Suns.com’s Stefan Swiat brings you continuous updates of everything that’s going on at All-Star Weekend in New Orleans.
As my friend said, I guess Batman can dunk on Superman.
Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty Images
Sunday, Feb. 17, 2008
So while the West was narrowly defeated by the East, 134-128, the representatives from the Suns put on a pretty good show. Amaré could have been MVP of the game if the West had pulled it out, being one of three players to lead the West with 18 points. He shot 8-of-11 from the floor and also added five rebounds. Steve was his usual steady self, shooting 4-of-8 from the field to total eight points and six assists. His six dimes tied Denver’s Allen Iverson for a team high.
The All-Star Game is a fantastic show and you could tell the players turned it on down the stretch. They definitely wanted to win. Sure, they all want to look good during the game, but the pride factor will inevitably kick in when you have that many competitors on one court.
STAT certainly agreed.
“The fourth quarter is always when All-Stars take it up a notch,” he said. “Ray (Allen) just got hot. I can’t believe how hot he was and he came out with an incredible run in the fourth quarter.”
But for STAT, he saw the game as a way for him to gauge where he is at as a player.
“It’s an opportunity to compete with the best,” said the 25-year old forward. “It’s similar to what we have with the Olympic team in that it brings out the best in you.”
Steve, on the other hand, just soaked in the experience.
“When you are done playing and remember what a terrific player so-and-so was, play with him in an All-Star Game and share some time with him, it adds to the yearbook,” he said.
So Nash really is a trash-talker?
One of the major stories that involved Nash this weekend was the debut of his new basketball sneaker. The Nike Trash Talk is a basketball shoe made completely out of recycled material, designed to bring a more environmental approach to manufacturing. The shoe features an upper created from leather and synthetic leather waste from the factory floor, while the outsole uses environmentally-preferred rubber which reduces toxins. The name of shoe is derived from exactly what it is: trash.
Further proof of Nash’s consciousness, he is going to donate the special version of the shoes he wore in this All-Star Game to charity. But as cool and down-to-earth Steve is, you’ll be amazed at how random people in the media will step way over the line when dealing with him.
After the game had finished and we were interviewing Steve in a media huddle, a young guy from “The Score” jumped right in and started talking to Steve about how intense the game became. As he was describing it, he said that he noticed that Steve started sweating and that his hair started moving in one direction. While he was saying that, he took the liberty of moving Steve’s hair around in the direction that he said it was going to illustrate the example. He just reached out and started touching the head of the two-time MVP of the league.
There were a number of things that boggled my mind about that exchange. The first was that a member of media put his hands on a player. The second thing that was staggering was that he didn’t even know him. It might have been excusable if The Republic’s Paul Coro touched him, because he’s known him for years. But Coro would never do that, because he’s not insane.
The third thing that got me was that the guy thought he was being funny or entertaining, which failed miserably on both accounts. The fourth thing was that someone at the league office actually gave that guy a press pass. The fifth thing was that Steve’s media representative from the league office not only didn’t boot the guy, reprimand him, or say anything to him on the side, but instead chose to watch and giggle.
Steve was cool as usual about it and handled it like a pro by saying, “Whoa, we’re touching people now?” The guy responded, “Well, we’re friends though.” Steve replied, “Well, my friends don’t get away with that twice.” Then he went on and answered his question without ever raising his voice or getting agitated. I mean, I wanted to strangle the guy and I wasn’t even involved.
The media shouldn’t horse around.
So if you ever wonder why athletes or celebrities are a little distant or guarded when they deal with the public, you can remember this little anecdote. I’ve seen worse than that, but that was just the one incident I saw today. People want them to be accessible and open, but then they act like that.
But now that I have that out of system, I can head back to Phoenix for another huge week. The team is making a huge announcement on Tuesday and then we will have Shaq’s debut against the Lakers, a home game Friday against the league-leading Celtics and a nationally-televised game against the Pistons on Sunday. I am covering all of those events, so I’ll probably be typing my next blog from the hospital. So from New Orleans, I’m officially signing off…
I can’t imagine Bourbon St. during Mardi Gras after how packed it has been this week.
Sunday, Feb. 17, 2008
After enjoying the sights and sounds of Bourbon St. last night, I took a little tour around the French Quarter to snap some photos for the website. It was a beautiful 65 degrees, sunny and breezy and the city was bustling with activity. If anyone gets a chance to take a vacation somewhere in the US, I would choose New York (center of the universe), Phoenix (of course) and New Orleans. Whether you are looking for culture or for just plain unadulterated fun, the Big Easy could be your speed. There are all sorts of options for food, music and activities.
