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Philadelphia, PA -- The glitz and glamour of the NBA elite have converged in Philadelphia for the All-Star weekend, and this wonderfully lucky writer has a full pass. That means you, the lucky Memphis readers, have the singular opportunity to hear about that most mysterious of things: my day. Here I go. Rule one of being a sportswriter: Payola rules. My first stop of the morning was to the Philadelphia Courtyard Marriott, mere feet away from the city’s newly cleaned palatial city hall and the media epicenter for this event. Not only did I get the usual passes, media guides, hordes of informational handouts, and Philadelphia press. I also received a fine 100% polyester pullover, a matching 100% polyester scarf, a mini-basketball, and -- the best part of the deal -- a Ben Franklin slammin’ Bobble-Head! All of this fits into a luxurious NBA All-Star shoulder bag made of some plastic substance. I am not saying that payola is a bad thing. I like payola. My wife likes the payola that I get (she has taken all of my Grizzlies Bobble-Heads as well). At the same time, the NBA doesn’t hand this stuff out because Commish Steve Stern likes the press. I have a sneaking suspicion that no one in the NBA really likes the press at all, for that matter. At the same time, the NBA needs the press, and the execs know that a well-paid press is a happy press. And, since press people rarely make (enough) money, payola makes up the slack. And happy press doesn’t keep eyes open and ears wagging. A happy press waxes nostalgic over the Jordan/Kobe match-up, etc. And that’s a good thing, but there are other things that happen as well. Here’s a list:
  • Huge crowds. Everywhere.
  • Super-tight security. Even Eastern Conference starting center Dikembe Mutumbo was not initially allowed into his hotel because he didn’t have his credentials. Big man is 7-2, by the way. And he is one of the most recognizable faces in Philadelphia, mostly because he and Allen Iverson led the Philadelphia 76ers to the league finals last season.
  • The NBA All-Star weekend is totally corporate. 18,000 out of the 20,000 available tickets were co-opted by the NBA. That means that no Philadelphian is actually watching the show. Also, the Philadelphia Convention Center might have some availability for fans to come in and take part of mini-games, an in-convention center court, multiple video game booths, a McDonalds (with $3 quarter pounders), and other various sundries, all with one theme: spend money. The whole event, which people pay to get into, is nothing more than one large advertisement for the NBA.
  • The media get very little actual contact with the All-Stars. Here’s the deal. The NBA allows around 2 hours of “media eligibility” in which the Philadelphia Marriott (a different hotel from the Courtyard Marriott) laid out fifty or so tables, each with a basketball player’s name on the table. Rookies and Sophomores (for Saturday’s Rookie game) are in the front, All-Stars in the back. Then, slowly over the next couple of hours, the players come out to be part of a media buffet in which some writers get a chance for face time and a quote from every single player there. Other writers just find that one hero that inspired him or her to be a sports reporter. Others moderate between the two types, occasionally scribbling a note in order to appear competent and working (that would be me).
  • Justin Timberlake of N’Sync was there. I don’t know why this is a bad thing, but he just annoys me. To make matters worse, big man was wearing a University of Tennessee skull cap. Whatever.
That’s what I have for Friday. Tomorrow is the Rookie game in which Memphis Grizzlies’ Shane Battier and Pau Gasol will show off with the rest of the group. Then we’re off to Sunday and the All-Star game. Stayed tuned.

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