OOB: Previewing NBA All-Star weekend and sticking up for Valentine’s Day



Kyle Scudilla

It’s officially one of my favorite times of year, and I’m not referring to Valentine’s Day.

We’re quickly approaching NBA All-Star Weekend, which is one of the most entertaining events on the sports calendar every year. As an avid NBA fan (and there seem to be fewer and fewer of us by the day), All-Star Weekend is easily one of the major arguments I have in defense of the beleaguered association. I just love seeing some of the world’s best athletes showing off their out-of-this-world ability while having a great time with each other. Nowhere else does such a party atmosphere surround a sporting event.

Here’s a quick rundown of this year’s events and what to expect from them. Even if you’re not an NBA fan (whether you never liked the league or a childhood love of the Knicks turned into a supressed memory), the exhibition these guys will put on in New Orleans is a spectacle unlike anything we’ll see until this same time next year.

Celebrity All-Star Game: This could be by far the most intense event of the weekend, with Ne-Yo, Master P and the “New Orleans” team taking on Chris Tucker, Common, Deion Sanders and the “Hornets” team. While the game is usually somewhat entertaining, here are three can’t-miss elements to this year’s contest:

1) Taylor Hicks is playing. For some reason, I just see this ending in hilariously awkward fashion.

2) The “coaches” are Alyssa Milano and Gabrielle Union, likely showing up to pitch some new movie they’re going to be in or something. I just love when beautiful actresses come to these events, because the announcers always fall into that “whoops, Dave, hope my wife didn’t hear me go one step too far on national TV” moment.

3) The “general managers” are Bill Walton and Stephen A. Smith, who are both responsible for plenty of must-see TV (and broken surround sound systems, for that matter).

Rookie Challenge and Youth Jam: This is the new-fangled name for the rookie-sophomore game, I guess. Nonetheless, there are some great players to be found in this game. Sure, there are a lot of missed alley-oops and ill-advised attempts at making SportsCenter, but this game is a great chance to check out a lot of guys you’ve probably only heard of and haven’t seen play much. The rosters range from guys who are already All-Stars (Brandon Roy) to exciting players on terrible teams (Mike Conley and Juan Carlos Navarro). The sophs should cruise, as usual, but its the ability to say, “Yeah, I’ve seen the guy play” when you pick one of these youngsters as a “steal” in next year’s fantasy draft that is the real incentive for tuning in on Friday.

Skills Challenge: While some complain that the dunk contest sometimes lacks in star power, this event never comes up short, and this year is no different. Jason Kidd, Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Dwyane Wade compete in an obstacle course to start off Saturday night. Enough said.

Three-Point Shootout: Headlined by the likes of Kobe, Nash, Rip, Peja and Boobie (Daniel Gibson, that is), this event is still most likely to be won by defending champ Jason Kapono who shot 51 percent from 3-point range last season. Kobe enters this contest with the worst career percentage from deep of the six competitors, but with all the clutch 3s this guy has hit, is anyone going to bet against him?

Slam Dunk Contest: Dwight Howard is ready to avenge the atrocity that occurred at last year’s contest, where his highly creative dunk (slapping a sticker of his smiling mug on the backboard to show that he got up 12 feet as he dunked) was not understood by the judges. Instead, for the first time in history, the fans will be given the right to choose who wins the dunk-off. While Howard will face some tough competition from the athletic Rudy Gay and last year’s champ, Gerald Green, the dark horse here is former Harlem Globetrotter Jamario Moon.

All-Star Game: Sunday night’s event will take 24 of the league’s best, put them in a sold-out arena and simply say “have fun.” The game itself is a crapshoot, because while you’ll always get some incredibly sick dunks, the score needs to stay close to keep it interesting for the duration of the night. If it does, the final minutes can be epic, as evidenced by the Iverson-Marbury Eastern Conference comeback game in ’01 or Jordan’s overtime fadeaway in ’03.

