Posted Feb 21 2011 2:18AM
LOS ANGELES -- In a town famous for folks flashing the pearly whites, and often disingenuously, there was a ring of authenticity this weekend because the All-Star basketball script played a lot like those smiles: perfect.
An industry town built on imagination and creativity saw a Clipper soar over a car for a dunk, and a Laker salvage a sloppy game by earning Most Valuable Player honors for a record-tying fourth time. In a flash, or roughly how long it took Rihanna to change into something a bit more, um, comfortable for the halftime performance, we learned when it comes to putting on a show, it's hard to Beat L.A.
Really, the last three days were quintessential California: so many stars lining Staples Center that an entire section was roped off for their bodyguards; a coming-out party within the party for a fresh face named Blake Griffin who was hailed as The Next Big Thang; and at the finish, Kobe Bryant lifting a trophy in the air.
It isn't often when an event is powerful enough to pre-empt a stirring and long-running saga -- the 'Melodrama, in this case -- but a refreshing weekend in Los Angeles managed to divert attention, ever so temporarily, from Carmelo Anthony and his whereabouts. You think that's easy? Well, thanks to Griffin and Kobe and teammates, there was something else to discuss, to debate, to marvel at. For that reason alone, the weekend was a smashing success, all would agree.
The conspiracy theorists will accuse the weekend of being rigged, that Griffin was permitted to use the prop to end all props in the dunk contest, that Kobe seemed too anxious to score 37 points and grab MVP honors for the West in a 148-143 victory. As Amar'e Stoudemire, throwing another log on that fire, said: "Kobe was not passing the ball. At all."
Well, OK, then. Since when did Hollywood ever produce anything believable, anyway?
The town took a shine to All-Star Weekend mainly because L.A. doesn't get sports gigs like this anymore, the kind that consume the city. The last Super Bowl left here 18 years ago and it might take that long for L.A. to get another NFL team. There's no Final Four in the future, not without a domed stadium. As for the World Series, have you seen the Dodgers lately?
So L.A. rolled out the magic carpet and went for the ride, surrounding itself with velvet rope and allowing All-Star Weekend to do what it does.
Griffin played in the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge on Friday. Then Saturday night, he borrowed a choir from Crenshaw (singing "I Believe I Can Fly") and a 2011 Kia Optima (emblazoned with the logo of Sprite, an All-Star sponsor!) to provide a dunk contest highlight that is now immortalized, right along with Dwight Howard's cape and Cedric Ceballos' blindfold.
Finally, working harder than a Hollywood agent, he finished up with 14 minutes in the All-Star Game, playing time that was padded in the fourth quarter when the home crowd pleaded -- demanded? -- that Blake check back into the game.
"I can barely move right now," he admitted. "But I mean, I had fun this weekend. It was a good experience."
Bryant helped the West build a lead, and punctuated it by posterizing LeBron James on a breakaway. Then he watched his dreams of getting the win and the award get threatened by LeBron, who played the fourth quarter like he was trying to beat Cleveland. Kobe bricked a forced jumper with 30 seconds left and a two-point lead, but finally could exhale when the miss was safely laid in by Pau Gasol. Yes, another Laker, giving L.A. a boost.
"Because I was at home, and this is my last All-Star Game at home, I wanted to come out and play well, play hard for the fans," he said. "They deserve this."
Yes, that much is true. Question is, how much more basketball are the fans going to get? The last time the NBA went into the offseason without a labor contract, in 1999, the All-Star Game was cancelled. It was a curious sight, then, when commissioner David Stern worked the postgame court, shaking hands of all the players and smiling (we suspect it was definitely genuine) and feeling some love in return. The next time Stern extends a hand to a group of players, will it be shaken. Or bitten?
The irony wasn't lost on LeBron, who seized the opportunity to describe what NBA life will be like if the party will soon be pooped.
"We all hope there is not a lockout," he said. "You see how great this event (was) tonight. Not only tonight, but the whole weekend and what it brings. You would hope that there's no stoppage in play. We don't know what it's going to take yet."
We do know what it took to make for a memorable weekend for L.A.: a whole lot of Griffin, just enough Kobe and a mixture of basketball and entertainment that goes over well in a town all about show and being seen in the most positive light possible.
Well, that's all from here. If you'll allow for one more L.A. indulgence, we'll watch as Carmelo's people get with the Knicks' and Nets' people and do lunch. Smiles all around.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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