The All-Stars of All-Stars — the few transcendent players in the NBA today — can be excused for being a little sluggish at the NBA All-Star Game's official practice sessions Saturday. After all, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul spent their Friday night at the real big event of the weekend: Michael Jordan's 50th birthday party.
Which included its own after-party.
And you could pregame for MJ's bash in any number of creative ways — talking fatherhood with Joel Osteen (Dwyane Wade), promoting a cartoon (LeBron) or just making sure everyone in the free world understands that you and your wife are back together again for real (Kobe Bryant) . . . the possibilities are endless.
Hey, no one said All-Star Weekend wasn't a grind.
"There's no rest on All-Star Weekend," James says. "There's so much going on."
When LeBron looks back and wonders why his 50th birthday party is not some mega milestone event that the world notices, he should recall this squandered Saturday night.
Too bad that almost none of LeBron's big goings-on in Houston have anything to do with basketball, the fans or growing the game that's made him wildly rich and famous. The first time the public will see LeBron James in an actual basketball competition is Sunday night's All-Star Game, the very last event of the weekend.
LeBron blew a huge opportunity in H-Town — and he and the NBA will pay for it for years. Even if both entities are too stubborn to realize it.
Already riding a wave of great publicity for his binge of 30-point, 60-percent shooting games — including an almost ridiculously fawning New York Times piece — LeBron could guarantee himself a lifetime of love and good feelings. All he has to do is dunk.
It's right there for the taking . . . the sort of beloved status that will forever elude Kobe. And what does LeBron do? He wimps out. Again.
Even the greatest of the great don't get many windows like this in sports. And when LeBron looks back and wonders why his 50th birthday party is not some mega milestone event that the world notices, he should recall a squandered Saturday night in Houston.
This All-Star Saturday Night likely marks the last time the 28-year-old James could have legitimately thought of entering the Slam Dunk Contest. Instead, the crowd that packs Toyota Center is treated to clips of James reminiscing about great Slam Dunk Contests past — ones that actually included real stars.
James looks animated and excited in these clips. It's not just the Toyota Center's new gigantic scoreboard video screen. The best player in the NBA is clearly into reliving Vince Carter's famous "It's Over" dunk. LeBron calls it "my favorite." He recreates Carter's "It's Over" arms motion.
The moment clearly meant something to a young LeBron.
Is one of the bit players who now populate this formerly great event going to show up wearing a Blake Griffin jersey next year?
Yet, he'll never give a new generation of NBA fans that same type of memory. The fact that LeBron grasps what the All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk Contest has meant for so many and still will end his career having selfishly refused to ever participate himself just makes it worse.
His Miami Heat teammate Dwyane Wade — who seems to understand how legacies are truly built, unlike LeBron — urged him to participate weeks before this All-Star Weekend. LeBron still never came close to signing on. Wade ended up calling the best player in the world, "Nervous."
When did anyone ever call Jordan nervous?
Even after winning his first title, LeBron James still isn't confident enough to risk failing in a dunk contest? He'd be lauded forever for simply stepping up and seizing the Saturday Night All-Star stage from guys like Terrence Ross and Jeremy Evans.
Ross and Evans put on a decently entertaining show. Evans jumps over an old Utah Jazz center, a journeyman Dallas Mavericks guard and, most memorably, a painting he painstakingly painted himself for the past several weeks. Ross, the winner with 58 percent of the text and Twitter fan vote, jumps over a ball boy.
A Vince Carter Crush
The fans in the arena seem fairly satisfied when they exit Toyota. But there isn't anything close to a buzz in the air.
This is what happens when unknown players are left to close the show. As special All-Star Saturday Night MC Nick Cannon observes in a rare bout of clarity, "(Evans) dunked over a picture of himself dunking." If that doesn't show you how contrived the dunk contest's become, consider this: The winning Ross completed one of his most memorable dunks wearing the old jersey of a player still in the league.
That ball boy Ross leaps? He's the son of Twitter CEO Dick Costolo.
Vince Carter is still jacking up shots for the Dallas Mavericks. Is one of the bit players who now populate this formerly great event going to show up wearing a Blake Griffin jersey in New Orleans next year?
It's gotten to the point where even the feel-good moments are not as innocent as they first appear. That ball boy Ross leaps? He's the son of Twitter CEO Dick Costolo. And it turns out the whole thing is the work of a smart agent. It probably doesn't hurt to build some Twitter love when you're competing in a contest partly decided by . . . Twitter votes.
NBA All-Star Weekend, where only the kids of mega-rich tycoons are prop worthy. Isn't it fantastic!
Save us all.
LeBron James could have. He only needed to step up. Once. For four dunks.
LeBron could have changed the narrative from the parties, from the celebs, from the crowds at The Galleria, from Billy Hunter getting ousted by the Player's Union to one of actual basketball with a few slams. Instead he sidelined himself. Again.
Long before Michael Jordan started winning championships, he built up buzz, crafted his legend and . . . OK, also sold a lot of shoes . . . by realizing that a Saturday night exhibition could be a signature show. Kobe Bryant helped speed the downfall of the slam dunk contest by often turning his back on it, but even he did it once.
Not LeBron. He's been busy this NBA All-Star Weekend. Doing a lot that no one will ever remember. It's been a great party time.
LeBron James is enjoying the best season of his NBA career, one of the greatest seasons of all time. So how is he still so clueless?