October 9th, 2000, I was on a New Jersey Transit train to Penn Station en route to Olympic Tower in midtown Manhattan as a Team Sites Editor with NBA.com. It was also Columbus Day and welcoming me out of the subway was a parade. For the first day on my new full-time job, as my man would say, “It was a lot of pimp and circumstances.” For someone who had long been a freelance writer, it was something like a graduation and I felt like Kanye: can’t tell me nothing.
The site, however, was in transition as the league recently began operating it in-house rather than outsourcing. Hence, there were many other new hires like me. The staff that had been there for some time was at the 2000 All-Star weekend in Oakland. Their recollections of Vince’s Magna Carta Holy Grail performance, a full eight months afterwards, was still office water cooler chatter. Kenny Smith’s call on TNT, “IT’S OVAH,” rang throughout the land that All-Star weekend.
I could hardly wait for the 2001 All-Star Weekend, the 50th Anniversary game that was set for Washington, DC, Chocolate City in Parliamentary terms.
However, a few weeks before the event there was an announced proviso. Budget times were hard. A lot of the staff would have to pay their own freight as travel and accommodation expenses were going to be on you. There was also the caveat that some would work Saturday night during the skills competition including the dunk contest while some would work Sunday during the game. The night you did not work you were free to just enjoy the event.
You mean that I get to work Saturday night and then hang out Sunday at the game with all the credentials and access but with no employee responsibilities? Bet!
I called up my “pimp and circumstances” man and we hatched a plan to roll to Washington, DC. He was a basketball fan, and he had gone to Howard University. As a proud HU alum, he also knew where the parties would be poppin’ in our nation’s capital.
We drove from Jersey in his car that Friday afternoon to a downtown hotel.
As we get settled into our hotel room, other homies in the DMV begin to flow through. Then someone realizes Master P and his entourage are on the same floor. This is when P is at his peek, but he wasn’t acting like a high roller at all as evidenced by using the same modest lodgings we booked.
I wasn’t surprised.
The first time I met Percy Miller, he was real humble on the basketball minor league circuit pursuing his dream of playing in the NBA while I was freelancing pursuing similar dreams. After the game, I found him, without his grill in, sitting alone outside the locker room. We chatted for a few, dapped up and he split. He was eventually invited to the camps of the Charlotte Hornets (1998) and Toronto Raptors (1999) and although he didn’t make either team, he represented Nawlins well.
The weekend was on, or so I thought.
The dunk contest was a dud as Desmond Mason of the then-Seattle Super Sonics kind of won by default. His final round competitors of DeShawn Stevenson and Baron Davis were lightweights. The best that could be said of Mason was that he was the most consistent. This was a vast drop off from Vinsanity. Sandwiched between that and the subsequent two-year reign of Golden State Warriors’ Jason Richardson, Mason’s title may go down as the most forgettable.
My more vivid memories were meeting a MuchMusic (now Much) video VJ, and basketball legend Spencer Haywood.
MuchMusic was the Canadian MTV and one of its stars was Namugenyi Kiwanuka. She seemed friendly. Okay, okay, I thought she was smokin’. But my best mack daddy vibe in all of its splendor didn’t work like it did for Marcus in Boomerang.
Later, I mailed to her this fly NBA All-Star jacket I got as part of the weekend swag as a token of my sweatin’ her. Maybe this form of re-gifting is frowned upon by the playa gods, as it didn’t work. And I still miss that jacket.
But meeting Mr. Haywood was definitely a highlight. His journey is just almost mythical and his long wait for enshrinement into the Basketball Hall of Fame should be embarrassing to the powers that be.
When I noticed him practically by himself at the arena, it seemed as if nobody there knew who he was; a brilliant black ghost. He was gracious, warm, and sharing. We mostly talked about the state of the game, and despite his accomplishments being shifted to the periphery, he remained assured about his place in history.
The skills competition didn’t quite live up to the hype. However, the game on Sunday was sure to be thrilling.
It was,but I totally missed it. See what had happened…
My pimp and circumstances man wanted to also see the game. He was my putative ride home, but he didn’t want to wait around at a sports bar or wherever to watch the game. The solution was to see if I could somehow finagle a way for him to get into the arena. As I walk to the arena, I realize that it’s going to be a futile effort.
On the way, I meet ESPN’s Mike Wilbon. PTI was just blowing up and we had a mutual friend, but he engaged me like we were the long-time friends. I briefly considered telling him my plight to see if the big star could make things happen. Thankfully, I rejected that idea.
My option was to stay at game and find another way home or take the “L” and go back with my man.
I felt like I didn’t want to leave my man hanging, so I chose door number 2.
As we reminisced about the weekend up I-95, I missed out on one of the greatest comebacks in All-Star history. The East trailed 95-74 with less than nine minutes left, but Allen Iverson scored 15 points down the stretch and Stephon Marbury hit a couple late three-pointers to lead the 111-110 victory.
Guess I should have worked on taking the train or bumming a ride
Philly 2002 was even crazier. That’s for another day.