Basketball, Bourbon Street, and Ghostface Killah: Spending a Crazy NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans

Find out what it was like to have insider access to all the awesome parties and events that took place over NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans.

Smoothie King Center NBA All Star Game 2017 New Orleans
Image via Getty/Jonathan Bachman

A general view of first half action during the 2017 NBA All-Star Game between the Eastern Conference All-Stars and the Western Conference All-Stars at Smoothie King Center on February 19, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Smoothie King Center NBA All Star Game 2017 New Orleans

It is tempting, when attending NBA All-Star Weekend, to make plans to try to go to everything. This is a terrible plan. For starters, there are events that overlap. So many events. They start late, they run long, and sometimes, in the case of ones involving a certain 76ers legend who recently made the Hall of Fame, they don’t happen at all. The best advice I can give, as someone who’s been to a bunch of these things, is to prioritize when possible, then wing it.

Of course, I had never been to All-Star in New Orleans.

Not only was this All-Star in New Orleans, it was in New Orleans for the start of Mardi Gras. Which meant it was party inception. Like, not only did Cam’ron perform at a spot on Bourbon Street on Friday, he performed on a Bourbon Street that was already an utterly hedonistic nightmare at 4 p.m. (Two words: “nipple glitter.”)

Rewind for a second. It would be possible to put together a wildly interesting blog post just on flights to All-Star weekend. I left JFK on a 6:30 a.m. flight and ran into a sleepy-looking Statik Selektah at the gate, fresh out of the studio, along with Joey Badass. Then, as I got settled into my JetBlue seat, I saw someone coming up the aisle in a Milwaukee Bucks practice hoodie and pom-pom topped hat—oh, hi Jason Terry. On our way to baggage claim on the other end, we reminisced about his rookie ASG, in Washington in 2001. Time freaking flies.

My weekend kicked off at the Jordan pop-up in the French Quarter, located right across the street from Sneaker Politics’ Mitchell & Ness pop-up and right down the block from Lids’ Mitchell & Ness pop-up. The Jordan space was a pretty impressive spot, considering they’d built it out from a place that literally didn’t have a floor. Started from the bottom, indeed.

From there, it was a Sprinter ride to St. Augustine High to watch the Jordan Brand Invitational in a packed gym featuring Crescent City and the home team in the opener, followed by national power Oak Hill against a third Louisiana team, Scotlandsville. Oak Hill was without star forward Billy Preston but still ran out to a 20-point first quarter lead thanks to a barrage of threes. Scotlandsville made it a game, cutting Oak Hill’s lead to six late in the fourth, but that was as close as they got. Preston and senior teammate Matt Coleman, both named Jordan Brand Classic selects, showed their chemistry off the floor in a postgame presser—“the Big 12 is gonna be lit next year,” proclaimed Coleman, a Texas commit—but were still pretty hyped to have played in front of Russell Westbrook, Kemba Walker, and Frank Kaminsky. And, you know, us.

Then it was back to the Jordan space on Chartres where Jeezy showed up and nearly tore the place all the way back down to the dirt. A lot of parties mean a two-or-three-song set, but Jeezy dug deep into the catalog and stayed late, ripping off cuts from Thug Motivation 101 and forcing me to finally start using Instagram live video. He left his sunglasses on the whole time and was all in all even more potent than the frozen drinks flowing out of the back. The Jeezy set should have just been a jumpoff for the rest of the night, but that was it for me. I had a 10 a.m. appointment with the devil.

The devil, in this case, was trainer Idan Ravin—the Hoops Whisperer—trainer to the likes of Chris Paul and Kevin Durant. From prior experience, I learned the hard way he doesn’t ease off the gas much when training out-of-shape journalists. “This is Chris Paul’s favorite drill!” he yelled at a previous session as I tried to avoid throwing up on my free shoes. I walked the mile and a half to Nike’s Equality gym with not a small amount of trepidation. In the trailer out back that had been converted to a locker room, I laced my BHM Kyries to the top, anticipating the agony to come.

And then, salvation. Ravin’s car had been involved in an accident that morning, and while he was OK, he wouldn’t be making the session. Instead of torment, we loosened up with some simple stretches and rolled the balls out. After enough of these, I’ve learned that we can do a full-on workout or play. Not both. And even without the workout, the game rapidly devolved to a LaMelo Ball-esque walk-up-and-hope-the-ball-comes-back display. Chris Paul, I am not. But at least that was the only game I’d play that day.

Oh wait.

I’d agreed to also run with Foot Locker that afternoon, so following a quick impromptu Popeye’s stop—Louisiana fast, right?—I headed to the NBA Crossover spot at the Chicory to meet up with the Foot Locker peeps, get yet another pair of shoes (Adidas Hardens this time), scarf down a slice of pizza and head to another high school gym. Foot Locker actually provided refs, who, like most rec league refs, take things way too seriously. Like, y’all are really counting off on an inbounds? C’mon son. For the record, the Hardens held up better than I did.

After that thorough trashing of my body, it was back to the hotel for a quick and oh-so-necessary shower before heading to the Sneaker Politics space for a performance by Juvenile and Mannie Fresh. New Orleans dudes were everywhere all weekend—I’m pretty sure Curren$y performed at literally every venue—but there was zero chance I would miss Juvie. This was one of the shorter sets of the weekend, but it was a super small setting and they did “Back That Azz Up,” which was the equivalent of seeing, say, Snoop in Long Beach. (Shoutout ComplexCon!) One young lady gyrated on the makeshift stage, and both Juvie and Mannie hung out long after their set was over, taking photos, showing off their Reebok x Sneaker Politics x Humidity collab, and reminiscing over the time in the late ‘90s when Reebok brought them PEs for Juvie’s “I Got That Fire” video.

