Commentary

All-Star Weekend: It's a wrap

Originally Published: February 16, 2009
By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

Allen IversonJesse D. Garrabrant/Getty ImagesIverson's new haircut shows a new, forward-looking phase of life for the superstar.

The lesson I learned from this All-Star Weekend is the players care more than you think. And, as they get older, they even care what you think.

With the West team leading 110-91 in the fourth quarter, Allen Iverson's gravelly voice alerted his Eastern Conference teammates, "This ain't over!" as if there was glory to be gained in a gallant comeback. Kevin Garnett was still barking out defensive help from the bench -- "By yourself, by yourself" or "Pick left!"

Afterward, Iverson sounded apologetic for the unexciting game that was memorable only for a flurry of buckets by Shaquille O'Neal in the third quarter, but generally lacked highlight plays or any sense of competition.

"This was a tough All-Star Game for us because it wasn't one for the fans, as far as all the tricks and just playing up-and-down basketball," Iverson said. He blamed the West's roster that featured Yao Ming, Tim Duncan, O'Neal and Pau Gasol. "They played big, and just loaded it up, made us take a bunch of jump shots."

You can also blame a weekend schedule that's so packed with interviews, photo sessions, charity events, promotional appearances, sponsor meetings and parties that by game time Sunday there's no energy left.

"It's not so much a break for us, because we have so many obligations, so many things to do, you're even tireder than you were before you got here," Iverson said.

We'll excuse the grammatical error and let Iverson serve as the spokesman because he made the biggest statement of All-Star Weekend. He did it with his hair, not his mouth, taking the clippers to his signature cornrows Thursday night, removing the hairstyle he brought into the league in the latter part of his rookie year, a look that turned into an emblem for his generation of ballplayers.

"Just ready for a change," Iverson said. "Just wanted to do something else. And then, it's been 13 years."

I asked him if this was about going back to the way he used to be, or moving forward.

"I would say moving forward," Iverson said. "Just being older."

He's 33 now, he's moved away from his old persona, and it feels like the league is moving away from him. He doesn't draw the crowds of reporters the way he used to, when he always seemed to be in the middle of some controversy. This was the first time I didn't go to his table during the Friday player availability session, so I missed his always-honest answers, including his thoughts on whether he will go to heaven or hell.

Everything could use a shock to the status quo from time to time, and in retrospect Iverson was just the right rebel in his earlier years. He made the league look and feel more hip-hop at the time that genre was taking over pop culture. He sparked a brief uprising against all that we knew in basketball, as a 2000-01 Philadelphia 76ers team based around a 6-foot guard who jacked up shots came within three victories of winning the whole thing and denying Shaq and Kobe their mini-dynasty.

That was back in the beginning of the decade. Now we're reaching the end. Time to reflect on the changes.

"I just think it's a new era in my life and my career," Iverson said. "And it's just moving on. I couldn't keep cornrows forever. I don't want to be 50 years old with cornrows."

Michael Jordan's closing in on 50. He turns 46 Tuesday and is sticking with the same bald look that once set the league's hairstyle trend. He was at a private party I attended Thursday night and eventually he wound up holding court in the kitchen, telling stories from the Chicago Bulls glory days. The majority of men stood in the room locked in on him, listening intently.

Jordan remains an alpha male, and always will be ... probably because he'll always need to be. He'll search for whatever competitive outlet he can find. On Thursday he kept proclaiming he'll break 100 when he plays in a celebrity foursome at Bethpage Black before golf's U.S. Open.

I don't think Jordan would have talked so much and so candidly 10 years ago, but now anything that takes you -- and him -- back to the time he ruled the NBA is a good moment for him.

(It had to be a great moment for the guys from the catering company who wound up standing next to Jordan during storytelling hour. I was certain that was their best work night ever ... until later I remembered Jenna Jameson has lived in Scottsdale, so it's possible they've had better.)

I've always found Thursday night to be the best part of All-Star Weekend, the calm before the storm of crowds. By Friday night the parking garages were full and hotel lobbies were filled with the official All-Star uniform (tight, cleavage-baring dresses). If Iverson can make a concession to age then so can I, meaning I didn't stay out as late or party as hard as I did when I first started coming to these things in 1994.

I did make it to LeBron and Jay-Z's "Two Kings" party Saturday night, which was notable not only for the expected attendees such as Spike Lee, Rick Fox and Pau Gasol, but for the random factor of Richard Moll (Bull from "Night Court") and Nets general manager Rod Thorn.

Then I realized that technically Jay-Z, as minority owner of the Nets, is Thorn's boss. So Thorn was doing what any good employee would do by putting in an appearance at the boss' event. Not only that, he's a repeat visitor. Mark Cuban, the type of front office executive you would expect to see at a LeBron/Jay-Z party, said Thorn attended the first one in New Orleans last year. In fact, Cuban said, that's where they finalized the Jason Kidd/Devin Harris trade.

"It's true," Thorn confirmed the next day. "We did."

I love that story. The only way it could be better is if after shaking hands on the deal, Jay-Z's "I Just Wanna Love U" came on and Thorn sang along: "I'm a hustler baby/And I want you to know/It ain't where I've been/It's where I'm about to go."

Another unexpected sighting, since he no longer works with the Suns, was former owner Jerry Colangelo's stepping off an elevator and onto the USAirways Center concourse before the game Sunday. It's been almost two years since Colangelo left the organization completely in the hands of Robert Sarver (we see how that's been working) so I wondered if Colangelo could have been visiting the old offices. It turned out he had just been admiring a new wall dedicated to the major achievements of his life, next to a similar wall honoring Barkley.

"Want to see it?" Colangelo said.

So upstairs we went, and then I was standing next to Colangelo and reading about his life, which encompasses Phoenix becoming a major city thanks to the civic pride in the Suns team he took over, and the impact of the new basketball arena and baseball stadium he built downtown. You'd be hard pressed to find a sports figure who's more essential to his town than Colangelo.

His most recent success was the men's Olympic team. He required a three-year commitment and got it, then got the gold. As a side benefit, there's this new brotherhood among the team members. They're better players and better people because of their association.

At halftime of the All-Star Game, Colangelo passed out special rings to members of the Olympic men's and women's basketball teams who were on hand. You'd think the gold medals would be enough; apparently there can never be too many honors.

Even Bill Russell, who could spend almost two weeks looking at a different championship ring in his collection every day, doesn't mind another prize. The league announced it is naming the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award after him, an honor he found so moving he planned to visit his father's grave to share the news with him.

All-Star Weekends celebrate the best of the best. But the same drive that brought the participants (past and present) here also creates the need for more. These are men who were run by an obsession with success. Yet they all realize it means nothing without someone else to acknowledge it. I guess that would make the audience, those people who wait in lines and gawk at players boarding buses, the stars.

This week I opened a door and saw Jordan standing in a living room. I rode up an escalator only to have the entire Eastern Conference All-Stars step on the descending escalator as I reached the top. I boarded my flight home to L.A. and Dominique Wilkins stepped in line behind me. But the greatest encounter of all turned out to be an employee at the Phoenician who advised me to use the self-parking garage rather than valet park for the LeBron Jay-Z party.

"You'll never get your car out of the valet," she said.

And she was right. After the party I went straight to my car and left while hundreds of people waited out front without a valet in sight.

That's the thing about All-Star Weekend. You never know when you'll come across greatness.

J.A. Adande is an ESPN.com senior writer and the author of "The Best Los Angeles Sports Arguments." Click here to e-mail J.A.