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Perfect attendance by All-Stars well before the game
by Marc Narducci / February 20, 2005

During the NBA All-Star Weekend, the players have a much greater responsibility than just showing up on the court. The days of players blowing off the press conferences and paying the fines now appear to be over.

Commissioner David Stern has let it be known that it's the All-Star players' responsibility to help promote the game.

That's why the players had to go through two mandatory press conferences, Friday and Saturday. There was also a practice on Saturday morning at the Colorado Convention Center. Not a single player was missing.

The Convention Center is also the site for the NBA All-Star Jam Sessions, where fans experience interactive basketball activities along with collecting autographs. The Convention Center is huge, with countless numbers
of basketball hoops and plenty of patrons staying in line to shoot from the line.

Fans had to pay a fee just to watch the NBA players in their brief Saturday workouts.

That demonstrates the popularity of NBA players, that fans would pay to see players hoist jump shots.

One had to wonder if the players would show signs of fatigue during a Saturday morning media session that began at 10:45 and was followed by the East practice and then the West workout. After all, many of the players went out on Friday, where there was no shortage of parties.

Still, none of the players appeared to be dragging. And better yet, they seemed enthusiastic about the media interviews and then the practice.

The players seemed in a good mood. As usual, LeBron James commanded a large media contingent, but in the middle of an interview, Washington's Gilbert Arenas put his arm around James and tried to throw him off by making him laugh.

Just like on the court, James kept his composure and announced, "Me and Gilbert are first-time All-Stars."

It's hard to believe with all the hype surrounding James that this is his first All-Star Game, but then again, it's only his second season and he just turned 20.

A popular person during the practice and media sessions was Darryl Dawkins, the former flamboyant NBA center. Dawkins always talked about the fact that he came from the planet Lovetron, and he was given many nicknames, but the one that stuck was "Chocolate Thunder."

Actually, Dawkins was working as a member of the media, doing interviews for The Best Damn Sports Show Period. He was the show's All-Star correspondent, and was as popular as the current day players.

Dawkins signed a slew of autographs.

"Thanks Chocolate," said one appreciative fan.

"No problem," responded Chocolate.

Probably the person who showed the most energy was Shaquille O'Neal. Before the practice, he did a personal appearance at the Jam Session for Nestle's Crunch, one of the products he endorses.

Shaq even conducted an interview before the media session began with ESPN. He was wearing the Nestle's Crunch shirt. Of course, by the time practice rolled around, he was in his All-Star uniform, like the rest of his teammates.

Actually when the media session ended and Shaq rose from his seat, it looked like the parting of the sea. A horde of cameras got up and followed him as he walked toward the center of the court, his every move monitored. Shaq carries such a presence that even many in the press who cover him, are in awe of the Big Diesel.

The practice, which consisted of mainly shooting drills, was televised by NBA-TV. Watching the players shoot jumpers live might be one thing, but anybody who tuned in on television is a true diehard.

Then again, if it's NBA-related, it's likely to appear on NBA-TV. This is a channel that will go to any length to get a story. After Saturday night's activities, one NBA-TV reporter stood on a chair while interviewing 7-foot-2
former ABA and NBA star Artis Gilmore. It was the only way to get level eye-contact with the former center.

Many people have suggested that NBA Saturday has lost its luster, but that wasn't the case at the Pepsi Center.

Even though James didn't enter the slam dunk contest, Atlanta's Josh Smith didn't disappoint anybody by winning the event with some eye-popping jams. The best came when he had Denver's Kenyon Martin sit on a chair in the defensive three-second area. Martin passed Smith the ball and he jumped over Martin and threw it down to a thunderous ovation.

Afterwards in the interview area, Martin was pleading for a portion of Smith's $25,000 first prize.

"I definitely want a piece of that," he told a smiling Smith.

For one of his dunks, Smith wore a retro jersey of former Hawk and master dunker Dominique Wilkins. Smith then rammed home a tomahawk jam that earned him a perfect score.

Afterwards, Wilkens was walking around the arena with a smile the size of Georgia.

"He did me proud," Wilkens kept saying to people over and over.

Quentin Richardson won the three-point shooting contest by burying his final 10 shots. He edged Philadelphia's Kyle Korver by a point.

Richardson may have had an unfair advantage. While Korver was cheered on by Allen Iverson, Richardson had his fiancée Brandy, the singer-actress, sitting on the bench cheering for him. No doubt that provided plenty of inspiration.

Since Denver hasn't been overflowing with celebrities, Brandy had little trouble garnering the spotlight, while her fiancé settled for shooting the lights out of the basket.

Marc Narducci covers the NBA for the Philadelphia Inquirer and is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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