The recently unveiled statue of Magic Johnson left fans standing in front in awe. Many of them have been waiting for hours outside the Staples Center as larger-than-life limousines and next generation Hummers piled up around.
Led by Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, the rookies seemed capable of beating a sophomore team in which Amare Stoudemire brought everything Yao Ming lacked: poise and flashiness. The Chinese center was either saving the best of himself for Sunday's game or just didn't care at all about the Rookie Challenge. In the locker room, once the show was over, he looked as apathetic as he was on the basketball court minutes before.
It certainly had nothing to do with the attitude LeBron and Carmelo displayed. From the start, they were all for the show. Thanks to that duo, the last minutes of the game became a Slam Dunk contest one day in advance. As Chris Bosh later said, "dunking is fun and that's what people come to see." Damn right, Chris.
Michael Cooper, the former player of the Los Angles Lakers and coach of the sophomore team, agreed with Bosh. "This games help players ease the stress of the NBA season," he said.
Now a coach of the two-time WNBA champion Los Angeles Sparks, Cooper said sitting in the bench with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar brought to his mind memories of the good old times with the Showtime Lakers. According to Cooper, LeBron and Carmelo could very well develop a rivalry like the one between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in the 80s. If the always candid Cooper says that, you have to believe it.
In the locker room, packed with more people than Sunset Boulevard (after all, there are more than 1,000 journalists credentialed for the All-Star Weekend) Clippers guard Marko Jaric said Shaq was his favorite for MVP of the All-Star Game while his former teammate in Bologna Emanuel Ginobili answered questions about his reserve status in San Antonio almost naked. No FCC action is expected, though.
Among the 18,977 spectators of the game, you could easily spot Shaquille O'Neal and his daughter speaking with Celtic legend Bill Russell and Heat president Pat Riley. Worth noting: The security officers asked Riley (looking much better now than a few months ago) to show his credential. That had to hurt. At least, the fans in L.A. still seem to love him as if years hadn't gone by.
They showed how much they appreciate LeBron, too – especially when he threw his shoes into the crowd once the game had come to an end. Bet the farm those will be on eBay soon.
Juan Pipkin is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com
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