City Sports Report

A look back at NBA All Star Weekend

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by Lloyd Carroll

The NBA All Star Weekend is more about marketing and business than a basketball contest between the best players in the league’s eastern and western conferences. Since the early 1990s the game has become an excuse for the NBA to turn it into a long weekend festival that benefits corporate sponsors, television partners, and a given city’s tourism industry. When you put an All-Star Game in New York, all of those factors get magnified tenfold.

The last time the NBA played its All-Star Game here was in 1998 and that now seems like the Stone Age. A small fan festival was held at the Javits Center that year but it paled in comparison to the NBA House that the league set up at Moynihan Station on 33rd Street. Corporations such as State Farm, Kia, Samsung, and Coca-Cola smartly promoted themselves by having interactive basketball skill games with the public as well as taking photographs that the public was urged to post on social media.

All-Star Weekend is an important time for the National Basketball Players Association to meet since it’s a rare opportunity to gather a lot of its high-profile rank and file. It was also a chance for the players to get to know its new impressive executive director, Michele Roberts.

Roberts certainly put NBA team owners on notice that the players association would not roll over in the next collective bargaining agreement as has happened in the past by naming LeBron James as its vice president.

LeBron James’ decision to be involved in union activities is a clear shot at Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan. Both Jordan and James are key endorsers for Nike, which can’t make its CEO, Phil Knight, very happy. Many players, including James, were livid at Jordan for encouraging his fellow owners to take a hard line in the last labor contract that led to a lockout of the players.

WNBA stars such as Swin Cash, Tamika Catchings, Elena Delle Donne and Christ the King High School alum Sue Bird took part in the All-Star Game skills competition at Barclays Center on Saturday night.

The WNBA made news last week when one of its best players, Diana Taurasi, announced that she would only be playing in Europe because (a) players are compensated far better there, and (b) she can no longer play nearly 12 months a year without taking a break.

Sue Bird wasn’t sure that others would be following Taurasi’s lead but understood her rationale. Swin Cash was more adamant as she told me that this should be a wake-up call to the WNBA, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the NBA, about improving the economic lives of its players.  Cash also agreed that the WNBA and its players have been hurt by the perennial also-ran status of the New York Liberty.

A decade ago then-NBA Commissioner David Stern instituted a dress code for NBA players because he got tired of seeing too many of them wearing baggy sweat pants and oversized t-shirts and jerseys. Stern was worried that corporate America would turns its collective back on his sport because of his players’ sloppy appearance.

Fast forward 10 years later and most NBA players dress in stylish suits that now make Stern’s attire seem rather dowdy. The All-Star Game festivities coincided with New York Fashion Week and these days a number of athletes have side businesses in the garment industry. Houston Rockets’ guard James Harden has created a collection of suits that are sold exclusively in Bloomingdale’s and has a sporting apparel partnership with Foot Locker. Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry has a clothing deal with Express similar to the one that Harden has with Bloomingdale’s. On Saturday night cable’s TNT even broadcast a special of NBA All-Stars walking the runway in sartorial splendor in a fashion show that took place at the Hammerstein Ballroom.

The TNT Fashion Show was made in conjunction with Spring Hill Productions, whose CEO is LeBron James. Spring Hill was the Akron, Ohio housing project where he grew up. James wants a career in the business side of the entertainment industry and he graces the cover of this week’s Hollywood Reporter, a weekly showbiz trade periodical that competes with Variety.

Don’t let it be said that NFL players don’t take their style seriously as well. New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings, Oakland Raiders cornerback DJ Hayden, and St. Louis Rams safety Rodney McLeod served as models at the Nolchia event that was part of New York Fashion Week. The players wore Carl Gross sports jackets, Alberto pants, Haupt shirts, Codice knitwear, and dress shoes from a new company in the high-end men’s footwear industry, New York-based Paul Drish. The next day former NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens visited the Madison Avenue showroom of the men’s clothing manufacturer Schuyler 4 to select some new threads.

The bitter New York February weather was on the minds of some of the NBA All-Stars. When I saw bundled-up Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade entering the player interview room on the second floor of the New York Sheraton I told him that I wished that he could have brought some of that warm Dade County weather with him. He replied “I was just thinking the same thing to myself!” Portland Trailblazers center LaMarcus Aldridge, who is reportedly on the Knicks’ free agent wish list this summer, was philosophical when asked about the polar conditions that were gripping our town. “Hey, it’s cold almost everywhere this time of year!” he replied alluding that atmospheric conditions would not affect his decision on where to play next season.

Former Rego Park resident, and in the opinion of many, the greatest Knicks player of all-time, Willis Reed, returned to New York for All-Star Weekend. After his playing days were over he worked as an executive for both the Knicks and Nets. He told me that his old Knicks teammate, Phil Jackson, has not consulted with him about current Knicks personnel or potential incoming talent but that he has faith in his abilities to turn the Knicks’ fortunes around.

Reed added that while he was proud of the two NBA titles the Knicks won, he is still bothered a potential third title eluded him. “We had a great team in 1972 but I had to miss the NBA Finals because of tendinitis in my left knee. We lost in five games to the Lakers.”