I stopped by the world-famous Café Du Monde and treated myself to a beignet (pronounced ben-ay). It is basically fried dough with sugar, or how I like to describe it, my reason for living. While we were out there, a violinist and a guitarist were playing songs in the background. They gave us some Stevie Wonder (“Sir Duke”), Lynard Skynard (“Sweet Home Alabama”) and Abba (“Dancing Queen”). Then as we went and walked near the water, we saw a kid playing the trumpet with a jazz band. He stopped playing to sing and was really good. It was kind of weird, but he looked a little like that kid Andy Milonakis from MTV. I haven’t seen Andy’s show in some time. Maybe he found work.
Is that you Andy?
After taking in some sights, I headed back to the hotel to get changed and head to the game. One of my jobs for the night was to help interview celebrities on the red carpet. Man, I have a tough life. We were able to get actor Jet Li, actor Chris Tucker, ex-Jazz forward Karl Malone, actress Alyssa Milano, actress Gabrielle Union and music producers Jimmy Jam and Michael Bivens. Make sure you check our site for all of those interviews, we were the only team in the league to get them. And also don’t be surprised if they end up in the next episode of Ask Raja. We had a great time with all of them and they asked Raja some funny questions…
The star of “Charmed” is quite charming.
As I write to you now, I am blogging from the owner’s suite and watching Amaré make a run at the All-Star Game MVP. He just needs to finish the contest strong and we need to hold off the East for the W. Steve has made some nifty passes. I swear the guy can see into the future, and STAT has shown a little of everything in his bag of tricks. STAT has the chance to win the All-Star Game MVP a lot during his career because of his ability to do so many things. His athleticism allows him to get anywhere on the court and his height allows him to get a lot of easy buckets. Steve, on the other hand, isn’t the kind of player that thrives as much in an All-Star Game because he really needs that competitiveness to engage his mind into the game. And usually the game doesn’t get very competitive until the fourth quarter. He also is very unselfish during these games, which isn’t going to help his cause that much either. When is the last time you saw a player who led the game in assists win an All-Star MVP?
Before the beginning of the third quarter Kevin Garnett and Karl Malone thanked New Orleans for their hospitality. The city topped off its gracious ways by dropping little gift balls that were attached to balloons from the ceiling. Great touch…
Dwight Howard stepped into the booth and came out as Superman.
David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images
Saturday, Feb. 16, 2008
There really wasn’t a lot to scream about from the Suns end tonight, as they exited rather hastily in both competitions. STAT, EJ and Cappie were unable to make it to the finals of the Haier Shooting Stars competition, while Nash posted the lowest score in the Three-Point Shootout with nine.
So while Phoenix didn’t supply the sunshine tonight, Orlando’s Dwight Howard and Minnesota’s Gerald Green certainly did. You could tell that both of them did their homework and wanted to win. Green defended his title quite admirably by breaking out some very creative jams, and you could tell that Howard was a bit miffed by the lack of love he received from the judges last year, so he took it out on the rim this year.
Green went with the cupcake, Howard responded with a ricochet dunk from behind the backboard. Green set up a ladder, Howard broke out the Superman cape. Green dunked without his shoes on, while Howard countered with a double-tap dunk that I still can’t quite figure out. It was the best dunk contest I’ve seen in years; evoking memories of Jordan vs. Dominique. These guys really raised the bar.
Personally, the best part of the night was hanging out in our owner Robert Sarver’s suite. It’s a great way to see a game. Free food, drink and a great view of the game while sitting in roomy chairs is the way to go. If anyone ever gets an opportunity to see a game from a suite, jump on it. Chocolate-covered strawberries always makes a dunk contest atidbit sweeter…
The talk of the night in the suite surrounded next year’s All-Star Game in Phoenix. After the success of the Superbowl this season, I could see Phoenix becoming a very popular destination for future events. Between the climate, facilities and nightlife, it is a city bubbling over with possibilities.
The last point I’m going to make in my blog for the night is that the dunk contest needs to be tweaked a little. I am a huge fan of letting the fans vote. I am all about democracy. However, don’t have the judges say the way they are voting before the winner is revealed. I think that may sway voters a bit, but above all, I think that it slows down the event. Here we have this awesome show and then we had to wait around with very little suspense for the winner. Check with the judges afterwards to see if they agree. Kind of like the electoral college, except without the power to change the outcome. Or, if 4/5’s of the voters disagree with the fans, they can have the power to overrule them. Make it interesting or controversial, or leave it the old way. Just don’t leave it in the middle like it is now…
Jam Session was the place to be on Saturday.
Saturday, Feb. 16, 2008
So while yesterday was just more of a media day for Amaré and Steve, today they were actually unleashed on the public. The public wasn’t really allowed close to the players at their NBA Cares Day of Service yesterday, but they were all gathered within the convention center to get a peek at the NBA Jam Session.
An enormous center, there are basketball courts, games and festivities everywhere for families; to the point where it dulls the senses. If you are just a fan of basketball, it is the equivalent of giving crack to a crackhead. People playing video games against each other, shooting competitions and five-on-five games engulf you. And once you walk through the center, which takes at least five minutes to do with no crowds, you get to the back to where the main court takes center stage.
