Today in The Works: Wrapping it all up and tying a pretty little bow on top.
The Best of Everything
Well, the smoke has cleared, the game is done, and now NBA players have a day to shake off this weekend's craziness and get started with the real part of the season. Shame we won't be around to cover it. In any case, here are our favorite phenomena from All-Star Weekend, with running commentary to preserve the illusion of human minds behind it all.
1. The Basketball Jones
Bethlehem Shoals: I know, that's not even a basketball player, or an event. But if All-Star Weekend is as much about coverage and reams of content as it is the game itself, or those sideshow contests, then the Jones was king. They are absolutely fearless, rolling up on any player -- even a grumpy-puss like Kevin Garnett -- to ask them their latest gonzo question. Plus, almost as awesome as the players telling them what their lockout career of choice would be, or explaining their signature fragrance to Skeets and Tas, is watching the rest of the media react. Sometimes, they're repulsed; others, amazed. Mostly, though, you see that the Jones has become an accepted part of the basketball landscape. The real secret? They're also telling us as much about these athletes as almost anyone else working the weekend.
Eric Freeman: I think that last point is the lesson for everyone. The old methods of journalism are too familiar to today's athletes. To get a real answer, you have to surprise them.
BS: Or just break down and cry while you're talking.
EF: That's what I usually do.
2. The Halftime Show
EF: Yes, this also isn't an athlete, but I want to commend the NBA for having the stones to pick a halftime show that didn't bore like the NFL's completely uninspired Black Eyed Peas choice for the Super Bowl. Rihanna doesn't have the best voice, but she's more of a presence than any other female pop star working today and has some legitimately interesting songs about female sexuality. The highlight, though, was obviously Kanye West's performance of "All of the Lights," a song built to played as loud as possible in a giant stadium. This was the best halftime show since Prince at the Super Bowl in 2007.
BS: Most halftime shows are either exercises in punchline; utter dross with a few glimmers of hope; shaky, barely inspired performances that you keep expecting to come unraveled. This was none of the above. Like the Prince show, which you so wisely reference, that Rihanna set just killed from beginning to end. You know a performer has just dominated an arena -- rare, too, since usually you're struck by the sense of a single, small figure singing in a giant pit -- when the guest stars barely register. Drake and Kanye, two of the biggest names in hip-hop, were neither disturbances nor revelations. They fit right in to the spell Rihanna had already cast. Also, she is unbreakably hot.
EF: I had honestly forgotten that Drake was even involved. I think that proves your point better than anything.
BS: I've always felt like that song had one of Rihanna's best performances on it, even though it was ostensibly just a hook. So it made a lot of sense to me that it was done as part of her set, and that Drake was appropriately incidental.
3. LeBron James
BS: It's tempting to get all snarky and go with his timeout speech, which was up there with the one Antoine Walker gave at some negligible point in Celtics lore. But while Kobe came out gunning, out for the record-tying MVP and to prove a thing or two about himself and the Lakers, LeBron did what he usually did. LBJ played his total game, doing some damage but not going out of his way to take over. And then, suddenly, he was whipping into the lane, dunking over people, and holding Kobe in check. He finished with only the second triple-double in All-Star history, and very nearly yanked the East, kicking and screaming, all the way back to a win. I know, Wade was out, which secretly means that the two of them will never live happily ever after. But holy god. James is just peerless.
EF: The All-Star Game is full of points, but you'd also think it'd be impossible to get a triple-double. The fact that LeBron did it without even seeming to monopolize the ball says a lot about how much talent he has. Even in an exhibition game, he's still clearly the best player on the floor.
BS: But Kobe is still pretty darn good. Still as in, he ain't done yet, paco.
4. Kobe Bryant
EF: Indeed he is. While he scored 37 points and put on the scoring show the fans wanted to see, I want to single out his reverse dunk about three minutes into the game. It's the kind of play he used to pull off a lot, but in his dotage he hasn't been one to try those kind of aerial theatrics. This dunk sent a message that he still has a good deal of energy and maybe even served as notice not to count out the Lakers just because they look disinterested right now.
BS: But you know, this brings up the proverbial Laker question: Even if they have something left, can they really bring it back for the end of the year like nothing happened, or all sync up automatically even if they're all up to snuff by the time of the playoffs. It's some brilliant spin by Kobe, and will certainly give new life to all those old debates about who the best in the league is.
