Listeria / Clap Clap ClapClapClap: The Top Ten Stories of All-Star Weekend
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 16, 2009
Only shooting stars break the mold
Last year, I was visiting a friend of mine at Vassar for almost the entirety of All-Star Weekend, consequently, I missed everything but the game itself, which was slightly underwhelming. Determined not to let that happen again, and with new DV-R in tow, I watched just about everything that could possibly have to do with the weekend this year, as well as a half-dozen old all-star games and about as many old slam dunk contests on NBA TV. Because after all, who needs Valentine’s Day when you can watch Jason Kapono going for a Three-Point Threepeat? With that in mind, my ten favorite subplots of a very entertaining weekend of basketball and basketball-affiliated product:
1o. Terrell Owens: The Michael Jordan of the All-Star/Celebrity Game. Man am I glad I remembered to tape this freak show–a fascinating mix of decades-past-their-prime stars, WNBA players, second-tier celebrities and Harlem Globetrotters. In between Michael Rappaport hacking everyone in sight, Chris Tucker hoisting up ten-feet-wide airball threes, and Dominique “The Human Highlight Film” Wilkins rimming dunks and blowing easy layups, the one legitimately impressive sight of the evening was TO, who somehow seems far more natural as a baller than as a receiver. On his way to a second consecutive All-Star/Celebrity Game MVP, he hit a three, showed a surprisingly fluid mid-range game, and even skied for an alley-oop throwdown from ‘Nique. It was surprisingly fun to watch–although I was getting legitimately peeved at those fucking showboating Globetrotters, wishing they’d just take the game a little more seriously.
9. The Non-Folly of Youth. What’s with all the dour-looking young’ns these days? I thought the kids were supposed to be all about egos and trash-talking and giddy excitement–most of these guys don’t even look like they have a pulse. Bulls rook Derrick Rose was absolutley stunning in his grace as he picked up apart the course at the Skills challenge, but he executed the whole thing as if it was some Phys Ed exam that he wished he had the foresight to skip out on while he had the chance. OJ Mayo hit some pretty impressive shots in the HORSE(/GEICO) game, but did so with absolutely no enthusiasm and only the very minimum of swagger. Throughout the Rookie / Sophomore game, Michael Beasley’s old-fashioned me-first, ball-hogging was almost a breath of fresh air, a rare example of bonafide immaturity in a land of premature middle-agedom. C’mon guys–I know there’s pressure not to act like idiots and all, but the fogies shouldn’t be allowed to have all of the fun.
8. The Return of LeBrick James. Nothing fills my heart with pure bilious joy as much as seeing The King get dethroned, however temporarily, and his performance in the All-Star Game was pretty unexemplary. Not that his stat line (8-19 for 20, a couple rebounds and assists) was all that horrific, but all of his Big Moments–namely, his Big Dunk Attempts–fell stupifyingly flat. For a man whose every move appears to be calculated down to sub-atomic levels, it was pretty something to see LeBron throw backboard alley-oops to himself that he could barely even catch, let alone finish–Bron-Bron doesn’t always do everything right, but it’s pretty fucking rare to see him do something so wrong. If this was his audition tape for the 2010 Slam Dunk Contest (which he undercut the final showdown this year like A-Rod interrupting Game Four of the ’07 World Series by announcing his intentions to play in) the NBA might just say “No thanks, we’re sticking with Brandon Bass and Jason Thompson.” Well, maybe not, but you know.
7. “Hey Terry, maybe you should make other plans this weekend…” I can’t help but think of the kids at the Gas n Sip in Say Anything, bemoaning the way Diane dispatched Lloyd–“She broke up with you in your car?? That’s, like, your sanctuary!” The termination of Terry Porter as leader of the increasingly depressing Phoenix Suns (I started re-reading Seven Seconds or Less to wash the taste of the last month out of my mouth) was likely inevitable and very possibly a good thing, as Alvin Gentry sounds determined to get back to the SSOL era–though who knows if that’s even possible this late in the game. But I feel like even his biggest detractors would have to admit that it’s pretty fucking cold to be dismissed in the weekend that your team’s city is hosting All-Star Weekend–like not getting invited to a party going two doors down wear you can hear the music and see the people going in and out, but know that everyone’s hoping that you stay away just the same. Props to Shaq for semi-calling out Sun brass for the classlessness of the move–though, to be fair, I suppose trading Amare while he was repping their team in the All-Star Game would’ve been even tackier.
6. Nate Robinson: God Among Midgets. A megafan of Nate’s since his forty-point game against the Blazers last year (which I keep mentioning in the hopes that someone else will remember this and confirm that it was in fact the weirdest thing ever), I had high hopes for his ability to bring the noise and/or the funk in the slam-dunk contest against heavy favorite D-12 this year. A couple of his early dunks were not terribly outstanding–few of the candidates’ were, truthfully, though Dwight’s 12-footer was at least pretty creative–but man, did Mightiest Mouse bring out the theatrical in that second round, rocking the all-green Knicks uni with matching sneakers, providing the kryptonite to Howard’s Superman (and yes, I did need Reggie Miller and his endless “LEX LUTHOR IS IN THE BUILDING!!!!” cries to explain that to me). And while he needed a lot of good sportsmanship and a little ducking from the seven-footer to perform his now-trademark dunk of skying over the big man, it was pretty fucking amazing that he got as close as he did. I’m pulling for you next year, Lex. (I personally prefer Krypto-Nate, though–guess we’ll leave this one up to Clyde Frazier and Mike Breen).
