I recently spent covered NBA All-Star Weekend. Here's what I saw.
Thursday, February 21
At 8:00 p.m., my plane touches down at the New Orleans International Airport, and I officially tip-off the crazy weekend that is the NBA All Star Game, which consisted of Alligators, Parades, celebrities, and pretty much every former or current NBA superstar imaginable. The only thing missing from the weekend was anyone playing defense.
My first stop in the Big Easy was the historic French Quarter and Bourbon Street. From there, my dad and I walked the well-worn cobblestone streets to Chartres Street, the home of Brand Jordan’s pop up shop for the weekend. The space also featured gold dipped Retro Jordans, a t-shirt customizing station and posters featuring all the All-Stars who wear Jordans.
Friday, February 22
I made my way to the first media event of the weekend, the player press conferences held at the Ritz-Carlton on Canal Street. Waiting for the event to start, I stumbled across the Social Media Room, tucked in between SportsCenter’s temporary home for the weekend and the set of NBA Network’s live broadcast. This room is where all the gifs, posts, tweets and other media that took over the NBA’s Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat feeds over the weekend were created.
In one corner of the room, Washington Wizards point guard John Wall posed for his official All-Star Game portrait, facing the camera on a wooden crate. Boston Celtics Guard Isaiah Thomas and Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls — wearing full-moon glasses as he imitated sprinkling salt at the camera — posed as well.
I made my way to the ballroom where the press conferences are being held. It was set up with booths for each player. Clearly one of the biggest stories of this weekend was the Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook reunion. The former Oklahoma City teammates had booths on opposite sides of the room, directly facing each other. Each was surrounded by an extensive crowd of reporters. At the Westbrook conference, Russ answered every question about KD with an arbitrary statement about fashion. For example, when a reporter asked about what it’s going to be like to share the locker room with Durant, Westbrook responded, “Man, you know what fashion week has been great.”
Before I left, I made sure to see a player who I think is the future of the NBA, Giannis Antetokounmpo. His press conference was a change of pace from the others, and not just because about half the questions were in his native language of Greek. Unlike many of the other NBA stars, who seemed almost bored with the press conferences and All Star Game events, Giannis seemed genuinely excited and nervous to be playing in the game and representing his home country as the first Greek All Star in NBA history.
An hour later I was off again, headed to the Superdome for the Celebrity Game red carpet. The commute took significantly longer than expected after Floyd Mayweather pulled up to our hotel in a white Rolls Royce Limousine, with his entourage following behind in no less than 10 black SUVs with “The Money Team” logos on the sides.
Eventually, I make it to the red carpet, where I met up with 15-year-old Stranger Things star Caleb McLaughlin. He talked about the intimidation of being the youngest player on the court and about the best part of his game (his handles), which he compared to Kyrie Irving’s. He quickly added a disclaimer: “I’m not even that skilled, but if you really had to compare, then I guess [that’s who it would be].”
This year, celebrity players included former NBA stars Baron Davis and Jason “White Chocolate” Williams, as well as Nick Cannon and Ansel Elgort. Artists DJ Khaled and Fat Joe helped out with coaching on the sideline. The game consisted of plenty of airballs and enough bricks to build a small house, making it clear that the celebrities should stick to their day jobs. In the second half, McLaughlin broke out his Kyrie handle on Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Anthony Mackie from the Avengers. Ultimately the MVP award went to Brandon Armstrong, who displayed his famous impersonations of Westbrook and James Harden during the game.
Saturday, February 23
My Saturday morning began at The Crossover, a pop-up store run by the NBA that showcased art, technology and pop culture exhibits. I spoke with Stacey Sager, the wife of the late sideline reporter Craig Sager. With the help of Pintrill and Footlocker, designed a pin collection to raise money for the Sager Strong Collection. “We took the designs from what Craig represented, which was inspiring, fun, lively and full of love,” she said. The pins included a microphone and one of Sager’s crazy jackets.
I also had an interview with Harden, who showed me the features of his first signature shoe, the Harden Vol. 1, and reminisced over the days when he played in Oklahoma City with KD and Westbrook: “[It was] a dynasty,” he said. “All of us were young. We grew up together and it was just a beauty”
That night, Eric Gordon won the Three-Point Contest, edging out Kyrie Irving in overtime. Immediately following contest came a performance from DJ Khaled, who then joined another DJ (DeAndre Jordan) on the court for the Slam Dunk Contest. Jordan leaped over Khaled and his DJ booth while DJ Khaled Snapchatted the whole thing. A few moments later, a drone piloted by Aaron Gordon hovered above the basket and dropped an alley-oop to himself in what could have been the dunk of the night if it didn’t take him four attempts to complete. At the end of the night, it was Glenn Robinson III of Indiana who won the contest after jumping over 6’9” Paul George, Boomer the Pacers Mascot and a cheerleader for a reverse dunk.
Sunday, February 24
With no events until the big game that night, my dad and I explored New Orleans, by catching beads at the World Famous Mardi Gras parades and enjoying beignets at Café Du Monde.
When the game had finally arrived, I expected it to be somewhat the same as the night before, but when I walked past Jay Z and Beyoncé on my way out to watch warm ups, I realized that tonight was going to be a lot more high-profile. Also sitting near the hardwood wer Allen Iverson, Two Chains and soccer legend Ronaldinho.
The game happened was full of highlight reel dunks, deep three-point shots, and absolutely zero defense. Pelicans forward Anthony Davis went off for 52 points, setting an All-Star Game Record and winning himself the game’s MVP award in front of his home crowd. Overall, it was a pretty remarkable night for number 23, and it only got better when he learned that the Pelicans acquired Boogie Cousins from Sacramento while he was on the court.
In his post-game press conference, West coach Steve Kerr addressed he lack of D. He suggested that players might try harder if they had an incentive, such as donations to their favorite charities, for winning. He also joked about how little coaching actually happens at the All-Star Game: “They might as well just bring a couple dead bodies on the sidelines. We're not doing anything up there. Just prop us up.”
Monday, March 25
My Monday consisted of a Fanboat Gator tour before my afternoon flight home. Looking back, my time in New Orleans was one of the busiest weekends of my life — as well as one of the most fun. I learned many things, such as how to spell Antetokounmpo, and to be assertive in press conferences. Another thing I learned after spending a little time around some of the world’s best basketball players is that they are just people too and most of the NBA players I talked to were genuine and down to earth. And some, like Antetokounmpo, aren’t much older than I am.
As for those of you who want to play in an All-Star Game someday, Giannis has some advice: “Just believe in your dreams and work as hard as you can”
Being 6’ 11” might help a little too.