Maybe I ended up spending only 48 hours in Denver, but that was still enough time to hand out some belated awards for the NBA's All-Star Weekend:
The Jim Mora Diddly-poo Award for "Most entertaining press conference"
At the annual commissioner's press conference, watching David Stern demolish players' union rep Billy Hunter was like seeing Pacino doing the "Heat" diner scene with Nipsey Russell. At one point, Hunter used the phrase "their sponsors" when he was discussing the union's hopes to get a bigger piece of the marketing pie, prompting Stern to interrupt him with a caustic, "OUR sponsors." Every time Hunter said anything, Stern followed with a withering remark or a condescending, "Can you believe this guy?" smile.
The reporters didn't fare much better with Stern. He listened to their questions, said the reporter's name in the beginning of his answer, made a semi-sarcastic comment within the first five seconds, and then subtly ripped apart the rest of the question as he was answering it. Somehow, he managed to be likable and condescending at the exact same time. I have no idea how he does it. As I've mentioned many times, I'm absolutely fine with his running the country. Is there anyone else on the planet who commands a room like he does? For instance, here's what Stern would sound like if he was the president:
Wolf Blitzer: Mr. President, why haven't we found bin Laden yet?
Stern: Well, Wolf, obviously we're TRYING to find him -- it's not like Afghanistan is the size of Madison Square Garden. I know you're spending less time reporting and more time on your TV show, but you might want to check out the actual size of that area. It's smaller than your ratings. (Sarcastic, followed by a head shake.) But we're committed to finding him, we have some excellent leads right now, and that's all I can say, unless you want me to compromise national security ... which wouldn't be the first time you tried to get me to do that, right Wolf? (Disarming smile, followed by complete contempt.) Next question?
Two more Stern notes:
1. During one answer, he actually used the phrase "collective bargaining bouillabaisse." If you don't think that's the name of my next roto team, you're kidding yourself.
2. Since any media member could ask a question, and since I was feeling especially brazen after three hours of sleep on Saturday, I came within a whisker of raising my hand, just so I could say, "Hi, David, Bill Simmons from ESPN.com ... I was just wondering, is there any chance that you'll grow your mustache back to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 1985 Draft?" I had the whole wording mapped out and everything.
Bottom line: The man frightens me and I was afraid to cross him.
The Bill Belichick Award for "Most devious coaching move in the All-Star Game"
West coach Gregg Popovich went with Nowitzki, Stoudemire, Kobe, McGrady and Ray Allen at crunch time, when the obvious lineup (because of KG's knee) was Kobe, Duncan and the three Phoenix guys -- if only because: A) Nash was the only point guard on the roster, and B) it's always a major advantage to play three guys from the same team (as we learned in the second quarter). It's almost like Popovich didn't want to win the game with the Phoenix guys, like he didn't want to give them the confidence boost or something. You know, since that's his main competition in the West this spring.
(I'm just saying.)
The Vince Neil Award for "Worst comeback"
Did anyone else notice that the NBA brought back the same four events for All-Star Saturday as the ones that fizzled in Los Angeles last year? Back by unpopular demand! If they don't incorporate H-O-R-S-E or a Teammate Halfcourt Shot within the next five years, I'm going to take somebody in the NBA office hostage.
By the way, I was complaining to my friend Matt about this, only because he works for the NBA and I'm always trying to brainwash NBA employees to listen to my ideas, just in case they run into David Stern in a men's room or something and say, "Hey David, heard a great idea ... " Anyway, when I mentioned my idea for Teammate Halfcourt Shot -- two teammates trying to make as many halfcourt shots as possible in 90 seconds, as a thinly-veiled excuse to get some of the superstars involved in a Saturday event -- Matt shook his head and said that it was ridiculous. That led to this exchange:
Me: You're telling me that if Shaq and Wade needed to make five halfcourt shots in 90 seconds to beat Duncan and Ginobili for the title, you would turn the channel before they started shooting?
Matt (thinking): Well, no. Of course not.
The Spanish Pantalones Award for "Most random yet enjoyable All-Star Game sequence"
Minutes before the game, Star Jones triumphantly waddled across the court to her courtside seats -- joined by new husband Al Reynolds, who seemed especially pleased with himself -- and I remember thinking to myself, "If there's a God, Shaq will go plowing into them after a loose ball."
