ALL-STAR TRAVEL BLOG, SATURDAY NIGHT

2/17/13 | Eric Patten 

HOUSTON – All-Star Saturday night usually goes one of two ways. 

It is either a massive letdown, lacking energy and drama. Or it is full of intrigue, leaving a permanent stamp on the weekend. 

Oddly, this year’s event was neither. It had its moments, a 23-point barrage from Kyrie Irving in the 3-point shootout, an East vs. West component to raise money for charity and a dunk contest that was inspired and creative. 

Terrence Ross’ entire dunk program was likely the highlight. He threw down three dunks that should stick with you. However, talking to another reporter on Sunday, I asked what his favorite dunk of the night was, hoping he’d say Eric Bledsoe’s reverse windmill that earned a 50. The reporter answered that he preferred the “one where that guy threw down the 360 behind his back.” He added, “I can’t remember who it was.” 

That may have been the inherent problem with a dunk contest that was otherwise one of favorite in recent memory (unequivocally better than 2012). The name recognition was not there. 

That being said, let’s go back to last night. Bledsoe participated in a dunk warm up a few hours before the event began and said he made the dunk he planned to open with several times. His attempt to open the night, a 360-degree spin where he put the ball between his legs would have been exactly what Bledsoe said it would be when asked what he had in store: “classic.”

His second dunk, the aforementioned windmill, was unreal. Two people sitting next to me nearly fell out of their chairs. The number of oohs and aahs from the media (not fans) on that slam, which came without a miss by the way, was rivaled only by Ross’ first slam and Gerald Green’s first slam off the side of the backboard.  

Personally, I thought Bledsoe and James White were both underappreciated. Particularly, Bledsoe, who made an acrobatic “backup” dunk in round one where he touched it off the glass before throwing down with his right hand. Remember he’s 6-feet tall. 

As for White, he was not close to duplicating Ross, but his first dunk, using an air traffic controller and several female flight attendants dressed in Knicks colors was pretty cool. He sprinted between the line of people, playing off his nickname James “Flight” White, and dunk from a step inside the free throw line, using BOTH hands. Maybe it’s because there are so many YouTube clips of him doing that overseas it didn’t quite register with the judges. 

After contest was over and Bledsoe had come within one point of reaching the final round, he was greeted by a few familiar L.A. media folks and some others from around the globe. Obviously, Ross was the headliner, but Bledsoe did not seem to mind. He was happy. He had a larger grin on his face than I’ve ever seen, wider than when he was asked about his phenomenal rejection of Dwyane Wade in November. It was cool. 

Bledsoe said he would think about doing the dunk contest again if the right situation presented itself. I hope he does. 

ALL-STAR PRACTICE HAS LITTLE TO DO WITH BASKETBALL

2/16/13 | Eric Patten 

HOUSTON – The East and West went through a 45-minute combined practice Saturday afternoon in preparation for Sunday’s 62nd All-Star Game. 

To some extent, practice might be a bit of a loose term. Effectively, the two squads talked briefly about inbounds plays and put up a few shots before taking part in two competitions geared towards entertaining the few thousand fans in attendance at the makeshift Sprint Arena at George R. Brown Convention Center downtown. 

Both Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra were wearing live microphones through much of the event, which allowed some insight into their game preparation. Well, until Popovich turned his microphone off to address the West in a huddle. He said he wanted them to go through a couple of basic sets in order to “know what they were doing out there.”

On the other end of the floor, Spoelstra continued with his in-season mantra of coaching a team that is “positionless.” He had Kevin Garnett handling the ball as the offensive initiator at times with LeBron James playing what would normally be deemed a traditional center spot. On Friday, Spoelstra announced that Chris Bosh will start alongside Garnett, James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade, making the idea that they won’t use traditional positions even more intriguing, considering how big the lineup is. 

