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Yao King
by David Carro / February 8, 2003

You can clearly see the traffic jam looking through the window of the Hotel Marriott, headquarter for the NBA and for journalists during this All-Star Weekend. A seemingly never-ending thread of cars goes from outside the city to the downtown. They all want to get a piece of the greatest sports event of the moment.

The All-Star atmosphere is all over Atlanta. You can see big banners advertising the event as soon as you make it to the airport. The taxi driver that takes us to the hotel wears an All-Star cap (like every other taxi driver in the city) and even the key of our room has the logo of the event in it.

The expectations are great. The streets and hotels' halls – the one for players is almost in front of the one for journalists – are filled with fans desperately looking for NBA stars. You can't help but notice Atlanta is also filled with nice ladies coming from all over the country that will probably attend some of the countless night parties thrown this weekend.

But for once, ladies are not the main focus. The focus is on Michael Jordan and Yao Ming. One thing happened in the meeting between the players and the press that we've never seen before. Some low-profile All-Stars are answering questions. Suddenly, a 7-5 Chinese giant enters the room and a crowd of journalists (more less one thousand are credentialed for the event, 59 of them coming from Asia) rush at him, leaving most players completely alone.

In the Jam Session, a mall with a basketball court in it in which All-Star teams workout while fans go shopping around them, you could hardly found Yao's jersey. They were all sold soon after doors were opened. Yao is the man here.

So is Jordan. He was a no-show Friday (as usual), but this All-Star Weekend is partly a tribute to MJ and all kind of questions about him are asked. Every player has talked about his best memories of "Air" and so on. Every player except Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd (their flight was canceled due to snow) and Allen Iverson, who didn't attend the mandatory hour-long media session that precedes the All-Star Game for the second straight season.

THE OTHER GUYS

Yao's jerseys are sold quickly. Former Warrior Sarunas Marciulionis drinks beer at an even faster pace. He is one of many international stars invited by the NBA. Piculin Ortiz (Puerto Rico), Arturas Karnisovas (Lithuania), Doron Jamchy (Israel) and Aleksander Volkov (Ukraine) are also here.

While Marciulionis was in the bar, TNT analyst Charles Barkley was playing one-on-one with Moses Malone in the Jam Session and Magic Johnson was playing horse with Eastern Conference coach Isiah Thomas. Dominique Wilkins was watching them from the sideline next to Hornets forward Jamal Mashburn, who was giving granma a hug. Not far, you could see John Naismith's grandson with a small case that contained the handwritten rules of the game granpa invented some time ago. They are worth $10M, those in the know say.

Late at night, you could find Grizzlies forward Pau Gasol and Nuggets center Nenê dancing in the Latin Party. The Argentines were missing Manu Ginobili, who won't finally play the Rookie Challenge due to injury. His former teammate Marko Jaric will be the substitute.

On our way back to the hotel, a couple of things caught our attention. First, the billboards bought by Mavs owner Mark Cuban proclaiming "Dirty and Nasty in Hotlanta" and “Where is Finley?" The second thing was a very impressive giant ad with Tracy McGrady on a black background with some big wings around him. The MVP of the season so far will have his share of glory here, too. You'll see.

David Carro writes for Gigantes and is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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