So what happened? First, a waitress accidentally spilled a tray of full champagne glasses on her, ruining her fur coat and causing Section 122 to nearly break out in applause. Star reacted like Joe Pesci in "GoodFellas" after Spider talked back to him -- I thought she was going to pull a gat out and shoot the waitress in the foot. The whole thing was fantastic. And I remember thinking to myself, "Man, that was even better than seeing Shaq plow into her." But later in the first half, LeBron was trying to save a loose ball and ended up diving into the stands ... yup, right into Star Jones. In fact, that should be an All-Star Saturday event -- "Save A Loose Ball And Crash Into Star Jones."
The Anyone Who Ever Followed Cesar Crespo in the 2004 Red Sox Lineup Award for "Most fortunate act to follow"
To Denver, a perfect venue for All-Star Weekend -- nice facilities, tons of hotels, tons of cabs and shuttles, a downtown that allowed you to walk around, even a hotel for the high rollers (the Brown Palace) -- and a city that was 10 times more appreciated by anyone who suffered through the Debacle That Was Jacksonville. I think my favorite part about Denver was seeing some of the people who lived there -- you know, those laid-back guys you went to high school with, the ones who played hacky-sack, followed the Dead around, smoked tons of pot and took eight years to graduate from college. Now they're wandering around downtown wearing "Peace" T-shirts, sipping from a Jamba Juice and wondering how they can find the dude who stole their skis. I always liked these guys.
The Vince McMahon Award for "Best doctoring of crowd noise to make a heel seem like a babyface"
Hey, I'm not saying that the NBA ordered TNT to turn down its crowd microphones when Kobe was introduced ... but Kobe was booed by roughly 65-70 percent of the crowd in Denver before the All-Star Game. It was noticeable, it was loud, and it was beyond awkward. So why couldn't you hear this on TV? At all? Even remotely?
The David Silver Award for "Worst musical performance"
Nelly was the main event at the NBA Players Association's party (NBPA), which was such a hot ticket that scalpers were hawking the invitations outside. I've never seen that before. Anyway, Nelly came out with like nine of his friends, who proceeded to scream the lyrics to his songs in the background, which caused him to start screaming ... basically, everyone screamed at the top of their lungs for an entire hour.
So here's my question: If Nelly released a studio album called "Here are some new songs that I recorded with 10 people who aren't singers screaming in the background and overpowering my lyrics," would anyone buy it? Of course not. So why does almost every rapper approach concerts this way? Are they worried that they don't have any talent, so they hide behind the screaming? Is it a posse thing, like they're worried about picking the two or three buddies who should be on stage, so they just go with their 10 closest friends? And why isn't this more of an outrage? Seriously, if you bought tickets to a U2 concert and Bono came out with nine buddies from Dublin who proceeded to ruin every song, wouldn't you ask for your money back? I don't get it.
The Lacey Chabert In "Mean Girls" Award for "Biggest and most unexpected surprise"
This goes to somebody named Swin Cash, a WNBA star who makes Sue Bird look like Larry Bird. Who knew? She's a knockout. If we can find between 140 and 150 players who look like her, the WNBA will finally be ready to go mainstream.
The Bill Clinton Award for "Smoothest performance in person"
Julius Erving saved a potentially awkward Converse press conference -- nobody was asking questions -- by speaking extemporaneously about his 30-year relationship with the up-and-down shoe company. I can't imagine that there's another ex-superstar, in any sport, who's more eloquent and thoughtful in these situations than Doctor J. And I think that's the main reason MJ's star is beginning to fade, whereas Doc remains as popular as ever -- Doc considers himself to be an ambassador of the game, whereas MJ considers himself to be the ambassador of Nike. Big difference.
The Kiss Unmasked Award for "Goofiest musical decision"
How 'bout that All-Star Halftime Show? LeAnn Rimes, Big & Rich and a deformed dwarf in a cowboy hat ... way to know your audience! This was like Seymour Butts hiring Josh Groban to score his porn movies. Honorable mention goes to A) the hip-hop fiddler; and B) Kelly Clarkson showing up on Saturday with bleached blonde hair and the Avril Lavigne ripoff song, "Since You've Been Gone," her last gasp before she has to leak a sex video to remain famous for another six months.