There, the main event is th players. First, the Eastern Conference All-Stars practice in front of the crowd, then there is a media availability session where the players can be interviewed and then the Western Conference All-Stars practice. Practice consists of the guys going half-speed through the three-man weave and then they do some light shooting. After they break a little sweat, a few of the players take a stab at trying to hit the most half-court shots in a minute. LeBron James set the overhand record with three before Jason Kidd tied it by nailing three shots underhanded. Both STAT and Steve gave it a whirl, but they were only able to hit one apiece. The last player of the day to go was Chris Paul, who proceeded to hit four bombs in a minute. The hometown fans loved every minute of it, as the representative from the Guiness Book of World Records was on hand to award him the title as World Record Holder.
The highlight of the whole afternoon was when Orlando’s Dwight Howard was being interviewed and he lifted a midget above his head. Every time I see that guy he is having fun, and to me, that’s what it is all about.
What ever happened to BBD?
Also, my continual propensity to run into former hip-hop stars from the early ‘90’s is staggering. Since I’ve moved to Phoenix, I’ve met and spoke with Coolio, Rob Bass, Biz Markie and now Michael Bivens. For those of you who don’t recognize that name, he is Biv from Bell, Biv and Devoe. Their two biggest hits were ”Poison” and “Do Me,” which rocked many aboombox in junior high. Before they were all in Bell, Biv and Devoe, they were in the children’s group New Edition with a young Bobby Brown, Johnny Gill and Ralph Tresvant. They were one of those groups that had a lot more hits than you realize. The Moody Blues are like that too… Hopefully by the end of the weekend I will run into MC Hammer.
So now we are getting ready for tonight as Phoenix has a team in the Haier Shooting Stars competition. STAT, broadcaster Eddie Johnson and the Mercury’s Cappie Pondexter are going to try to bring home the title. Then, Steve will attempt to win the Foot Locker Three-Point Shootout. It should be a great night of entertainment so tune in to TNT at 6 p.m…
Friday, Feb. 15, 2008
There is no bigger party that the NBA puts on than the All-Star Game, and there is no city that can put on a bigger party than New Orleans.
This is how you are greeted in the Big Easy.
These two forces have collided this weekend, and I, like many basketball junkies, have descended on the Crescent City to get my fix. And from the moment I landed, I kept getting little signs that I was in the right place.
As we were following former Knick Jerome “Junkyard Dog” Williams through the airport and down to the baggage claim, I kept trying to look at the TV to see if Jason Kidd had officially became a Maverick. With this being possibly the third blockbuster trade to transpire in the last two weeks, I couldn’t help but to think that I was going to be involved in a very historic weekend. As I interviewed all of the All-Stars around the league, they all seem bewildered at all of the moves being made. The veterans amongst them couldn’t recall so many big names swapping teams in such a small amount of time.
Shaq to the Suns, Pau to the Lakers and most likely Kidd to the Mavs. There is a team 12 games over .500 that currently isn’t in the Playoffs, and now those three guys are being added to that fray. So as I was attempting to see if the Kidd deal was finalized, I took the escalator down a flight to the baggage claim to where I started hearing music. Lo and behold, there was a jazz band playing some unbelievably sweet tunes for all of the passengers that were waiting for their luggage. What a great concept. Welcoming people and putting people into a festive mood with trombones, trumpets, tubas and drums. I was instantly a fan of this city.
So we hopped into our hotel shuttle and I began calling people from other teams and at the NBA that I hoped to see this weekend. Once we arrived, I picked up my media credentials and made plans to go out for dinner. Since we are staying in the French Quarter, a friend and I walked just four blocks until we were on Bourbon St.
As soon as we turned the corner, we saw Steve Nash’s business manager, Chris Talbot. My friend, who works in VIP Services for the Suns, gave him a shout and he talked to us as his group, which included Bow Wow, walked ahead. After getting the invite to a party on Sunday, we hit a seafood restaurant that was being patronized by Detroit Shock Head Coach and former Piston Bad Boy Bill Laimbeer. Instead of rubbing in the Phoenix Mercury’s championship to him, I merely nodded hello and sat down to grub.
After some delicious gumbo and shrimp creole, I noticed that 7-7 giant and former Bullet George Muresan was in the building. In addition, Cavs General Manager Danny Ferry was eating with Laker superfan and multi-millionaire Jimmy. You’d know him if you saw him. He’s an older white dude that looks like an ex-rocker because of his penchant for wearing weird-colored leather jackets. He always sits next to Jack Nicholson and is one of the true characters in basketball, but I digress.