Embiid did say a lot, including offering to take a visibly confused Saric to a strip club in Cameroon. Which, if it happens, needs to be a Complex show.

From there it was off to Bud Light Crew HQ across the street from my hotel, home to all the Complex activities and activations, including a Hot Ones episode that was supposed to have gone down with Master P and Lil Romeo. As it turned out, it hadn’t, and P was allegedly on his way as late as 10 p.m., this time sans Romeo. The rumors were true, and, a mere six hours or so after it was supposed to happen, P brought lots of UUUUNNNNGGGGGHHHH! to the table. You’re going to watch the whole thing.

Don’t let anyone fool you, Saturday is the real main event of All-Star Weekend. The game has been trash for years, but even back when it wasn’t, the game itself was kind of a postlude. By the time it kicks off everyone’s partied out and ready to call it a weekend. Saturday is when the real action is, from the 3-Point Shootout and Dunk Contest to the hardcore partying. With the game late on Sunday and not much else going on during the day, Saturday night is when everyone goes all out.

But first there was Saturday morning to deal with, and a Shaquille O’Neal appearance at Sneaker Politics. He signed tons of his LSU-themed Shaq Attaqs, posed for photos, even lifted a guy over his head, laughing the whole time. There are big people, and then there is Shaq, whose massive frame is only matched by his outsized personality. This is a dude who has life figured out. If I was thinking, I would have asked him for some of his signature Icy Hot for my ruined legs.

I couldn’t stay long, though, as my real work was that afternoon—hosting an All-Star NBA panel at Bud Light Crew HQ. But even before that, I had to catch the Ghostface Killah and Raekwon episode of Hot Ones preceding it. I paused to kill an andouille sausage omelette and more beignets at Cafe Beignet, then raced over to Bud Light to catch the second half of Rae and Ghost. Watch the episode when you get a chance and pay special attention to Raekwon’s face after he eats the final wing. He travels to a whole new plane of existence. Afterwards I introduced myself to Ghost, who thanked me for having them. More like Graciousface Killah, amirite?

The panel I hosted was on the topic of NBA friendships and included Sixers rookie teammates Dario Saric and Joel Embiid as well as Hawks legends Spud Webb and Dominique Wilkins. Webb got there first, and as we waited for Wilkins, remarked “Dominique ALWAYS late.” Friends for 30 years can do this. I popped in and greeted everyone first, expressing admiration for Embiid’s social media skills and assuring Saric that we could just let Joel do all the talking.

Embiid did say a lot, including offering to take a visibly confused Saric to a strip club in Cameroon. Which, if it happens, needs to be a Complex show. But the 57-year-old Wilkins stole the show, imparting decades of Hall of Fame wisdom on the young guys. Like, on being friends with opponents: “You’re friends until you change clothes.” With luck, some of it resonates.

Thanks again to @spuddunks, @DWilkins21, @dariosaric and @JoelEmbiid for making Saturday's @budlight panel so fun.

Here are all of the good things that happened at All-Star Saturday night: Kristaps Porzingis won the Skills Challenge, Eric Gordon lit up an extra set of racks to win the 3-Point Shootout, Candace Parker hit a barefoot three (and DJ Khaled banked in one from straightaway) to earn $10,000 apiece for the Sager Strong Foundation, and Glenn Robinson III converted an absurd, over-three-people two-handed reverse to win one of the worst Dunk Contests ever. That was it. Oh yeah, and Derrick Jones Jr. became the first player to ever wear Supreme collabs in the Dunk Contest. Huge thanks to Mitchell & Ness for the ticket, because I would have been really mad had I spent the $300 face value.

Fortunately though, All-Star Saturday Night was itself prelude to the real main event—the GQ party held at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. We knew we were in the right place when we saw Grizzlies center Marc Gasol getting checked in ahead of us. There was a wild setup for video right out front, where we saw Raekwon displaying dribbling skills that will likely not get him invited to play in the celebrity game anytime soon.

But in the meantime the whiskey was flowing, the crowd was growing, and suddenly the lights went down and the legendary Roots crew turned up. Backed by DJ Jazzy Jeff as well as one hell of a tuba player, they kicked off their set with their own material before bringing out Raekwon to perform live-backed versions of “Criminology” and “Incarcerated Scarfaces.” By that time I’d found my way to the front of the stage, where I leaned on one of the monitors a few feet from Dave Chappelle. When Rae’s part was done, he stood off to the side of the stage, vibing out to a seemingly tireless Black Thought. My friend Coltrane Curtis refers to Thought as “Top Five.” He is not wrong. With Questlove providing the most solid backbeat in hip-hop (or, you know, music), the party raged on. Kyrie Irving emerged from backstage, Joel Embiid towered over the crowd, Myles Turner mingled. Eventually, somehow, I found my way back to the French Quarter.

The game? It happened, I guess. Someone won, someone lost. I wasn’t there. I had a 2:30 p.m. flight, which meant hitting the airport—with four more pairs of shoes than I came with—by 1. I wasn’t the only hoophead leaving early. Legendary NBA newsbreaker Adrian Wojnarowski was on my Newark-bound flight, as was Daily News and NBA TV reporter Frank Isola. “You better not tweet one thing about the game,” Isola said, remarking that I wasn’t gonna be there. I didn’t bother pointing out that he wasn’t gonna be there either. Maybe next year I’ll stay.

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