The Colonel James "You think so, Doctor?" Award for "Most obvious problem we all should have realized ahead of time"
Everyone complained that the All-Star Game game seemed choppy. Know why? In a game that's always controlled by point guards, Steve Nash was the only legitimate point guard in the building. (And yeah, I know Iverson won the MVP award, and he always does a reasonably decent job of imitating a point guard at these things ... but he isn't a true point guard, and that's just the way it is.) Watch the old All-Star Games back in the '80s -- those were great because Isiah, Magic, Cheeks, Stockton, Nixon and Tiny Archibald were setting the table for the big guys and the wingmen. Do you really think Tom Chambers would have won the 1987 MVP playing with Iverson and Gilbert Arenas as his point guards? Please.
I would make three rules to fix this problem so it never happens again:
1. As long as Jason Kidd can walk, he's automatically in the game. Even if he's 75 years old.
2. Each team is REQUIRED to have two true point guards on the roster.
3. If we can't find four true point guards, and if Jason Kidd is somehow incapacitated, then John Stockton has to come out of retirement for one game.
(Note: I'd invite Isiah and Magic as well, but Isiah would end up trading half his team by halftime, and Magic ... well ... )
The Refrigerator Perry Award for "Most depressing ex-star at a signature event"
I know I complain about this every February, but couldn't Magic Johnson take notes from Johnny Carson and Doctor J about how a legend should fade into the sunset? At the rate he's going, Magic is about two years away from getting peed on by Verne Troyer in the "The Surreal Life" house.
(One bright spot: At least he wasn't the heaviest ex-athlete this weekend, not with Charles Barkley waddling around like Biggie Smalls. He's like the new Matthew Perry -- I can't even keep track of his weight fluctuations anymore. Can TNT send out a weekly e-mail or something so I'm properly prepared next time?)
The James Lipton Award for "Best conversation"
To the guys at NBA TV, who kept me entertained for two hours on Sunday afternoon as we debated a simple question: "If they did that NBA All-Time Top 50 List again, only including current players, which guys would make the cut and who would you knock off?" That's why I love All-Star Weekend, for the stupid NBA conversations.
(And by the way, if I don't write an entire column about this Top 50 within the next six months, you have permission to kill me with your bare hands. This could be my first-ever 20,000-word column. Well, after this one.)
The Gretchen Mol Award for "Most overmatched participant in the All-Star Game"
With apologies to Stan Van Gundy, Rashard Lewis and Gilbert Arenas, I'm giving this one to Yao Ming. What happened to this guy? Remember when we thought he could be the Chinese Bill Walton? Why does he always look like he was just picked out of the crowd to play with everybody, like he's just happy to be there? I'm really starting to get worried. If Yao doesn't become one of the 10 best centers of all-time, then Jeff Van Gundy needs to change his name to Ted Van Bundy.
The Heather Locklear Award for "Best throwback performance"
This goes to the Dunk Contest, which featured ...
1. A Pantheon performance by Josh Smith, including the dunk over Kenyon Martin which ranks up there with Stansbury's Statue of Liberty dunk, MJ's elevation dunk, Vince's crazy dunk from 2000, Doc jumping from the foul line and everything else.
2. A Pantheon dunk by Amare Stoudemire and Steve Nash.
3. A Pantheon performance on the Unintentional Comedy Scale by Chris Andersen. Remember the scene in "One On One" when Robby Benson overdoses on greenies and makes a fool out of himself at practice? Now imagine if that happened in front of 20,000 people. That was actually the first time in my life that I've seen something spectacular in person, only I wished I was watching it at home on TV -- with the announcers' and players' reactions -- because I knew it was 10 times more spectacular for everyone at home. Looking back, I think the best part was that he started off the contest by telling the sideline reporter, "It's time for the Birdman to fly." Could somebody find me a time machine so I could travel back to the '80s and make that my high school yearbook quote?
- "It's time for the Birdman to fly."
-- Chris Andersen before missing 47 straight dunks in the 2005 Slam Dunk Contest.
