Cascading through South Philadelphia’s snowy streets in February 2002, Josh Sharkey strolled to the old First Union Center (now renamed the Wells Fargo Center) for a spectacle that would change his life. He gazed around the arena as his favorite ballers dashed across the hardwood. A young Kobe Bryant drained jumpers from 20 feet. Steve Francis danced around defenders, astounding customers, young and old alike.
Then Allen Iverson—Sharkey’s idol, and the man who captivated and helped cultivate the city’s basketball scene—paraded around the court. Sharkey was amazed. He became enthralled with the All-Star Game and the entire weekend surrounding it. He was only one of millions.
It’s not the allure of All-Star Weekend that brought Sharkey and others to grasp their own orange spheres and pretend to be “like Mike” or whatever player they admired. It was the magic of watching their idols before their eyes. Whether it was in the same arena or anywhere around the world, All-Star Weekend isn’t just about the players. It’s a marquee staple that brings together basketball’s plethora of different cultures.
“I was at a young age for the scene, but I immediately picked up a love for the game,” said 5-foot-8 Sharkey (now 17), who plays for the third best team in the state of Pennsylvania and a nationally recognized top-100 club in the country and is the cousin of 10-year NBA veteran Jameer Nelson.
“He is my all-time greatest player, and I model myself after the way that he plays” Sharkey continues. “I love how hard he played and how he had a chip on his shoulder at all times. I picked up my love for the game back then, watching A. I. play at the All-Star Game.”
And Sharkey’s story is similar for many players and lovers of the game. All-Star Weekend, which graces Brooklyn’s Barclays Center starting Friday, has been a tradition for the NBA since 1951 when the All-Star exhibition game came to the Boston Garden. The annual event includes the All-Star Game, Skills Challenge, Three-Point Shootout, Dunk Contest and more. But the game has evolved since its beginning in the ’50s. Now, it revolves not only around players, but the branding of their sneakers, paraphernalia and more—attracting even more fans toward the highly attended weekend, which generally brings in celebrities from all walks of life.
“That’s one thing evolving right now: the importance of the actual game itself,” says Sean E. Sweeney, the content marketing editor of Complex magazine. “In years past, it was the highlight of the weekend. But now it’s more about the honor itself rather than what happens during the game. All you need to know about how important everything else is: just take a look at the number of signature sneakers releasing this weekend. It’s mind-boggling how many there are. And then this year, Kanye West is officially unveiling his first shoe with Adidas, perhaps the most anticipated shoe release of 2015. “The game is always going to be there at the heart of the weekend. But as the weekend expands, it’s everything else that’s growing and making an impact now too.” And that notion connects all of the culture surrounding basketball—not just at the NBA level, but the collegiate, grassroots, high school and even playground levels of the sport.
Nike, Adidas and other companies classically release gear that coincides with Black History Month and the All-Star Game, which are worn, sold and shown off all weekend. At its core, the weekend brings together the biggest names and aficionados in basketball under one roof. And less talked about (but just as important), it brings together the fans, customers and the viewers inside and outside of the arena. “All-Star Week has become the only time every basketball soul on the planet will be in one place,” said Spencer Lund, managing editor of Dime, the basketball and style quarterly. “If All-Star week didn’t exist, all those people and events that overlap with each other before spiraling into the ether would all act as a standalone. We’d all be a lot lonelier because of it.”
Though the game has morphed into a chance for bigger corporations to usurp the money of the everyday man, All-Star Weekend still serves a superior, less costly importance: it feeds the ego of the common ballplayer, whether they’re in Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Sioux Falls or Anywheresville, America and beyond. It’s the time that fans get to careen to their most secure places and watch their favorites wage war, jiggle, shuck and jive for their entertainment. Others are taking notes. Some are motivated with every triple, each crossover and all the big flushes. Jeremy Rincon, a former photographer for BallisLife.com and current product photographer for 12 AM Run (a sneaker and style store created and partially owned by Nas) in Las Vegas, said, “The game itself doesn’t really mean anything, but being elected is important because it’s a power ranking for players.”
All-Star Weekend has changed the atmosphere surrounding basketball each generation when the game’s elite laces sneeks and hits half-court. But it’s the untold stories that bring out the importance of the weekend. It’s not just about rim-rattling slams and deep threes from our favorite entertainers. With the world watching, each dunk, dribble and play is developing a newer passion of the game for dozens of young ballers. This weekend, there will be another Josh Sharkey in the crowd. Every year the cycle continues. Every player wants a piece of the prize. Every guard, each forward wants to be considered elite. Everyone wants to be an All-Star.
“It gives kids that sense of, ‘He’s not that far from me or who I am,’ ” said Jaime Boyer, (commonly referred to as “8Eye”), the man behind the renowned basketball highlight tapes that have gained national prominence. “Seeing those guys, it makes people believe their dreams are attainable. It goes into all kids’ mentalities. Their story can be very similar to [NBA players]. For the Black culture, it’s very inspirational. To the inner-city athletes, it’s important because you see these guys at the top and you know it’s something you can do. It’s very inspirational to see guys like yourself at the top, and it makes you believe it’s something you can also achieve.”
Tyler R. Tynes was born and raised in North Philadelphia and currently is finishing his senior year of college at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Tynes is a contributor for Ebony.com. Between reciting killer Kendrick Lamar verses and picking his high-top fade (90’s baby effect), you can reach him on Twitter @TylerRickyTynes