This was not your typical All-Star Game.
For the 20 NBA Development League players selected to compete in the inaugural Gillette D-League All-Star Game in Association with 24 Hour Fitness, this game meant more than just a free trip to Las Vegas. It was another chance for these NBA hopefuls to showcase their skills and audition for a job with an NBA team. There were nearly 30 NBA scouts in attendance and each participant knew that the stakes to this game were a bit higher.
"While we're definitely here to have a little fun, we're going to go out and compete as hard as we can and hopefully play hard for everyone here," Sioux Falls Skyforce All-Star forward Stephen Graham said prior to the game.
"We did not get a chance to practice," Colorado and Western Division Coach Joe Wolf said before the game. "No running of set plays or anything like that, so it will be interesting to say the least."
While the East did not get the chance to practice either, Coach Sidney Moncrief's squad did re-build a double-digit lead in the third quarter and ended up with a 114-100 victory. Yet even when the game was no longer in doubt, both teams were still running and looking for ways to score.
"This game shows how competitive we are," Tulsa's Alan Anderson said.
Aside from getting to compete for a national audience on NBA TV and another chance to impress NBA scouts, there were some others perks to being a D-League All-Star. From the lavish pre-game lockerroom spread of food and the custom-made shooting shirts to the sweet passing, alley-oops and creative dunking, this game had a bit of an All-Star feel to it and was quite the departure from your regular season D-League game.
"We went out and had fun and tried to play the right way," Bakersfield Jam All-Star Gerry McNamara said. "We wanted to play together and also win the game. But at the same time, we wanted to get everyone the same amount of time and show what we could do."
The D-League All-Star lockerrooms were also immediately adjacent to the NBA All-Star East and West lockerrooms. The NBA stars, who had practiced at Center Court in Jam Session just before the start of the D-League contest on the very same court, stopped by to mingle and interact with many of the D-Leaguers. Many are old friends and former teammates. Colorado's Von Wafer caught up with Lakers pal and former teammate Kobe Bryant while Anaheim's Jawad Williams hugged it out with Spurs All-Star Tim Duncan.
"This whole weekend has been and will be fun," McNamara, who was added as an injury replacement late this week, said. "It's obviously fun to be in Vegas and join the festivities and be a part of some great events. I'm just happy to be here."
"I got to meet him beforehand in the green room. He's a great guy and it was really fun to be a part of that," Graham said. "He has a great sense of humor and is a great entertainer. I'm going to try to get to see and do as much as I can while I'm here."
Yet each player is enjoying a unique All-Star experience. Fort Worth Flyers forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu is the only D-League All-Star not trying to get noticed by an NBA team as he is already a member of the Dallas Mavericks roster on assignment with the Mavericks affiliate. That meant Mensah-Bonsu could play a little bit more relaxed, which showed as he led all scorers with 30 points and was named the game's Most Valuable Player.
"I still tried to play as hard as I could, which is the only way I know how to play," Mensah-Bonsu said. "I'm just glad I'm here. When they said I made the team, I was playing with the Mavericks and I told them that I really wanted to play in this game and be a part of this entire event. It wasn't about winning the M.V.P. It was about getting to be with these great players."
Also making this weekend a unique experience for the players is the D-League schedule. Some teams had games last night and tomorrow in California while others will get to spend more time in Las Vegas getting to experience the weekend.
"I have a little bit easier of a schedule than some of the other guys here," McNamara said. "Some of these guys have games tomorrow and some had last night, so it's a bit easier for me because we don't play until Tuesday, so I'm going to enjoy my time here."
The Colorado 14ers, who were well-represented by four players and the coaching staff, arrived late last night and will be back in Anaheim for a game tomorrow.
"We were originally scheduled to fly right out after the game, but we changed that," 14ers assistant coach Kent Davison said. "We wanted our guys to have at least a night here. We left six players back in Anaheim, but the four here deserve to enjoy this experience."
The next chapter will ultimately be written in the coming days, as the NBA scouts report back on what they saw and decide who will be the next GATORADE call-up. In the meantime, even if only for a weekend, these D-Leaguers got to feel like stars and enjoy the glitz and glamour of NBA stardom.