The entire practice consisted more of players sharing laughs or shooting from spots on the floor they never normally would (Dwight Howard spending an inordinate amount of time shooting corner 3-pointers, for example) than actual basketball. Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant were interviewed by David Aldridge on the court while the West was going through layups. Players were launching foam mini balls into the stands for onlookers. And mascots, such as the New Orleans Hornet, invaded team huddles and performed breakdancing moves on the baseline. 

Perhaps the most fascinating part of practice came after a half-court shooting competition. The East, behind James, Bosh and Kyrie Irving beat the West (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul), 3-2 in “sudden death” of that one. And with about eight minutes to spare, the groups took part in a version of knockout, the schoolyard game where people get eliminated for missing a shot and having the person behind them make one before their next attempt goes in. 

The game itself was tough to watch. Fans were sprinkled in with players, who did not much care about winning or losing or eliminating anyone. But that sort of changed when Westbrook had a chance to knock someone out and let them stay in—seemingly because the kid was wearing a Westbrook home white Thunder jersey. Two trips through the line later and the kid had a chance to knock Westbrook out. The Thunder star and his fan both had a ball underneath the rim with the kid needing to make a layup to eliminate the good-natured Westbrook. 

Westbrook pump faked twice, pretended he was going to swat the ball away and then used his ball to bump away the kid’s as he shot it, both of them laughing the entire time. It was the same move any number of people must have pulled on the playground. Needless to say, Westbrook avoided elimination and gave the kid a high five a few seconds later. 

The kid’s smile and the way he excitedly ran back into the knockout line showed what the practice really was about. And it surely wasn’t basketball. 

INSIDER HAS TOUCHED DOWN IN HOUSTON

2/15/13 | Eric Patten 

HOUSTON – To call the All-Star festivities crazy would be like calling Michael Jordan a basketball player. The description is technically accurate but doesn’t necessarily do justice.

Houston is bustling. The Clippers were here a month ago and there were already signs of the city getting prepared for the extravaganza which ramped up Friday with the BBVA Rookie-Sophomore Challenge and culminates on Sunday with the 62nd NBA All-Star Game.

Now the entire metroplex seems engulfed with All-Star fever. There are signs and pictures and advertisements everywhere. Fans wander the city wearing their favorite teams’ jerseys or colors and current and former players are seemingly around every corner.

For Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe and the rest of the Clippers, All-Star Friday was more like sleepwalking. After the Clippers beat the Lakers Thursday, the team left for Houston almost immediately. By the time they arrived it was almost sunrise, meaning a day that could be both exciting and hectic was nearing.

A brief nap later and Paul was already on a media circuit that included talk shows and a stop at the NBA TV set with his son Little Chris. Griffin and Paul appeared on the B.S. Report with ESPN’s Bill Simmons and then did their obligatory media availability session with their fellow West All-Stars.

One of my favorite parts about the 45-minute crush of media is that it remains somewhat informal. While there are plenty of people there to talk basketball, there are also an entire group of reporters there to gather information on topics that are entirely unrelated.

There were questions about Valentine’s Day and Michael Jordan’s birthday and Lent and plenty of members of the foreign media corps asking for shoutouts and advice for the basketball-playing youth of their homeland.

One exchange between Griffin and a reporter was particularly endearing.

Reporter: If you were not in the NBA what would you have been when you grew up?

Griffin: If I couldn’t play in the NBA, I would want to play either baseball or football.

Reporter: How about no sports?

Griffin: No sports? I don’t know, maybe a singer.

Reporter: What advice would you give kids?

Griffin: Advice for the kids? For singing or basketball?

(Laughs)

Reporter: Basketball.

Griffin: Love the game, play it, watch it. The more work you put into it, the more you’re going to get out of it. It’s just like anything else you do in life. If it’s a genuine work ethic and a genuine interest and a genuine love then you’re going to get a lot out of it.

That’s sort of what standouts about the entire weekend, the volume of people and the interaction. It happens in different ways all three days, whether it’s the day of service which Paul and Griffin took part in after their media obligation Friday or the fan interaction. In a local mall players, such as Kevin Love and Stephen Curry, were making appearances in a replica streetball court/cage.

Only in Houston. Only at All-Star Weekend.