You are never too old or too successful to stop learning. Jerry Stackhouse had a solid 18-year NBA career before retiring after the 2013 season when he and the Nets parted ways. Jerry was hoping to be an executive with the National Basketball Players Association but the political winds did not blow in his favor. He told me that he is thinking of pursuing an MBA at the New York University Graduate School of Business Administration.

The Millrose Games used to be a veritable all-star track and field competition that was held annually the last week of January at Madison Square Garden. A few years ago, reflective of the relative lack of public interest in track & field, the Millrose Games were moved from the Garden to the Armory in Washington Heights. In addition, the event shifted on the calendar to the Saturday of Presidents Day Weekend.

Normally that date change would not be much of an issue but you have to wonder why the New York Road Runners, who have taken over management of the Millrose Games, did not shift the event to another weekend knowing that the NBA All-Star Game was taking place this particular holiday weekend. Not only would the Millrose Games be completely overshadowed in the media but the hotel room rates for the athletes taking part would be a lot higher than normal. In addition to the NBA All-Star Game, hotels were enjoying increased demand thanks to both New York Fashion Week and Toy Fair, which brings vendors of all things fun and games to the Javits Center.

“Saturday Night Live” is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and NBC commemorated it with a 3 ½ hour special on Sunday night.

Notable athletes such as Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter, and Peyton Manning have hosted the show. For my money, Peyton was one of the best hosts in the show’s history, as he nicely skewered his image for laughs.

“Saturday Night Live” czar Lorne Michaels should reach out to Tiger Woods, who is taking some time off from the PGA Tour, to host. I believe that Woods would be very entertaining and that he’d embrace the opportunity to poke fun at himself.

The annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue has Derek Jeter’s current girlfriend, model Hannah Davis, on its cover. As attractive as Ms. Davis is, you have to believe that dating “The Captain” certainly helped her land this prime piece of periodical real estate.

Before the advent of the Internet, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue was a big deal for guys of almost every age group. For teens it had the forbidden appeal of sneaking a peek at dad’s copy of Playboy.

Being in the SI swimsuit issue still confers “hot chick” status but it’s really not a water cooler conversation topic for guys anymore. The odds are that just as many, if not more, women know who the models that are showing off swimwear in its pages than guys do. My friend, Hillary Atkin, who writes for Variety and a number of other entertainment industry magazines, pointed out to me that the Victoria Secret models are far bigger names in her beat than the beauty queens are who grace SI’s pages each February.

To give its 2015 swimsuit issue at least a drop of athletic credibility, SI contracted ubiquitous tennis star Caroline Wozniacki to model on a tropical beach.

Finding beverages that both taste good and are good for you is not easy. Here are two good alternatives to sugary soft drinks.

Long Island City’s own Tea In First makes a bottled spiced chai tea that is high in anti-oxidants thanks to its cinnamon and ginger. Check out their website, teainfirst.com for more information.

Although I am not crazy about its name, All Beauty Water is very refreshing and comes in three flavors: strawberry acai, cucumber aloe, and pomegranate rose, and they all have zero calories without any aftertaste. The company claims that each bottle contains numerous vitamins and nutrients that helps your skin look healthy and properly hydrated for long periods.

This snap of bitter cold weather not only makes it unpleasant to be outside but it can also wreak havoc on one’s skin thanks to chapping and cracking. Merilyn Konnerth started a company called Pharmacist’s Daughter (a nice play on “the farmer’s daughter” as well as being a tribute to her father’s profession) that makes numerous lotions, balms, salves, and creams to soothe and repair irritated skin. Ms. Konnerth was motivated to form her company not so much to make a living in the personal care industry but because she was fighting cancer and felt that there weren’t any over-the-counter dermatological products that met her needs.

Another negative aspect of arctic weather is that it makes it more painful to climb stairs and hills and this is particularly true as you age. One way to reduce this inevitable discomfort is to take a multivitamin such as that made by Nutrafol that contains a strong dose of the anti-inflammatory supplement curcumin. There are also benefits for skin and hair.

Colorado tourism officials were in town last week to promote their state. While Governor Cuomo is trying to launch a long overdue rail line between LaGuardia Airport and the subway, Colorado authorities will be opening a rail line that will connect Denver International Airport with downtown Denver, some 25 miles away, in 2016.

Marijuana consumption is legal in Colorado but the officials there say that there are no plans to promote that fact in any tourism campaigns. What they did tell me was that the sales tax revenue that has been raised from cannabis consumption has led to such a budget surplus that taxpayers have gotten rebate checks.

CBS, which bought the sleepy TV Guide Network in 2013, rebranded it last month as Pop TV in an effort to give competition to Comcast’s E! in the cable celebrity/popular culture space. Last week it debuted its first comedy series, “Schitt’$ Creek,” that stars “Second City TV” veterans Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara as well as veteran comedy actor and writer Chris Elliott. With that kind of casting you can be sure of quality laughs, and the show, which airs Wednesdays at 10pm, lives up to the expectations. “Schitt’$ Creek” is akin to a “Beverly Hillbillies” in reverse. Levy and O’Hara play recent one percenters who have just lost nearly all of their fortune because their CPA embezzled from them and the IRS has repossessed their non-monetary assets to satisfy tax liens. They now have to live in a backwoods town in order to make ends meet.

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