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J.A. Adande

A Party With a Life of Its Own

February 10, 2004|J.A. Adande

Get ready, Los Angeles. This is no time to act blase. You think just because this city has had the Super Bowl, the Oscars, the Grammys and whatever other big event you can think of, that it's ever experienced anything like what's in store with the NBA All-Stars in town this week?

Nope, never. And no, the 1983 NBA All-Star game at the Forum doesn't count. That's when it was still the All-Star game, not All-Star weekend. That was before the entire event became the Black Super Bowl.

Now, during All-Star weekend, the cultures of sports and hip-hip become one nation under a groove. It's not just the top players in action on the court at Staples Center. It's about rappers in concert. It's about late-night traffic jams, long lines, short skirts and parties, parties, parties.

Back in '83 the most notable side effect of the game was "a lot of bad suits," said Magic Johnson.

"It's amazing how much this game has grown since then to now," Johnson said. "Back in the day, it was only a two-day event. Now it's turned into six, seven days. It's turned into a Carnival- or Mardi Gras-type situation."

It has taken the place of Freaknik, the annual convergence of black college students in Atlanta that eventually was shut down in the late '90s because it overwhelmed the city. As an Atlanta preacher said when the All-Star game was in his town last year, All-Star weekend was "Freaknik times four."

I've seen All-Star weekend heat up Minneapolis in the middle of winter and turn gray-suited, 9-to-5 Washington, D.C., into an all-night party town. But with L.A.'s weather and abundance of celebrities, the expectations for this weekend are as big as ... Shaquille O'Neal.

"There's going to be a lot of superstars there," O'Neal said. "It should turn out to be the best one ever."

O'Neal's face will be all over it, from the billboards around town promoting TNT's coverage, to the multiple parties using his name. You'll see plenty of Magic's smile as well, with a statue unveiling at Staples Center on Wednesday and an American Express tribute featuring everyone from his old Laker teammates to Earth, Wind & Fire on Thursday night.

As usual, there will be parties presented by players, performers and sponsors. Sometimes there will be unusual combinations of all of the above, such as the event held by Laker guard Gary Payton, singer R. Kelly and Dallas Maverick owner Mark Cuban, or the comedy show with hosts Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Mike Epps and a guest appearance by Michael Jordan.

There's a Roc-a-Fella Records party, a GQ party and something called the French Maid Vault party.

And after handing out 10,000 boxes of food to needy families on Friday, the players' association will have its annual party, which has become the weekend's signature event, Saturday night. Snoop Dogg will reprise his headliner performance from the 2001 party, and former President Clinton is expected to repeat his appearance at last year's event.

Any city can have All-Star parties. Only L.A. can have one at the Playboy mansion.

Los Angeles deserves a little bit of the credit for the All-Star game's current size. When Marvin Gaye broke out his soulful national anthem before the 1983 game, it helped fuse the event with pop culture. In Denver the next year, the NBA added the dunk contest and other competitions and spread them over two days. By the 1990s, All-Star weekend had become one of the hottest social stops on the national circuit.

"To me, All-Star weekend is a gathering of basketball and hip-hop lovers across the county," said Felipe Darrell, a Los Angeles party promoter whose Icon Entertainment will put on 12 events this week. "Everybody's a fan of the game, but it's turned into Urban America Party Central. People from all across the country gather who love the game.

"Basketball is a theme for people, especially African Americans, to get together. Basketball is a sport where it's predominantly populated by African Americans. The players have a lot of influence on the party scene in each of these towns. It's turned into a great event. The Super Bowl is probably the biggest event across the country. But for black Americans, All-Star is definitely it."

Said New York Knick guard Stephon Marbury, who played in his second All-Star game last year: "The thing that makes it so good is all of the fans, the camaraderie, people coming together. There are stars ... just one big party."

Why not the actual Super Bowl itself? It's too much of the expense-account set, too influenced by the authoritarian NFL.

"The Super Bowl is very corporate," said Cary Mitchell, a clothier who sells many of the suits you see on NBA draft night. "You see a small percentage of African Americans. The NBA is totally different."

The NBA's championship doesn't make for an ideal party destination because the Finals sites aren't known until the participants are determined, making it impossible to book travel and plan events in advance.

So why not converge on the NCAA basketball tournament's Final Four? Please.

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