This year’s All-Star game should, at the very least, show why the NBA’s got a good thing going right now. With the ascension of stars like New Orleans’ hometown hero Paul and Roy joining the ranks of Kobe, LeBron, D-Wade, Yao, ‘Melo, The Big Fundamental, J-Kidd and A.I., there will be plenty of reason to love the NBA this weekend.

Rocker follows in Canseco’s footsteps as ‘jerk we may have to trust’

John Rocker is back in the news, but before you stop reading right there, you may have to pay attention. That’s because Rocker, despite a history that has “total creep” written all over it, is speaking up about steroids in baseball and what league officials, including commissioner Bud Selig, may have known about performance-enhancers before the scandal broke out.

This is all thanks to Jose Canseco, who himself is one of the most unsavory figures in sports but ended up being right about a lot of things in his 2005 book “Juiced.” Now Rocker is saying that Selig knew that certain players failed drug tests and that MLB doctors told Rocker and some of his Texas Rangers teammates that, as long as they were taken the right way, that steroids would not do any harm.

How bad have things gotten in baseball when we’re looking at Canseco and Rocker as the bearers of truth and virtue? If Rocker is right, isn’t it great that used-car-salesman -from-Milwaukee-turned-commissioner Bud Selig was given an extension until 2012? It’s getting to the point where I’d almost rather not know that all this stuff was going on in baseball during my childhood.

As if Curt Schilling weren’t trying hard enough to get everyone to hate baseball, now we’ve got to deal with the continued flow of gruesome details of arguably the biggest black eye in the history of American sports.

Real Men of Genius

This week, we salute you, Latrell Sprewell. In 2004, he turned down a three-year, $21 million dollar contract offer saying “I’ve got a family to feed.” He’s been out of the NBA since and, not surprisingly, fallen on hard times financially. Poor Spree had to sell his yacht for a meager $1.3 million so he’d have enough pennies to scrape together to buy his family some food and drinks. Managing to survive the rigors that come along with descent into the country’s upper-middle class is harder than it looks, I’m sure. To top that, Sprewell’s house is now up for foreclosure.

Now it looks like Sprewell may need a few bucks to make it by. What’s the fair market value for an unemployed, pig-tailed swingman who’s famous for choking his coach anyway?

Random Ruminations

Think one 10th of a second isn’t a long enough duration for anything major to happen? Well, apparently it’s a long enough period of time to kill a tournament dream.

This one comes from my brother: “Why is it that every time I watch Duke play, I have to see a shot of John Scheyer’s parents every two minutes?”

I always hope that around this time of year, a story will come out that Billy Packer won’t be thawed from his cryogenic freeze in time to call March Madness. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, but time is running out. Who better to call the most exciting event of the sporting year than the man who hates every team, coach, player, cheerleader and mascot in the nation. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Billy Packer!

Finally, a word on Valentine’s Day. I realize that once upon a time, it started becoming cool to hate on old Feb. 14, so much so that it is now more popular, it seems, to loathe the holiday rather than be in favor of it. So, as I usually do, I’m supporting the underdog here and rooting for Valentine’s Day. It’s not a holiday’s fault that you paid more attention to your Xbox 360 than your girlfriend and that’s why you are now alone on Valentine’s Day. Nor was it Cupid’s fault that you hooked up with half your hall in the fall semester, and now none of them will talk to you.

YouTubin’ Clip of the Week

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With the slam dunk contest just around the corner, check out NBA.com’s choices for the top 10 contest jams of all time. Here, you can relive the greatness of Dr. J, Spud Webb, ‘Nique, M.J. and Half Man, Half Amazing. After watching this, it’s almost impossible to imagine anyone cracking the top 10. My vote for the most underrated dunk of the bunch goes to Andre Iguodala’s ridiculous “catch off the back of the glass” jam off the feed from Allen Iverson. While he should never have lost to Nate Robinson two years ago, he gave hope to this year’s dunkers that they can join the all-time elite.