Page 3 staff

DENVER -- Celebrities stink at basketball, but they sure do take it seriously.

Vivica Fox
She may look sweet, but Vivica Fox is one fierce competitor.
The 2005 McDonald's NBA All-Star Celebrity Game started and ended with trash talk and was filled with sweat, muscle and a lot of heart.

In front of an enthusiastic crowd at Denver's downtown Convention Center, actress Vivica A. Fox, the assistant coach for team Denver, started the evening by declaring any slackers would be traded at the half -- which seemed to suit Greg Anthony, the team's general manager, just fine. "We're not very good," quipped Anthony, who was relying on good team management to pull out a victory.

Meanwhile, the leaders of team Nuggets -- actress Gabrielle Union and ESPN NBA analyst Stephen A. Smith -- took the confident, positive-reinforcement route, with Union saying she'd get her team water and towels ... "whatever it takes" to secure a victory. GM Smith called his Nuggets the "Patriots of Celebrity All-Star Games."

At which point, grade-schooler Austin Pawelka came out and introduced the starting lineups. Someone forgot to tell this kid he's 10 years old. He's no rookie, however: Austin has been announcing the Nuggets' starting lineup since he was 8.

"From writing the big hits to making the big shots, it's Ryan Cabrera ... On the court and behind the mike, his moves are always smooth, Brian McKnight." Austin bellowed his clever intros into the microphone with a voice that already sounds like he smokes about six packs a day.

Is it me, or are kids becoming the babies and puppies of sports? They sing national anthems, drop -- rather than toss -- the coin at the Super Bowl and give Michael "Lets Get Ready To Rumble" Buffer a run for his money. Austin is hip, talented and as cute as a button. One can only hope that puberty won't spoil what looks to be a nice career.

SEEN AND HEARD
CELEBRITY ALL-STAR GAME
Seen ...
  • Shaquille O'Neal making a brief appearance at the game's start.
  • Bijou Phillips snapping photos of boyfriend Danny Masterson.
  • Jermaine O'Neal hanging out on the Nuggets' bench.
  • Emeka Okafor keeping a low profile in shades.
  • Nelly's gigantic diamond stud earrings.
  • CNN's Wolf Blitzer with a front-row seat.

    Heard...

  • When Donald Faison of "Scrubs" sinks a 3-pointer: "Call a doctor!"
  • Roger Lodge "hooks people up on TV, and he'll hook people up on the court."
  • "Ladies, give it up for Ryan's [Cabrera] hair!"
  • Greg Anthony telling the opposing team to "speak to the hand!"
  • When DJ Clue gets a layup: "Somebody get a clue!"
  • Vivica A. Fox in the closing minutes: "Take 'em out!"

  • Meanwhile, teen-aged girls squealed with delight at the sight of "That '70s Show" star Wilmer Valderrama, who is unassuming (OK, I don't get it), but clearly was the ladies' favorite. Valderrama, who recently endured a highly publicized breakup with actress-of-the-moment Lindsay Lohan, reportedly now spends a lot of time with Ashlee Simpson.

    That said, there didn't seem to be any excess pushing or shoving with the opposing team's Ryan Cabrera, a k a Simpson's former love interest, whose arms are almost, but not quite, as jacked up as his hair. Any potential for drama was successfully thwarted -- too bad.

    On the court, "Entertainment Tonight" and former ESPN anchor Kevin Frazier showed his skills, dropping a bucket seconds after hitting the floor. Teamed with singer/songwriter and all-around stud Brian McKnight, and hoops stars Nykesha Sales and Diana Taurasi, the Nuggets led 30-23 at the half.

    R&B sensation Ciara, who looks like a younger version of Beyonce and has more moves than a U-Haul van, performed at halftime. Though hypnotic and funky fresh, Ciara was nearly overshadowed by a "Full Monty-esque" crew that called itself the "Mavs Maniacs."

    This Dallas-based collaboration of large-boned, male dancers in fatigue-printed Zuba pants, took the floor to a hip-hop rendition of "We Will Rock You," churned into Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On," and finished by bringing down the house to Usher's "Yeah!"

    When the PA announcer asked for a professional critique, a somewhat speechless Nelly could only muster, "That's entertainment ... that's entertainment."

    The group's rookie member, Jake Palenske, otherwise known as "Little J," shared how he became one of the group's rowdy, proud and loud. "I didn't even like basketball, but I went to a Mavs game, and the atmosphere was incredible," Palenske said. "Then, to top it all off, these guys came out, and I said, 'Some day I will be one of those guys.' That was two years ago."

    Nelly and Wilmer
    Crowd pleasers Nelly and Wilmer Valderrama leave it all out on the court.
    At 26, Little J is the second youngest and the smallest dancer on the squad, but he pays no mind to being the runt. "I figure they need somebody to put on top of their pyramids."

    And while he hasn't quit his day job as CEO of a media company, Little J said, "It has been a way bigger experience than I was expecting, but in a very good way."

    Back on the court, "Blind Date's" Roger Lodge guaranteed a come-from-behind victory for team Denver, and "ET's" Frazier switched jerseys to help make that happen.

    Things looked promising when Frazier launched a no-look pass to WNBA's Becky "Should've Placed Higher in Page 2's Hottest Athlete Poll" Hammon, who sunk the bucket. But treason is not without consequence, as Taurasi, the night's class clown, answered by giving Frazier a wedgy.

    In what was a close finish, team Nuggets pulled out a 65-64 victory over team Denver.

    Some other interesting game notes:

    Why are we so obsessed with celebrities' height?

    While sharing the list of celebrities with a co-worker, at the mention of "Blind Date" host Roger Lodge, she snapped: "Oh, I heard he's like 5 feet tall. Hollywood is like munchkin land."

    Well, let the record show that Lodge is, in fact, over 5 feet. He ctually looks closer to 6-foot, though it's tough to tell considering he dwarfed many of his teammates and the competition. Who? Never mind.

    Best breaking a sweat: "ET's" Kevin Frazier
    Best fashion: Lisa Leslie, who wore a uniform-matching blue headband.
    Court clown: Diana Taurasi gave wedgies, laughed and had a good time.
    Best bling: Nelly
    Best hair: "That '70s Show's" Danny Masterson for keeping the '70s fro
    Best game: MVP Brian McKnight
    Court couple: Greg Anthony and Vivica A. Fox. ... After the game, couples expert Roger Lodge said he saw "some sparks" between the two fierce competitors. It could have been a way to fuel a victory, but be sure to tune in to the next "Blind Date."