So as I was taking all of this in, I looked over and saw my old friend, who is an assistant producer at NBA TV. He didn’t know I was in New Orleans, so instead of going up to him, I called him and asked him where he was eating. And since he was sitting behind Danny Ferry, I asked him if he could ask Ferry if he was hiring. Not knowing whether or not I had superpowers or not, he asked me how I knew he was next to Ferry. Although I would have preferred to keep the ruse going until he thought I knew the plot behind the Kennedy assassination, I decided to reveal I was across the room from him.
After finishing our meals we left the tourist-filled alleys of Bourbon St. for the more off-beat Frenchmen St. If you are looking for where the real people of New Orleans hang out, that’s where you need to go. It is much more laid-back, but still personifies the jazzy essence of the Big Easy. One of the places on the block was a hookah bar, which for those who don’t know what a hookah is, is a type of vase from which people smoke fruit-flavored tobacco. It looks like something out of Morocco or Greece. I know they have that in Tempe as well, but it seemed more at home in New Orleans.
Today, from virtually the time I got up in the morning until the evening, my job was to interview all of the players around the league. Now that sounds like fun, but unfortunately, every person who has ever written a word about basketball is here too. The mobs were most enormous around Kobe and Yao. Cameramen started setting up their shots at a small table 30 minutes before Kobe arrived, just so they could be the first to hear if he was going to play with his injured finger. It seemed like every journalist from Asia was trying to interview Yao. The traffic around him made me ponder a saying that I heard from an old coach that would make me realize a feat I had accomplished was actually really trivial. He would say, “There are two billion Chinese people that could care less.” And in effect, he would be right. No one would care. But in the case of Yao, I think there might just be about two billion that truly do care.
It is always fun to interview guys from around the league that you don’t get to see very often. Dwyane Wade is very thoughtful and polite, Brandon Roy is excited to be among the league’s elite and Carmelo Anthony is always good for a sound bite. When asked if the Suns’ style would be altered with the addition of Shaq he replied, “Hey, I’d roll with Shaq.”
One thing that I found interesting about the dynamics of a huge media day was that all of these overworked and deadline-driver reporters were trying to get their questions in to guys for their specific stories. So while someone like Ray Allen will be sitting there, he’ll field questions about college basketball from a Sports Illustrated for Kids writer, then he’ll get a question about the Suns from a clown like me and then another journalist will ask him about his thoughts on the 2008 Presidential Election. But the best question I heard today was by a friend of mine, an excellent writer for NBA.com, who momentarily lost his mind. After waiting 10 minutes to ask his question, he asked Allen what he thought his chances were in the Three-Point Shootout. Unfortunately for my friend, Allen wasn’t participating this year. My friend didn’t feel like the sharpest tool in the shed after his gaff, but these things can happen.
Another friend of mine that writes the Race to the MVP column for NBA.com had PMah’s Deron Williams approach him and ask him why he was only number 17 in his column. After some backtracking and justifications, my friend was able to put forth a decent explanation. Williams was just jokingly giving him a hard time, but don’t be surprised if he moves up on the list next week. My friend is easily intimidated.
New Orleans still has a long way to go.
After the media availability session wrapped, I was off to an NBA Cares event to watch Amare Stoudemire help out with Habitat for Humanity. STAT went to the ninth ward in New Orleans to help rebuild houses that were demolished by Hurricane Katrina. I know we’ve had millions of news cycles since then, but the devastation from that disaster lingers on today and it is not being covered in the media. Having the NBA bring that issue back into focus was refreshing for me to see, and hopefully it will re-galvanize the movement to aid the thousands of people that are still homeless today. For anyone wanting to learn more about it, check out the documentary “Breaking the Levies.” It is really powerful. And if you don’t take my word for it, Steve Nash recommends it as well.
After shooting photos of STAT putting together a wall, we trudged back through the rain to the hotel. Shooting photos out in a downpour can give a man an appetite, so we sashayed over to Popeye’s for some spicy chicken. Now, I don’t know if this means anything to anyone reading this, but I bumped into hip-hop artist Biz Markie while I was waiting for my chow. Now, many of you in Arizona may not be familiar with him or his classic, Just a Friend, but download the song immediately. Better yet, go to YouTube and watch the video, because it is hilarious. You see, Biz Markie is a guy that my friends and I have always referenced in conversation. Just one of those weird things we do. Some people quote movies, some people make references to obscure rap artists.
This guy was the King of Beatboxing.
So while no one else seemed to care that they were amidst one of the best one-hit wonders of all-time, my friends back in New York would consider that more memorable than meeting the pope. People always like to debate what’s meaningful and what’s coincidental, and I think that it’s an individual thing. It’s not something that can be pondered amongst a committee; it has to resonate with each person. And to me, meeting Biz was an omen that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
Well, that’s it for me tonight. I promise to have oodles of worthless, yet semi-amusing bits of information to blog about tomorrow. So don’t be afraid to check back…