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Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Contact Foul On The Commissioner

Illustration for article titled Contact Foul On The Commissioner

The 76ers and Rockets were so looking forward to the NBA's All-Star break that they didn't even bother to show up last night. Both were blown out by 30+, and both looked like they could've been beaten by any of the teams assembled for the RadioShack Shooting Stars challenge.

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Not that the NBA's All-Star weekend is about basketball at all... it is about parties; the kind of parties to which I am never likely to be invited. But, if you'd like a quick look inside one such shindig, we've gotten our hands on an excerpt of a book entitled "The Sixth Man", by ESPN.com's Chris Palmer, in which he follows around and observes the lives of Rip Hamilton, Tracy McGrady, Luol Deng, Damon Jones, and Elton Brand. Check this out:

When Snoop Dog took the stage at last year
s Players Association party in Los Angeles, David Stern and Billy Hunter stood in the wings, admiring the show, as a heavy cloud of marijuana smoke floated in the air above theirheads.

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David Stern is a lot cooler than we thought. Not only is he mellow enough to engage in "a chill session" with Bill Simmons, but he can also grab players association boss Billy Hunter, and get loose under a big Cheech cloud with some of his players.

And why not? How can you truly understand your players if you aren't willing to step into their world, and at least catch a little contact buzz? I think this is something Stern and Hunter should consider doing before they sit down to hammer out the NBA's next collective bargaining agreement, too. Things would go a lot smoother.

More from "The Sixth Man" after the jump.

The Sixth Man : A Season Inside the NBA Playground

RadioShack Shooting Stars [NBA.com]

When Snoop Dog took the stage at last year
s Players Association party in Los Angeles, David Stern and Billy Hunter stood in the wings, admiring the show, as a heavy cloud of marijuana smoke floated in the air above their heads. This year, the party
s planners are hoping for a classier affair. Thousands of dressed-to-impress invitees pass through the convention center
s doors to find tables draped in black velvet and elaborate ice sculptures beside each of the dozen bars. Mandy, Elena Bergeron
The Magazine
s rookie NBA reporter
and I are snacking on finger foods when every head in the place turns.

LeBron James has made his entrance, dressed in jeans and Timberland boots. At his side are his three best friends from Akron, Ohio
Randy, Maverick, and Shorty. They roll everywhere together, calling themselves the 4 Horsemen. Each owns a pair of Air Force Ones with little Four Horsemen logos on the heels compliments of Nike. Talk about limited edition. Tonight the foursome dons Four Horsemen letterman jackets with their names embroidered on the front. They also have a fifth in tow: New Orleans Hornets rookie J.R. Smith. Every now and again, LeBron taps him on the shoulder to point something out. J.R. smiles and nods. The rest of the time he stands there with his hands in his pockets.

As far as I know, Smith has no earthly connection to James. They did not go to camp together in high school or play in the same prep all-star game. One wears Nike. The other adidas. But a few months back, I noticed that LeBron often raises his hands above his head after a big play, palms outward, index fingers and thumbs touching to create a spade. Jay-Z uses this gesture to promote his Roc-A-Fella Records empire. LeBron and Jay are friends. The rapper often calls the player
s Horsemen buddies to check up on them. And then, one night on SportsCenter, I saw Smith flash the Roc sign, too.

For young players like Smith, being linked to LeBron is the height of cool. Sebastian Telfair showed me LeBron
s number in his cell phone when he was a senior in high school. But older guys like to be associated with him, too. When the Four Horsemen left their courtside seats during a playoff game last year, in a move that smelled of desperation, Robert
Tractor
Traylor stepped in the LeBron
s path to make sure he got a pound. Before boarding a team bus at the Finals, Kobe talked with LeBron for a good two minutes, which is longer than I
ve seen him talk with anyone.
Keep it up,
he said, before sending LeBron off with a satisfied smile on his face.

Now there are so many well-wishers crowding LeBron, I find myself craving space. I make my way to the front of the room just as Nelly and the St. Lunatics are claiming the stage. In the player VIP section, Allen Iverson two-steps up a storm to "Hot In Herre." Marcus Camby chats with a league official nearby. Quentin Richardson is whispering in the ear of his fiancee, the recording star Brandy. Behind me, Gilbert Arenas is sporting a small fur.
He looks like he borrowed that coat from his grandmother,
quips Elena.

I head to a bar for a drink. When I return, I can
t find Elena. At 5-foot-even, she
s easy to lose at NBA parties. I have no trouble, however, spotting my friend Jack Stevens, who handles security for the Wizards. When Tim Thomas played in Milwaukee, Stevens was his personal bodyguard. His duties included living in Thomas
s house and driving Thomas
s silver Bentley. The two had a falling out when Thomas was traded to the Knicks. So now Stevens lives with the Wizards
Peter Ramos. The 7-foot-3 project from Puerto Rico certainly doesn
t own a Bentley.

Stevens stands as stiffly as ever, feet shoulder-width apart, arms folded, eyes darting side to side. If there
s a Wizard in the room, he
s on call.

There
s Gilbert right over there,
I tell him.

Where?

I point to the grandmother coat and Stevens takes off in that direction, resuming his stance a few feet away from the Wizard
s guard. It
s Damon Jones who can really use his help, though. He nearly gets crushed when Shaq
s extra-large posse brushes up against the crowd of LeBron worshippers. I believe something similar happened to Donkey in Shrek 2.

As soon as the house lights come up, LeBron and his boys make a quick exit, finding a safe perch near the top of the stairs in the lobby where they can watch the revelers spill into the night. LeBron looks like a king on his thrown sitting up there, surrounded by his court. But poor J.R. Smith is lost in the fray below.

What
s up, J.R.? Chris Palmer, ESPN The Magazine.

Oh, yeah, I remember you,
he says.

We
d met at a few of his high school all-star games.

You rolling with LeBron now?

That
s my man. He said he was down to roll tonight so I wanted to come with him. We
re cool. We
ve been boys for awhile.

Even at 6-foot-6, J.R. barely merits a second glance from this crowd
not until LeBron descends from on high to reclaim him.

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