“Cory, you’re going to cover All-Star Weekend.” There aren’t that better words a basketball fan could hear, that they’ll be able to attend one of the biggest sporting events of the year. As a Philadelphia teenager, I remember when the All-Star game came to the city in 2002. The Philadelphia Convention Center was converted into NBA Jam Session, the city had a buzz not felt in a long time before, and with hometown vintage athletic apparel brand Mitchell & Ness supplying the wardrobe of the moment, there was an excess of throwback jerseys and Cadillac Escalades about the city. I even remember going to the 1997 All-Star Game in pre-LeBron Cleveland as a kid with my father and friends. There are fewer sporting events in the world that manage to capture both basketball purists and pop culture than the NBA All-Star Weekend. Yes, some boxing events can bring forth such a draw, but it depends on the fighters involved. The Super Bowl is definitely one of the premier spectacles in all of sports, but it definitely draws more of football’s loyal fan base than the person who doesn’t know a touchdown than a timeout. But NBA All-Star Weekend manages to combine the basketball purist with the music aficionado with the fashion maven with the socialite, all under one-arena roof. There’s something about All-Star Weekend that gives off a music festival-type of vibe, and where else can these different cultures collide in America’s melting pot, New York City?
Yes, “The Big Apple” hosted the basketball world over the last four days, as well as every major brand that wanted a piece of the action. And it added a little more “excitement” than your normal, typical All-Star weekend. And I knew early on by the surge of emails hitting my inbox confirming RSVPs to what seemed like Voltron-type collaborative events, that I, alongside my EBONY colleague Aaron and my roommate/fellow writer Chris, would be in for an exhausting, yet highly entertaining weekend. For the first time in a while, I was excited about an assignment. As big of a sports fan as I was, to cover an event and everything around it is like Adidas telling Kanye West he could make whatever he wants. In fact, Kanye was the MVP of All-Star Weekend off the court, as he opened the weekend with his show, shutting down New York’s popular Flatiron District in the process, as well as debuting his highly anticipated sneaker and clothing collaborations with Adidas.
“Bruh, we get to be Michael Jordan? Like, REALLY be MJ?!”, Aaron said, capturing my thoughts to the T. One of the best parts of All-Star Weekend that I never had the chance to experience as a kid were all the brand installations created to market and entertain both the players coming into the city, as well as the celebrities in attendance that weekend, as well. There were certain brands that you knew, if you got the invite flyer, you’re headed there, no questions asked. RocNation threw a free concert with Kanye West that was followed by an after party at Jay-Z’s 40/40 Club. Hennessy Privilege had an invite-only brunch in Madison Square Garden during the All-Star Game practice sessions. To have world famous mixologists creating high-end cocktails like “The $100 Sidecar” with your breakfast, while watching your favorite NBA players practice in what’s referred to as “The Mecca of Basketball?” Doesn’t get much better than that. But there was more.
Nike, in all of their marketing glory, turned a corner of Chinatown into “Zoom City,” a full basketball installation, complete with a state-of-the-art LED-laced basketball court. Jordan Brand, taking their “I Am Not Michael, I Am Jordan” campaign to new heights, celebrated the history of company founder Michael Jordan with their own LED-lined court re-enacting pivotal moments of MJ’s career. Yes, for an afternoon, I was Michael Jordan. I did basketball drills like Jordan, I took clutch jump shots like Jordan (which I didn’t make, but I called foul). And at the Gatorade “Be Like Mike” event, my good friend Aaron even touched the sky like Jordan.
It was events such as these that made All-Star Weekend as much of a cultural moment as well as a basketball fan’s dream. From me talking old-school Philly hoops with “The Legend In Two Games” Pee-Wee Kirkland at a Mitchell & Ness brunch to Shaquille O’Neal remembering me from my younger days at Sixers games with my father at a Packer Shoes pop-up shop, the events were a weekend of themselves. Oh, and then there was the actual NBA events. I saw Stephen Curry show the flick of the wrist winning the 3-Point Contest, and Zach Levine took flight resurrecting the Slam Dunk Contest. Russell Westbrook put up 41 points before you could blink, setting records and creating posters in the process as the West beat the East, 163-158. And just like that, the 2015 NBA All-Star Weekend was over as fast as it came.
I attended my fair share of events, games, brunches, soirées, and the like over a span of four days. Monday was the first time I had a chance to get normal amounts of sleep. But as happy as I was that it was over, it had also set an expectation for future All-Star Weekends. Having the event in New York created the perfect storm, an exquisite concoction bringing sports and popular culture together in a city big and crazy enough to house it. The weekend is as much of a very expensive networking event and temporary cultural hub as much as it is a celebration of the league’s talent. Just goes to show that there’s big business in branding and basketball, and I enjoyed both sides.
Oh, and Drake released a mixtape (or album depending on who you asked) in the middle of All-Star Weekend that is fire flames. Only in NYC, man.
Cory Townes was born and raised in Philadelphia, and currently lives in Brooklyn. A devout Philly sports fan, Townes is the Social Media Manager for EBONY.com. When he’s not drinking cognac in a turtleneck or singing “Lemonade” by Gucci Mane at karaokes, you can reach him on Twitter @CoryTownes.