Surprised By Joy

Filled with heaping helpings of both the sublime and silly, All-Star weekend has a magic all its own
by Jason Friedman Writer/Reporter

HOUSTON - The NBA’s All-Star extravaganza is for kids; or perhaps, more accurately, for the kid that (hopefully) still resides within each of us.

Before I write any further, full disclosure: I happen to be a slam-dunk candidate for early entry into the grumpy old man hall of fame. Forget the normal rules, regulations and mandatory waiting period – those can all be waived. In fact, the hall’s administrators have probably already commissioned the bust (equipped with the requisite condescending scowl, of course) for my induction ceremony.

And yet even my cynical, jaded soul couldn’t help but be cowed by the sight of so many players, both from the past and present, who have been such an extraordinary source of so many of the memories I hold near and dear to my (cold, cold) heart. There’s Julius Erving, the first NBA player I grew up idolizing and who, temporarily, made me a diehard Philadelphia 76ers fan as a wee lad. There’s Hakeem Olajuwon, who made me an instant convert to Rockets’ red. And there’s Yao Ming, the larger than life superstar who once offered to help teach me Chinese.

You see where I’m going with this? There is simply no way, at least none that I’ve yet devised, to keep one’s inner child at bay while standing amid the men responsible for all those unforgettable moments. And the best part: that exact same magic weaves its spell on the players, too. Check out the beaming smile on Kobe Bryant’s face when he says hello to Dr. J. Watch the way the players react with unrestrained euphoria whenever they witness a particularly filthy dunk. Heck, look at the way Jeremy Lin smiles even while being smack dab in the middle of his run through the Skills Challenge course.

All-Star weekend has the power to deliver this transformative effect en masse and it’s an awesome thing to experience. Spend five minutes chatting up Rudy Tomjanovich about the X’s and O’s integral to the Rockets’ run to back-to-back championships and there’s a zero percent chance you’re walking away feeling blue (unless you’re a Knicks fan, of course). Or just listen to Dikembe Mutombo talk about, well, pretty much anything really, and any rain clouds previously hanging overhead will promptly be swatted away and given the proverbial finger wag.

That’s really the All-Star experience in a nutshell: it’s an event filled with heaping helpings of both the silly and the sublime and it’s up to each individual to find the proper balance that works for them. Sometimes striking the right chord takes effort; at others it can come down to pure luck. But given just the right amount of each, magic can occur; a kind capable of turning even the most curmudgeonly of adults into wide-eyed kids once again.