Two years ago TNT commentator and NBA reporter David Aldridge took some heat for calling NBA All-Star Weekend (ASW) Black Thanksgiving. Aldridge was co-signing the moniker that had been created by his buddy and fellow NBA writer/commentator Michael Wilbon.
Having spent this past weekend covering the game for the first time in my life I’d like to suggest a more accurate “Black” pseudonym for ASW – the Black Sundance Film Festival.
Aldridge said that ASW was like Thanksgiving because NBA royalty descend upon a certain city, take over the town, reconnect with their brethren and then make their way out of it. All of that is true, but the weekend is less like turkey day and more like a certain celebration in Utah for a couple reasons.
First, young ladies don’t show up during Thanksgiving dressed to catch the attention of a gentleman (to put it subtly) the way they do during ASW. If a woman showed up to her mother, grandmother or auntie’s house wearing some of the things I’ve see women wearing over the course of this weekend in Houston, they would immediately get what Black folks call “a straightening,” from Big Mama and everyone else around the table.
Second, Thanksgiving doesn’t cause a 500 percent increase in the price of admission at every place that serves alcohol within a five mile radius. I am constantly shocked and amazed when I walk up to a place and the bouncer asks me with a completely straight face to pay him $50 to get in or offers to let me wait in the shorter line (the one with less than 226 people in it) in exchange for parting with a meager Ulysses S. Grant.
Third, Thanksgiving is a time of family, food and football. ASW is a time parties, players and pomposity.
During the weekend, seeing family is probably the last thing on anyone’s mind, unless of course Cousin Ray Ray got the hook up on the MMG Takeover party at The Compound.
Fourth, for Thanksgiving most people go back to their hometowns and have a quiet few days. For ASW, everyone crams into an already overpacked city, rents out all the hotel rooms and fills every club with a rapper to capacity so they can pay $20 for a drink that was $7 just last week.
I’ve never been to Sundance, but I’ve heard from people who have that it’s much the same. Lots of people, little space and a bunch of parties with power players who provide a justification to charge everyday folks an arm and a leg for the privilege of being present.
During the Sundance film festival, directors, producers, agents, actors, grips, cinematographers and any and everyone else in the industry packs up and heads to Park City to check out the latest independent film features and shorts in hopes of seeing the Next Big Thing before everyone else.
Of course, wherever Hollywood power players go, young ladies in short skirts and the men who love them are sure to follow.
Aldridge was right when he opined that for Black folks, basketball players – and professional athletes, in general – are like royalty. What kicks All-Star up about 20 notches is that just about anyone we consider royalty shows up as well.
This year, Michael Jordan threw his 50th birthday party in Houston during All-Star Weekend, Diddy threw at least two parties, Chris Brown had one, TI, Trinidad James and Young Jeezy hosted one, Jay-Z showed up and threw an “underground” party that according to lore had folks paying $20,000 – $100,000 for VIP bottle service. (It may just be me, but if I’m paying $100,000 I better be paying for the deed on the club, not the right to sit in it.) Then there are the parties hosted by the players themselves.
Similarly, in January, Park City played host to folks like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mathew McConaughey, Jeff Nichols, Guy Pearce, Marc Jacobs and Jessica Biel who all held their own late-night soirees with A-listers, tight security and a crazy asking price if you wanted to get in the door (or a list of names that probably did not include yours).
Sundance is a time when the top names in entertainment come out and put on a show for everyone to see. For the big names, it’s really more of an excuse to party, but Sundance has been a big part of making and breaking careers for young talent looking to break into the business.
ASW is also a place for young players to make a name for themselves. Just like the indy directors who come to Park City with their career riding on the reaction to their big debut, the Rising Stars Game, three-point challenge, slam dunk contest and the All-Star Game itself often start the process of turning unknown and unheralded NBA players into stars.
James White isn’t even a starter for the New York Knicks, but when he showed up at the dunk contest with a cadre of flight attendants for his first dunk, the entire Toyota Center stood up to bear witness. Half the NBA fans I know can barely pronounce Kenneth Faried’s last name, but the Manimal put the world on notice with his 40 point, 10 rebound performance in the Rising Stars Game and his perfect score in the second round of the dunk contest.
ASW gives media and fans from around the country and around the world a chance to see what guys like White, Faried, Kyrie Irving, Damien Lillard, Brandon Knight, Terrence Ross, Jeremy Evans, Dion Waiters and Chandler Parsons can do.
The guys who step up and make the crowd roar can put the world on notice. In the words of a man whose party tonight will cost $150 to walk into: Don’t believe me? Just watch.