All-Star Weekend Transforms City, And Players Grateful To Be Part Of It

We touched down in Houston on Thursday afternoon and immediately made our way to the players hotel, which sat right in between the Toyota Center and the George R. Brown Convention Center—home to the 2013 NBA All-Star Jam Session. As we pulled off the interstate, the first thing I noticed was signage for the All-Star event.

The most famous faces in the NBA lined the streets and buildings. Injured All-Star Rajon Rondo’s likeness was on a street light banner. Blake Griffin was on a the first visible pillar in the hotel lobby. Kobe Bryant’s was on the wall to his left.

It’s unavoidable. If you’re in an NBA All-Star city on that one special weekend each year, you’ll know it.

And it’s not just visible to the fans.

“There’s a certain mystique in the air about All-Star,” Heat forward Chris Bosh said. “When you touch down and you get into the city, it’s not really that city anymore. It’s NBA All-Star Weekend. You really get a sense for that.”

I think Bosh probably said it best. All-Star Weekend really becomes a city’s identity, and there are so many eyes on this event not only in Houston but internationally. Tonight’s All-Star Game, live on TNT at 7 p.m., is the centerpiece of a weekend that really begins on Thursday afternoon and runs through Monday morning. The media sessions. The fan interaction. The community projects. The parties. The outdoor concerts.

Alexey Shved called it “Basketball Vegas.” All that’s missing is The Bellagio.

If you think you’re ready for it as a player, you’re probably mistaken. There are just so many facets of All-Star Weekend that at some point you will probably be taken aback by it in your first trip. So easy to do. Imagine catching Dr. J walking out of your hotel lobby as you enter on Saturday night. Little things like that surprise you no matter how many times you get the privilege of coming.

That’s what Russell Westbrook said during Friday’s media availability. You just never know how many times you’ll get asked to play in a game like this, enjoy the weekend with your buddies in the NBA and in front a broadcast audience reaching 215 countries and 47 languages.

There’s a sense of pride being here. NBA players seem to genuinely appreciate being voted in by the fans, by their peers around the league, and they go through all the things associated with the weekend knowing how special it is to be part of it.

Still, it doesn’t mean they’re prepared for it.

“You hear about all the events, you see the events on TV,” Warriors forward David Lee said. “The media events and the hoopla is what surprised me. Really other than the Super Bowl, it’s up on that par.”

Brook Lopez is making his first All-Star appearance this weekend, and it’s a dream come true that he’s hoped for since he was a young kid. Because of that, Lopez decided he wanted to make the most of his trip. He signed up to be part of the Sears Shooting Stars at NBA All-Star Saturday Night because he wanted to take in as many events as possible.

“It’s very surreal to me,” Lopez said. “It’s every basketball player’s goal to play in All-Star Weekend and be an All-Star in your career. To finally be here is pretty cool.”

Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph said not just being part of the game, but doing the day of service in the community and interacting with the fans are all things he enjoys: “It’s part of Houston and it’s part of the weekend.”

Sixers guard Jrue Holiday said being an All-Star is even more surreal than being part of the weekend for the rookie-sophomore event like he was in Los Angeles in 2011. He still hasn’t fully processed he was selected to be an All-Star.

“I’m really trying to take it in and imagine it now,” Holiday said. “It’s pretty cool. I wouldn’t say star-struck, but being able to play against guys I grew up admiring and playing with them is kind of like a dream come true.”

Fans who take in this game, this weekend, are so very fortunate to see the best in the world congregate to play basketball and transform a city into an All-Star City. But that feeling is reciprocated by many of these NBA players as well. Really, everyone who is part of All-Star Weekend is lucky to see the spectacle. It’s why millions across the world will watch tonight, and it’s why Houston will hopefully feel the impact of this weekend long after all the players return to their respective cities.

Because it’s really not just a game.

“That’s what makes it exciting,” Lee said. “It’s that it’s an event.”


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