EF: The Celtics did it last year, but they also had some youth in Rondo. Maybe Andrew Bynum is the key!
BS: It was certainly a dramatic way to ring in the second half of the season.
5. Chris Webber
BS: I don't feel that weird putting him up here, seeing as for years, we've been told that the Inside the NBA crew feeds directly into the league's popularity. If All-Star Weekend is always meant to be some combination of celebration, camaraderie, frivolity, and immortality, then Webber may be the only broadcaster associated with this league who has what it takes to match this range of moods. Charles and Kenny are great with the humor and player-fraternity side of it, but no one puts things in perspective like C-Webb, and as far as marketing is concerned, All-Star Weekend does well to be seen as more than one big party. Amusingly, the Fantasy NBA Draft, which was supposed to tap into the whole 60th Anniversary majesty thing, turned into a farce.
EF: Choosing Webber is almost cheating. He's so good on television that you could pick him for any event he does. Although I suppose you could say the same about LeBron. Also, I think we should add that "farce" is not meant as an insult. That thing was a blast, even if those guys know less about NBA history than they should.
BS: At the risk of creating some "Webber is the LeBron of NBA broadcasting meme" (weird, since we put the Jones at the top of our list), it is pretty astounding how many things he can do, well, in front of a camera. I almost wouldn't be surprised if he moved out of sports at some point. Like the way LeBron will one day play golf and lacrosse at the same time.
EF: Webber might have auditioned this weekend. He had a lot to say about education policy during the Rookie Game.
BS: I still want to work with him on his memoirs, if he's looking for a co-author.
6. Blake Griffin
EF: I don't think he was the best performer in the dunk contest, but that's beside the point. Every young star needs a moment at which he arrives on the national stage. Perhaps unfairly, that can't happen if you're best known as a highlight factory for a lottery team. This weekend, a lot of basketball fans got to see Griffin play in a 5-on-5 setting, if not exactly a competitive one. He won the dunk contest and now has a moment -- the car dunk -- that everyone will remember. As with Kevin Durant in 2008, he's now done things in front of lots of eyes. If he makes another appearance next year, I think he could be discussed as one of the NBA's handful of real superstars.
BS: I think he's certainly one of the big stories of the weekend, but more in principle than actually. We have a tendency to forget how deep into the NBA we are, and you're right, this was for a lot of people, their first exposure to Griffin. But that's less and less the case with Griffin than with any rising star before. As a lot of folks have pointed out lately, Griffin is viral beyond belief, even if relatively few of us have taken the time out of our schedule to become regular Clippers viewers. Maybe that's why Griffin belongs up here: he could march into this game as a far more known quantity than even Durant at the same time last year. Dwight Howard's reputation was made by those dunk contests. Griffin, well, him dunking was what the world wanted to see.
EF: I think you're underrating the importance of having a specific accomplishment to put on his resume. The Rookie of the Year will be another, and then he'll be prepped to take over the world. Everyone wants to see him dunk, but not everyone necessarily thinks he's a great player. A highlight doesn't describe a guy's full game.
BS: Well, in that sense, I think the car dunk was a distraction. He didn't actually do much in the game. And really, no one can make a legit name for themselves in the dunk contest ... in the case of Howard, there was already the understanding that he was this amazing presence defensively and on the boards.
EF: Whatever, you smell.
7. TNT All-Star Fantasy Draft
BS: We'll put this on here just so you have a chance to defend it, and I can complain.
EF: Look, as a serious discussion of the greatest players in NBA history it was obviously a giant joke. Everyone apparently forgot about Rick Barry, Bill Walton, and Pete Maravich, which is unconscionable for supposed basketball experts. But anyone who watches TNT regularly knows that those guys have holes in knowledge. The show was a lot of fun as an opportunity for everyone to rag on each other. I just wish they could have cut out Kevin McHale, who apparently thought the only point was to honor the Celtics.
BS: McHale was the biggest letdown. The "Slippery Eel" riff with Webber during the Rookie/Sophomore game was pure poetry, and then he comes out and defines homer putz. All he did was rattle off how many rings the Celtics had. The least he could have done would have been to flex some knowledge on the subject. I agree, it was at its best when things totally fell apart, and I didn't have to think about how disappointed I was. Still, a promising, weird idea that I hope will re-appear at some point.
The Works is written by Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) and Eric Freeman (@freemaneric), who also contributes regularly to Ball Don't Lie. Their Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History is now available.