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Stars show admiration for one another
by Marc Narducci / February 21, 2005

It was a scene witnessed by few in the hallway of the Pepsi Center, one extraordinary athlete walking one way, and another going the opposite direction. Two players from the same draft class, with affiliation to the same city. They stopped and embraced, Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia's Allen Iverson.

"Great job," Bryant said as they embraced about an hour after Iverson had won the MVP of the All-Star Game after compiling 15 points, 10 assists and four rebounds as the Eastern Conference defeated the West, 125-115.

"You keep it going too," Iverson said.

And with that, the two went their separate ways during their brief, but poignant greeting.

The admiration and respect the two ninth-year players and perennial All-Stars had for one another was obvious. Bryant spent his high school years growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs, while Iverson has long been a symbol for Philadelphia's athletic excellence.

That was one of the lasting memories of a highly entertaining All-Star Game that capped an outstanding All-Star Weekend.

Denver proved to be a gracious host and the weather cooperated. In fact Iverson will face a much colder climate when he returns to Philadelphia.

The All-Star Game long ago stopped being competition and has turned into a full-fledged event. That means player introductions that last upwards of 15 minutes, with music, fireworks, dancers and plenty of cheering.

When the players were introduced, Miami guard Dwyane Wade had the biggest smile, soaking in his first All-Star experience, but certainly not his last.

His teammate Shaquille O'Neal received the biggest applause. In fact all the players were greeted enthusiastically, with the exception of Bryant. Colorado is the state where Bryant has experienced his well documented legal woes, which is why he received a mixture of cheers and boos in the introduction.

The pre-game ceremony set the tone for the game. Toby Lightman performed a wonderful acoustic rendition of John Denver's Colorado Rocky Mountain High. The NBA must have been attempting to appeal to the masses because after Lightman, Destiny's Child performed while leading into the player introductions.

And make no doubt about it, the singers in Destiny's Child had the full attention of the NBA players. They are a group of young singers as beautiful as they are talented. Most of the players, and the fans as well, couldn't take their eyes off the singers.

Of course there were other beautiful and talented singers, including Tamia Hill, the wife of Orlando All-Star Grant Hill. She sang the Canadian national anthem and proved her husband isn't the only All-Star in the family.

The NBA went to no lengths for entertainment and during one time-out they introduced hip-hop violinist Miri Ben-Ari. Most, including this writer, didn't realize hip-hop violinists existed, but she played while the Golden State Warriors Team Thunder dunked basketballs off a trampoline. It was difficult to tell what was better, the music or the dunking. If the real Warriors were as successful as high-flying Team Thunder, then maybe they wouldn't be struggling so miserably this season.

Whomever the NBA talent scout is, must be looking at a lot of different acts. One of the people who performed during a time-out was Eyal, a guy who bounces a basketball on his head and does some amazing things. At one point he scored a basket by heading it in and then controlled the rebound with his head.

Pretty heady stuff.

Even though he missed his final 20-footer, the crowd seemed to enjoy Eyal. Hey, it's better than having to watch the commercials. And there must have been plenty of them because the TV time-outs were longer than Shaq's reach.

There is a common bond that NBA All-Stars share and the only people the players seem to respect more than their peers, are the greats of yesteryear. That's why it was heartwarming to see the greeting between former Boston Celtic center Bill Russell and Jermaine O'Neal.

The two had a brief greeting, about as long as Iverson and Bryant's, but one could clearly see the respect O'Neal had for Russell. It's interesting because the current athletes are constantly idolized by others and sometimes
we forget that they have idols of their own. O'Neal was in awe of Russell, who led the Celtics to 11 titles in 13 years.

The pre-game ritual was also far different from the norm. The NBA mandates that locker rooms be open to the media for 45 minutes prior to the game, but many of the star players opt not to talk before regular season or playoff games. In addition, music is usually blaring and videos of the opponent are on the television screen.

None of this happened before the All-Star game. All the players sat by their lockers and answered many of the same questions they have been addressing all week.

And not surprisingly, the locker rooms of the Eastern and Western Conference All-Stars got pretty crowded.

Shaquille O'Neal was in such demand that many electronic media carried long boom microphones in order to reach in over the crowd and catch every phrase from the Diesel. O'Neal seemed like he genuinely enjoyed the weekend banter with the reporters and fans.

In this setting, where there is not pressure to win, the players were able to let their guard down before the final two-month grind of the regular season resumes. All the players seemed so relaxed. It's something they likely won't experience again until next year's All-Star Weekend in Houston.

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

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