March 22, 2011

A memorable weekend in LA - My pics from the 60th NBA All Star Game

About a month ago, I was lucky enough to represent at the 60th NBA All Star Weekend in Los Angeles. As you can imagine for someone who has been a lifelong fan of the game, it was indubitably one of the most memorable experiences of my life. From getting to meet and converse with the world's best basketball players, watching them compete against each other in the All Star Game and other exciting challenges, to just soaking in the terrific carnival of basketball that the City of Los Angeles had transformed into, there were way too many glorious moments to properly recapture the essence of actually being there.

I kept a daily blog for NBA-India during the Weekend. Check it out!
Day 1: Los Angeles, the Home to a Basketball Pilgrim on ASW.
Day 2: Can the Stars come out and play?
Day 3: The City of Angels, Hollywood, and the Black Mamba.

I know it took some time for me to get around to do this, but I've uploaded several of the photographs that I snapped from my own (very primitive) camera. Of course, if you want well taken photos from good cameras at fantastic angles, you are much better off finding them here - for everyone else, check out my pics and anecdotes below.

The weekend started with the Rookie practice and the Rookie game on Friday. But Friday afternoon was the real entertaining time, as the Media Members were invited to interview all of the Eastern and Western Conference All Star Players.

Being one of the hometown players, the Lakers' power-forward Pau Gasol obviously garnered a lot of attention, from the local as well as the Spanish-language Media. I got around to asking him about his experiences in India. "It was a great experience," Gasol said, "I had a chance to get to know India a little bit, but at the same time I was very busy. Hopefully I can visit again and get some downtime to do more. I'm hoping basketball continues to grow there: The NBA has done a good job in promoting the sport in India. They have gotten the kids excited about it and showed how great basketball is."

A few weeks before the All Star Game, Chris Paul, one of the top point guards in the league, conversed with fans in India via an online chat. Paul remembered the event and spoke about the future growth of the league worldwide. "It's unbelievable how the game has grown," he said, "Just a year ago, I went to London, Paris, and over in China. At one point in the late 90s you could say that basketball is America's game, but now it's a world's game. Everyone has caught up."

The toughest people to catch in the room were LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony (this was nearing the trade deadline and he was still a member of the Nuggets then), hometown player Blake Griffin (who took part in the Rookie Challenge, the Slam Dunk competition, and the All Star Game), and of course, the Black Mamba, Kobe Bryant. The entire city of LA was like Kobe's shrine, and this was literally the clearest pic I could get of him - Kobe's media table was swarmed by nearly a 100 media people even BEFORE he showed up! Winning the All Star Game MVP later only added to his local mythical status.

And here's Derrick Rose, who in about a month's time will be named the regular season's MVP. Rose and Durant were two of the least hyped stars at the Weekend, despite the fact that they had been having incredible individual seasons. Playing point guard to the likes of LeBron and Wade, Rose made it clear before the All Star Game that he was going to defer and let others dominate the night.

Surrounded by 100s like Kobe is his Eastern Conference counterpart LeBron. LeBron ended up having only the second-ever All Star Game triple double since Michael Jordan - an incredible feat - but it wasn't enough as he wasn't able to stop Kobe and co run away with the game on Sunday night.

Many people may not remember this, but Garnett came to India about four years ago, while he was still a Minnesota player, as part of an adidas promotional trip. He visited Bangalore, Delhi, and Agra. When I asked him about it, Garnett spoke about his fondness for Indian food. "I'm a curry guy - so I loved it there!" he said.
On a more serious note, KG added how impressed he was by the schoolkids he worked with back in India. "The best thing about my tour was how the kids in India embraced basketball straight away," said Garnett, "My advice would be that they should know that they can improve in multiple areas. I spoke to kids there and told them that whatever your focus on life may be, be it football or basketball or their studies - they should do it with passion. Show love for whatever you're doing and do it with your heart first."

The first event on Saturday morning was a practice session for the two teams. All the All Stars took different sides of the same court to practice with their coaches for the weekend, but mostly, joke around with each other. After the practice session, they held a Guinness Book of World Records competition of most three-pointers made by a duo in a minute. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen of the Celtics represented the East and scored 13 threes. But their record was short-lived, as Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant quickly took on the challenge for the West and nailed 15 three-pointers to snatch the record away!

Right after the practice session, the Media were given permission to talk to the players on court. This is when I got a chance to approach Dwyane Wade and talk to him. Wade, who was the MVP of last year's All Star Game, said that this time around, he will not be gunning for the MVP - "I predict my teammate Chris Bosh will get it," he said. Wade had a low-key game, but nearly gave his fans a scare after he suffered a minor injury by stepping on Deron Williams' foot during the All Star Game.

One of the more likable characters in the course of the weekend was Ray Allen, who I got the opportunity to interview twice, on Friday and on Saturday. Allen had recently beaten Reggie Miller's record of most three-pointers made, and seemed to be on a roll, having the most efficient season of his career, even in an older age. This was the night that he was to participate in (and lose) the three-point shooting competition. Allen said that when he was growing up, his own shooting idol was Dell Curry.
Another anecdote regarding Ray Allen is that, the previous day, I asked him a question that I didn't really expect him to take seriously: see, I'm a big fan of Spike Lee's basketball classic He Got Game, featuring Ray Allen as a talented young star, Jesus Shuttlesworth, and Denzel Washington as his father who plays him one-on-one at the end of the game. I will not tell you any more about it, except that you need to go and see it. But back to my question: "Ray - who has been your toughest basketball challenge - Kobe Bryant... Or Denzel Washington?"
Without a flinch, and with a straight face, Jesus Shuttlesworth answered: "My toughest challenge is probably eating too much lasagna before a game!"

For most of the time, Thunder teammates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook took their interviews together, a good sign of the bond between the two young stars of one of the league's most exciting up-and-coming squads. Both of them had led Team USA to the FIBA World Championship gold in Turkey last summer, and in the progress, Kevin Durant won the tournament's MVP. Durant was optimistic about the growth of basketball worldwide. "It's great to see the talent developing around the world," he said, "I hope that one day basketball can become the most popular game in the world."

This photo is from Saturday night - the Slam Dunk competition, and here's Blake Griffin about to take off for his final dunk, while being serenaded "I believe I can fly" by a gospel choir, ready to jump over a car. The hype for this event may have been greater than the final product, but actually being there in person made this one of the most entertaining nights ever. I also believe that this was surely the most entertaining slam dunk competition since Vince Carter destroyed everything in his sight 11 years ago. Check out the video of Griffin's dunk here. And for good measure and nostalgia, here are Vince Carter's finest aerial moments.

Lakers fans, the photo below is for you. For Clippers fans, too, if there are any here. This is the Staples Center, the Mecca of Los Angeles Basketball. The area around Staples was entirely of a basketball theme. And I was lucky enough to be given a short tour of the Arena hours before the All Star Game.

ANDDDDD... Here we go... Tip off to the 60th NBA All Star Game - Amar'e Stoudemire and Tim Duncan tipping it off. It was the beginning to the end to a wonderful weekend - thanks a lot NBA for helping me soak in this amazing experience!

What were your thoughts on the All Star Weekend? What were your favourite moments and your favourite players? Feel free to share any thoughts on the comments section below...

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