It's just a few hours till tip of the 62nd-annual NBA All-Star Game and all anyone seems to want to talk about is Charles Barkley's own 50th birthday party. Barkley's bash comes off a little less refined than Michael Jordan's elaborate celebration of his 50th, which included renting out the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston for six figures.
And plenty of branding.
Barkley's counter? He ends up jumping on the back of one of his bodyguards, getting carried around the House of Blues as rapper Flo Rida performs shirtless.
It's quite the image. One can see why this type of late Saturday night All-Star Weekend affair still dominates the conversation the next evening with the game approaching. You know, the game — the supposed reason they have this weekend of excess in the first place. The NBA needs something to broadcast to those "215 countries and territories" departing NBA commissioner David Stern talks about endlessly during this Houston trip, after all.
Beyonce politely smiles as LeBron and Kobe Bryant both grab some Jay-Z time.
The actual NBA All-Star Game is easy to lose track of amid all the celebrities, all the partying and all the shopping though. It's like Stern needs to attach one of those hideous child leashes to the All-Star Game itself so everyone can keep it in sight.
Even once the thing finally starts — after one of the longest pregame concerts in history from Ne-Yo and showy, smoky starting lineup introductions that Batman would love (there is LeBron James rising up out of the floor on a platform!) — it does not immediately become the focus.
How could it with Beyonce taking her place next to Jay-Z in the front row, showing plenty of leg?
Earlier in the night, the vice president of a major company boasted to me about how he had set up a meet-and-greet with Prince William for his customers on a different trip. But this is America's version of real royalty, playing out at the Toyota Center.
Want more proof? When the All-Stars come out for the second half — after an even longer Alicia Keys halftime concert (she somehow decides "Empire State Of Mind" with its "New York, New York, New York!" refrain is perfect for Houston) — several of the biggest name stop to pay their respects to Jay-Z before retaking the court.
Kobe never tries to dominate the ball in this All-Star Game. He's more than content to move it and let the point guard of his dreams dictate everything.
Jay-Z might be wearing a Brooklyn Nets hat (he has a small ownership share of the team) to top off his all-black outfit, but he's revered by players throughout the league. Beyonce politely smiles as LeBron and Kobe Bryant both grab some Jay-Z time.
And then . . . well, then, basketball finally takes over. Because Chris Paul grabs the game and makes it showy, makes it his.
The Los Angeles Clippers point guard is a 6-foot man in this new LeBron NBA landscape of giants with small man skills. But he controls this All-Star Game in ways that LeBron cannot. Paul is one of the few players in today's NBA who understand what it is to be a good showman.
Kobe, who blocks LeBron to seal what turns into a 143-138 All-Star win for the West, is another. Bryant never tries to dominate the ball in this All-Star Game though. He's more than content to move it and let the point guard of his dreams dictate everything.
The Lakers' frustrated star is more bitter than ever that Stern killed the trade that would have made Paul his teammate rather than a Clipper. The Houston Rockets moved on, found James Harden.
Kobe? He's still tweeting his misery, looking enviously down the West bench at CP3.
Chris Paul World
Paul puts up 20 points, 15 assists and four steals in this star showcase, proves that for all of Kyrie Irving's brilliance this weekend — and for three nights over three different events, the second-year Cav looks like one of the top five players in the league — the NBA's point guard pecking still starts and ends with CP3.
This is a player who understands that memorable All-Star Games are made by passes. Paul sets up Kevin Durant (30 points) for plenty of open looks, makes sure Blake Griffin gets sky high for a chorus of slams. Even involves the hometown Harden (15 points).
Then, when the game gets close late, Paul takes East big man Joakim Noah's foolish one-on-one dare, crosses over till Noah is silly and flat footed — and step backs to drain a 3-pointer.
It's like Stern needs to attach one of those hideous child leashes to the All-Star Game itself so everyone can keep it in sight.
Just when you think Houston's second NBA All-Star Game in seven years is going to be remembered for everything that happens far from the arena, Paul reminds everyone of how entertaining Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas used to make these type of games.
A 50-year-old Michael Jordan will still dominate All-Star Weekend — without ever being spotted at Toyota Center, or any of the other official NBA All-Star venues for that matter. But Paul manages to throw a little basketball into the mix.
"This is crazy," he's caught saying by the on-court microphone after first finding out he's the All-Star MVP.
"You just don't expect something like this."
With the 27-year-old Paul, you actually increasingly do.
In the end, it's a win for Houston too. These All-Stars will leave here party happy.
"Houston should be very proud of their city for the way they set this whole All-Star Weekend up," LeBron says in his postgame press conference. One that is probably being shown in at least some of those 215 countries and territories Stern will eagerly tell anyone all about.
There are police helicopters flying overhead when everyone leaves the Toyota Center. The HPD loves to use its copters. But it's hard to imagine what they thought they'd need them for. This is a satisfied, mild crowd, just looking for one last bash.
There are rumors that Barkley might lead yet another party. After all, his Saturday nighter technically goes in the books as an overall TNT network party even though his 50th dominated the theme.
"I've got the easy part," Paul says back in the arena. "All I've got to do is give (scorers) the ball."
In truth, Paul nearly accomplishes the impossible. He makes everyone remember basketball on an NBA All-Star Weekend. At least for a little while.
Now, where's your next party?