The Dahntay Jones High-Fiving Henry Louis Gates Award for "Moment that I enjoyed infinitely more than the average person"
At the NBPA party, I ended up meeting a reader who is good friends with Kyle Korver. Before I knew it, he and his other two buddies (also readers) were buying me a drink, so I ended up talking to them for a few minutes ... turns out they're all buddies with Korver and flew to Denver to hang out with him for the weekend. That's right, I was hanging with Kyle Korver's posse. And they looked like they fell out of a Banana Republic catalog. I guarantee that I will never feel that comfortable with an NBA player's posse ever again.
(But that raises another question: Would Korver's posse lose a fight to anyone else's posse in the league? I say yes. See, these are the things we should be finding out on All-Star Saturday.)
The Jim Gray Award for "Strangest moment that involved Jim Gray"
Gray and I were introduced for the first time on Saturday afternoon ... he walked away ... and then returned 30 seconds later to ask me, "Are you the Bill Simmons from Page 2?" He proceeded to tell me that I was wrong about his performance after the Artest Melee, when I wrote about his voice "inexplicably quivering." According to Gray, many people on the floor were sprayed with pepper spray -- including him -- which explained his general demeanor after the incident. Fair enough. Although I think this should be another event on All-Star Saturday -- "Spray Jim Gray with Pepper Spray."
Three other goofy brushes with greatness:
1. I followed Mark Eaton in a urinal, which was like following U2 at Lollapalooza.
2. I stood in line to buy drinks at the NBPA party with Wilmer Valderrama, Danny Masterson and a sloppy Bijou Phillips right behind me, but I wasn't quite drunk enough to ask Wilmer the "real or fake?" question about his ex-girlfriend Lindsay Lohan. Wilmer's carrying that secret around like Bob Woodward's carrying Deep Throat's real name.
3. At one point during the NBPA party, you could have formed an isosceles triangle using me, Dikembe Mutombo and Zydrunas Ilgauskas as the three points 20 feet apart. I couldn't have been more riveted -- they were standing out like two skyscrapers. Who wants to sex Mutombo!
The Paris Hilton/Rick Solomon Award for "Strangest vibe in a room where two people actively hate each other"
This actually goes to Sunday's game. Why? Because there was a weird vibe for the entire game. With Shaq and Kobe in the same arena, it was like being at a cocktail party with a couple that just suffered a brutal breakup and didn't realize the other was coming. They were the second-biggest reason this was such a disjointed, unsatisfying game, right behind the lack of point guards. Usually All-Star games have a certain level of camaraderie to them. Not this time. And did you notice how Iverson went out of his way to praise Shaq during his MVP speech, despite the fact that Shaq was on cruise control (even making a cell phone call from the bench in the second quarter). It was like Iverson was intentionally sticking it to Kobe.
(I know, I know ... maybe I read too much into this stuff.)
The Marlon Perkins Award for "Best glimpse at the natural mating process"
This goes to the NBPA party, where the groupies, hookers and ho's were practically ovulating on the dance floor on Saturday night. For the first time in my life, I was at a party that was the COMPLETE OPPOSITE of every party I went to in college. I'm telling you, it was Bizarro Holy Cross. I saw breasts falling out of dresses, people dry-shacking on the dance floor, girls having to be separated who were going after the same guy ... next time, I want to attend this thing wearing one of those hidden cameras like the ones they use on "Real Sports."
(Put it this way: If you're a 6-foot-9 guy who could pass for an NBA player, spend two grand on an Armani suit, fly yourself to the NBPA party next February, load up on some Viagra, then tell every girl you meet that you're a reserve forward on the Raptors or Hornets. There's a decent chance you could have sex 35 times in three hours.)
Three more things about the NBPA party that you need to know:
1. Everyone had to pass through a metal detector on the way in.
2. This was my first party with "Courvousier ($12)" on the main drink menu at every bar, right alongside "Beer ($4)," "Wine ($6)" and "Mixed drinks ($8)."
3. In one of the men's bathrooms, at 1:45 in the morning, there were guys throwing dice against the wall and betting on every roll.
(The NBA ... it's FANNNNNNNN-tastic! I love this game!)
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His Sports Guy's World site is updated every day Monday through Friday.