Each year in mid-February, the NBA All-Star Game plants itself in a different American city and takes over for a weekend’s worth of basketball games, events, after parties and entertaining shows, with plenty of American celebrities in attendance from every walk of life.
In 2002, I attended the NBA All-Star game festivities in my hometown of Philadelphia, and enjoyed a Roots concert, while bumping into a dozen of old friends from my high school days. That next year in 2003, I attended All-Star Game events in Atlanta, where I finally had a chance to witness the legend of Allen Iverson and his dozen-man entourage at a hotel restaurant. Both occasions remain eye-popping and memorable, as if they had just happened yesterday.
I never even thought about attending the actual games. I was fine with watching it all on TV; the sophomore and rookie challenge, the celebrity charity game, the 3-point contest, guard skills performances, the slam dunk contest, an army of fun interviews, and the All-Star game itself.
With the NBA All-Stars, their peers and families all sitting at courtside, we get a chance to witness them return to being oversized kids, who once dreamed about being professional athletes and making an All-Star game appearance in a number of capacities themselves. These happy ballers then receive an overflow of validation from the excited movie stars, musicians, politicians, popular businessmen, supermodels and comedians, who all sit at courtside with them and whoop it up for the big show, while thousands of fans sit and enjoy it right behind them.
Each year I sat at home and watched as a kid myself, and as an adult with my two sons, while only imagining what it felt like to be: Dr. J; George Gervin; Michael Jordan; Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Shaquille Oneal, Kobe Bryant and now Lebron James: Dirk Nowitzki: Stephen Curry: James Harden: Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. What does it feel like to be celebrated by so many American citizens and superstars in their own light, who all come out and sit still to be amazed by you?
For those few hours in time, the world seems to stop and stand still for superstar basketball players; or at least it felt that way to me. The validation of skills was the reason why we all wanted to become professional athletes in the first place, not just to play the game and to live comfortably with million-dollar contracts; but to be celebrated for adding something special to the world--whether it be in football, boxing, baseball, hockey, track and field, World Cup soccer, or the Olympic Games.
With as much glitter, star-power and fashion statements that are made each year during the Academy Awards, The Grammys, The ESPYs, American Music, MTV, Soul Train, BET and NAACP Image Awards, nothing seems as fun or as natural as the NBA All-Star Game. There’s no fake adoration or bitten tongues, while dressed in thousand-dollar designer gowns and penguin suits from athletes who celebrate their game, themselves and each other. It’s all real excitement and jubilation, while dressed in warm-up, sneakers, blue jeans, jackets, shades, baseball caps and jewelry.
I watched it all again this weekend from New York City, where a Muggsy Bogues-sized comedian Kevin Hart—who has become a staple at NBA events—won another celebrity game becoming MVP, while playing against 13-year-old phenom, Mo’ne Davis, who is now transitioning from Little League Baseball, to her first love of basketball.
I watched Steph Curry and his gray-headed dad, Dell, lose in a team shoot-out against a current NBA player, a retired NBA veteran and a current WNBA player, before Steph went on to later swish 21 of 25 shots for a record 27 points to win the 3-point shooting contest. Zach LaVine, a 19-year-old leaper, who was a UCLA freshman last year this time, scored a perfect 100 points after two incredible back-to-back dunks, with legendary leaper, Dr. J, taking his sweet old time as the fifth and final decision-making judge.
Then we watched the marquee game, where Oklahoma Thunder’s fireball of energy, Russell Westbrook, scored 41 points for the MVP Award--one shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s record of 42 in 1962. The teams also scored a combined record of 321 total points in a 163-158 win for the Western Conference over the East.
That’s 321 points with no overtime minutes, and a new record of 48 3-pointers. You talk about going all out to excite the fans; that’s what the NBA All-Star Game is all about—FANtastic!
No wonder my two sons dreamed so hard of outgrowing their dad for dunking height. They dreamed of joining Victor Olapido, the Maryland-born son of Nigerian and Sierra Leone immigrant parents, who came in second to LaVine in the Slam Dunk Contest, while the world stood still to watch, along with young professional basketball hopeful from more than twenty-five different countries around the world, now from Brazil to Russia.
Sometimes I wish the NBA All-Star Game and events could last for a whole week instead of a mere weekend. If only the rest of us could have a weekend of celebration like they do for what we do, we could all feel reenergized each year to continue loving the jobs and careers that we engage in and celebrate each other. Wouldn’t that be nice? It would make us all feel like All-Stars.
Omar Tyree is a New York Times bestselling author, an NAACP Image Award winner for Outstanding Fiction, and a professional journalist, who has published 27 books, including co-authoring Mayor For Life; The Incredible Story of Marion Barry Jr. View more of his career and work @ www.OmarTyree.com