5. The Unceasing Anonymity of Joe Johnson. At this point, Joe Johnson seems positively destined to go down in history to be the best player of his generation to leave no legacy whatsoever. Now a three-time all-star, and a consensus pick for the most underrated player in the league (thus making him slightly overrated, naturally), Joe has nonetheless been cursed with an unassuming name, an unremarkable visage, a style with no immediately identifiable trademarks, and teams neither extraordinary or awful enough to make much of an impression (aside from his limited time with the D’Antoni Suns, for whom he was still sidelined with injury during their most definitive hour). It seemed like Joe’s career might finally have been making the next step, with the Hawks’ hot start and his consistent All-Star respect (including inclusion in the HORSE/GEICO game this year). But the Hawks have started to cool, and Joe failed to make an impression again this All-Star weekend, getting clowned in HORSE and going 0-4 to be the only All-Star left scorless in the main event. Sorry, Joe–ex-Hawks Glenn Robinson and Shareef Abdur-Rahim probably understand, at least.
4. JABBAWOCKEEZ. I sent a text message to friend of IITS Kyle “K-Mac” McFarren on Friday to the effect of “Who the fuck are those dancing mime dudes?” Forgive me, America, for I did not watch America’s Best Dance Crew, and was thus unfamiliar with the masked prancers who appeared in those weird Gatorade commercials, apparently placing them on the same level of excellence and dominance as Usain Bolt and Tiger Woods. But thanks to the All-Star Game, I now know to identify them as JabbaWockeeZ, apparently the hottest dance crew since Omarion and Marques Houston hung up their sneakers a half-decade ago. Not only did they accompany the all-star introductions with their choreographed bits, they also can now claim Shaquille O’Neal as an honorary member, as the Big Cactus came out wearing their mask and appeared in the middle of the cipher for a couple minutes of surprisingly fluid popping and locking, now referring to himself as “The Big JABBAWOCKEE.” Can’t say that I saw this coming, but then again, I wouldn’t have picked Kevin Rudolff’s “Let it Rock” to become the new “Eye of the Tiger” either.
3. A.I.: SAMPSON’D. I’m blown away after only watching the guy for about a year and a half, I can’t even imagine what it must feel like for fans that have been watching this guy since his Georgetown days. Responding to pressure from his kids and their mother, Allen Iverson took the ASW as an opportunity to lop off his trademark braids, echoing a similar step taken by then-teammate Carmelo Anthony at the beginning of the season. With AI doing it, though, it really feels like the end of an era–Iverson was sort of the last man standing from the Dreadlocked Age, with Latrell Spreewell out of the game and Jermaine O’Neal, Rasheed Wallace and then ‘Melo all Undoing the ‘Do. It’s sad to see AI give up his roots, but it certainly seems like the time had come. Will it help out his play in Detroit? Well, you gotta try something, I guess…
2. The Kevin Durant Debutant Ball. Possibly the biggest star of the whole weekend was already done playing by Saturday at sundown. There’s no question that the most indelible impression made by anyone these last three days was made by Kevin Durant, the second year player denied an All-Star berth despite a 26 ppg average (hey, when you have a slot to give David West for being injured and getting open shots from Chris Paul, you gotta give it to him), who took out his frustrations on the Rookie-Sophomore game, where he scored 46 points for the Sophs, crushing the previous record for the game of 36. And if that wasn’t enough, he engineered a brilliant come-from-behind victory–albeit one mostly centered around his ability to make simple corner threes–in the HORSE/GEICO competition, earning an early G-E-I-C, but catching fire and torching his two opponents before they could hang that final O on him. If you weren’t on the watch for any Thunder game you can find on your satellite dial–and really, there’s been no team more fun to watch since the new year–you really gotta be now. This might be the last ASG in a decade to be Durantless.
1. Feel the Love. Apparently, the weekend colliding with Valentine’s Day wasn’t a coincidence after all–there was such an outpouring of love and general positive vibrations this weekend that it’s remarkable that Kenny Smith and Doug Collins didn’t start making out during one of their broadcasts. It’s not just the Dreadlock Era that ended this weekend, it’s the Age of Bad Feelings–with a star nucleus of Kobe, LeBron, Dwight, D-Wade and CP3 (all friends from Beijing and all largely agreeable fellows) now effectively being the embassadors of the league, the NBA’s long-feared “image problem” has gone the way of Steve Francis. There’s no Jail Blazers to be found in these festivities, no Ron Artest, no JO or J-Ho or other such unsavories. The closest thing to an early-00s scowler to be found in these proceedings is Amare, who felt distinctly like an outsider for the game, like a bad kid forced to spend detention in a Youth Group meeting. Perfectly symbolizing the NBA’s new DAISY Age were the co-MVPs, Shaq and Kobe, whose reconciliation–seeming at least semi-genuine this time–appeared to close the books on one of the great Age of Bad Feelings stories, a bitter, venomous rivalry that simply has no place among the modern-day league’s central ideals of maturity, team play and civic responsibility. To put it simply, it’s not cool to be a badass in the NBA anymore. May you live in interesting times, IITS readers…