanting the more meaningful games to return.
I was fortunate enough to cover the event this year, for Golden State of Mind and SB Nation. It was an absolute blast, not just to witness the event, but to be a part of it, and hopefully bring some of the feel to all of you.
With the weekend behind me, and the season getting ready to gear up once more, I’ve been replaying the highlights in my head. Perhaps surprisingly, the highlights aren’t the flashy dunks from Sunday’s All-Star Game, or the exciting contests during All-Star Saturday.
No. For me, the highlight was the outstanding atmosphere that surrounded the event.
There was a buzz at Staples Center and the Convention Center all weekend long, from the Rising Stars game to Sunday’s finale. Fans were giddy, and excited. Media members were joyous and bubbly.
And most importantly, players were enthused and happy.
The vibe was, quite simply, exciting. Being at the media scrums, you could feel the tension of the season washing off of the players. There were laughs and smiles.
Giannis Antetokounmpo brought two of his (very, very tall) brothers to the media room with him after the game. Kyle Lowry brought his children, who were cute as can be.
The mood was most noticeable at the All-Star practice on Saturday, when the players spent a large amount of time simply hanging out and laughing with each other.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook laughed and joked with each other. Durant and Kyrie Irving took turns teaching each other new moves. Westbrook took a moment to play one-on-one with LeBron James’ sons.
Draymond Green and Damian Lillard teased each other for their failings when playing a JumboTron game. Stephen Curry and James Harden tried to make crazy shots from the layup line.
The All-Star Game is designed to be a celebration of the sport and the league. A break from the rigors and grind of the regular season, and an opportunity for players to focus on the fun aspect of professional basketball, rather than the work aspect.
For the participants of the weekend’s events - as well as those of us behind the scenes - it was exactly that.
Discourse: Thoughtful and Productive
I fully expected that the All-Star Game, or perhaps the slam dunk contest, would be my favorite moment of the weekend. Instead it was hearing the discourse, as the world’s biggest stars talked about racism, activism, and the importance of having a voice.
This year, the All-Star game became a platform. Players who don’t need to use their voice, did. They helped lead an important national conversation.
Behind the scenes, it was exactly that: a conversation. The thought-provoking, eloquent comments by James, Curry, Durant, and others, weren’t simply answers to copy-and-pasted questions from reporters. Instead, they were discussions.
The media wanted to hear the players’ opinions. The players’ wanted to have a dialogue. The whole weekend served as a catalyst for something larger: a fight for equality and social justice, as well as a celebration of black success in America.
Behind the scenes highlights
There were a few moments that caught my eye as being unique to the All-Star weekend. Some of them are worth sharing.
The media was full of former NBA players. Carlos Boozer and former Warrior Nate Robinson were doing media together, and picking up tips from some of the best in the game.
Warriors legend Stephen Jackson was everywhere, and Shaq’s presence was certainly felt.
Guillermo from Jimmy Kimmel Live was there, asking players the important questions.
At one point, while I was at Jamal Murray’s presser, Guillermo asked Murray how many times he’s dribbled a basketball in his life, and offered 2,000 as a reasonable number. Murray, seemingly not knowing who he was talking to, proceeded to enter a lively discussion about what the number might be.
Ros Gold-Onwude, it turns out, has a superstar vibe about her. But you already knew that.
And if you’re wondering: Yes, there were giggles in the press box when Fergie sang the national anthem. And a lot when Draymond reacted to it.
All in all, the weekend was a whirlwind. Downtown Los Angeles was one long party, until the game concluded, and the players left.
Following Steph, Ayesha, and Sydel Curry out of the depths of the Staples Center Sunday night, I noticed that the city had turned to a ghost town.
It was a hip and happening party all week, until the fun was over, and then it was back to business. Just as the teams are preparing to do.
But what a tremendous party it was.