The NBA's All-Star weekend descends upon Las Vegas this Friday – as if the event needed any more glitz and glamour – and it promises to be one of the most star-studded affairs our country has seen in quite some time.
Celebrities from across the board will be on hand – hip hop artists, pop culture icons, movie stars, professional athletes, etc. – and most of those in attendance will be there for the parties instead of the basketball.
Still, the league is offering up plenty of action for the hardcore basketball fan, with a schedule that runs from Friday through Sunday. Here's a look at the weekend's events:
Rookie Challenge. This contest has been perennially dominated by the sophomores and this year figures to be no different. A relatively weak rookie class will be represented by top overall pick Andrea Bargnani, Brandon Roy, Adam Morrison and Jordan Farmar, among others. They'll face a tough task going against a strong sophomore squad led by the point guard duo of Deron Williams and Chris Paul. A pair of 7-foot Andrews – Bynum and Bogut – will patrol the paint for the sophs, who also feature the high-scoring Monta Ellis of the Warriors. This game is usually dominated by guards because they have the ball first and rarely give it up, and it will not please a lot of basketball purists because the defense and ball sharing suffers. But from a standpoint of showcasing some of the league's future talent, it's an intriguing contest. Look for Ellis to go nuts and put up big numbers for a victorious sophomore squad.
D-League All-Star game. The inaugural game will involve the NBDL's best players as they hope to make names for themselves (literally). Have you ever heard of Quemont Greer or Renaldo Major? How about Clay Tucker or Pooh Jeter? Me neither. But they can all play, and they'll get their moment in the sun playing in front of the stars at Thomas and Mack Center. Dreams of playing in the NBA will become more vivid in this setting for these guys, all of whom are gifted and working towards making the big leagues. I'll take the West to win. Why? The Eastern team will be suffering from jet lag. (I had to come up with something.)
Slam Dunk Contest. Nate Robinson won the competition a year ago in a decision that was only slightly less controversial than Bush/Gore in 2000. Robinson edged Andre Iguodala for first place despite missing 13 dunks in a row in the finals. (The rules inexplicably allowed for it.) Because of the relative uproar that followed, the league modified the rules for this year, sparing the crowd from witnessing another deflating 10-minute miss-fest. The changes figure to hurt Robinson, who at 5-foot-9 has a much slimmer margin for error than the other contestants. Gerald Green, Tyrus Thomas and Dwight Howard round out the field, with Green most likely to come away with the title. While both Howard and Thomas are high fliers, big men are generally penalized by judges for having an unfair advantage. Green is a spectacular leaper, and as a first-timer, he'll be pumped for the event. I'll take the young Celtic to win in a runaway.
Three-Point Shootout. Dirk Nowitzki will try to defend his crown against a smooth-shooting field led by the NBA's three-point percentage leader, Jason Kapono. Gilbert Arenas, Mike Miller, Damon Jones and Jason Terry will also fire away for the title. Having taken part in the event four times in my career, I know that experience is a factor. Shooting 25 balls off five different racks in one minute is not a normal basketball act, and it is a disadvantage for those players who haven't been through it at least one time. The newcomers tend to rush through the process, losing their groove pretty quickly while worrying about time running out. That would give the advantage to Nowitzki, a veteran of the competition who is most likely to relax, which is key. Still, I'll predict that Nowitzki's Mavericks teammate Terry will come away with the crown. He's just the sort of big-game shooter who can get hot at the right time.
Skills Challenge. After withdrawing from the field due to his shoulder injury, Steve Nash said, "They might as well have a dunk contest now with the other guys." The "other guys" are LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. Nash is right – those three would make quite a splash in a dunk contest. Instead, they'll be joined by Nash's replacement – Chris Paul – in an event that requires participants to run a circle around the court that involves passing, dribbling and shooting. The player who completes the course in the fastest time wins the title. I'll go with the point guard – Paul.
Shooting Stars. I believe I'm the first player in the competition's brief history to back out due to injury. After all, the contest only requires contestants to shoot a handful of unguarded shots. Still, back spasms will keep me from helping Tony Parker and Kendra Wecker defend our crown from last year. (I know – they don't make 'em as tough as they used to.) Replacing me on Team San Antonio is the legendary "Iceman" – George Gervin. Gervin and company will try to outshoot teams from Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles. I'll be on the sidelines, icing both my back and my ego. (By the way, I'll take Team San Antonio in a repeat.)
56th All-Star game. Many of this year's participants are unable to play due to injury – Nash, Allen Iverson, Yao Ming, Carlos Boozer and Jason Kidd – but there are plenty of stars to go around. Nowitzki and Wade will be on opposite sides of the court again, although the stakes won't be quite as high as they were in last season's NBA finals. Still, after their recent verbal exchange, it will be interesting to watch Nowitzki and Wade go head to head. Normally, this is a game that is an exhibition for three quarters before picking up steam in the fourth, and this year will most likely be no exception. With that in mind, it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone if the game comes down to a Wade/Kobe duel. I'll take the East in this one, with Wade doing what he always does – taking over in the clutch.