The NBA’s All-Star Weekend is more than just an exhibition game—it’s a celebration of everything to do with the sport. This year, with the festivities being held in Toronto, it promises to be bigger than ever.
In all my years working in the NBA, Toronto has always been a favourite road stop for players, almost an in-season oasis. I would put it up on the list with Miami, New York and Los Angeles as most-enjoyed NBA cities by NBA players.
I have many theories as to why this is, but the main reasons are simple:
1) The Nightlife. Toronto has a going-out culture that’s been exquisitely cultivated by those of its residents who are well ingrained in NBA social circles. I’m sure some of these people have been counting down to All-Star Weekend in Toronto for years. This is their Super Bowl.
2) The Money. Because of the exchange, I have found that players almost lose track of the value of their money when visiting Toronto. I had one client describe Canadian currency as “Monopoly money,” and sometimes it’s spent as such.
When it comes to the Weekend itself, things really kick off when players start getting to town on the Thursday night. Whichever hotel the league puts the players up in typically becomes the epicentre of activity, and the NBA works hard to create a secure environment.
Typically, Thursday will see the implementation of a 24-hour security detail at the front door that’ll stretch through the weekend. Anyone entering the hotel will have to have a key or be accompanied by someone with a key, and as people who aren’t guests start to figure this out, you begin to notice people who never seem to leave the lobby.
Once, when the game was in LA, there was a group of female fans that literally just rode the elevators for most of the day waiting to see who they could meet.
Beyond being a spot for fans to loiter, the lobby becomes a meeting ground for everyone connected to the league. One year I was meeting with a client in a restaurant in the lobby of a hotel and looked over and saw Allen Iverson eating at a nearby table. Michael Jordan and Charles Oakley were at the table next to AI, and Larry Bird was walking by on the way to the bathroom.
That same year, I ran into a player who was participating in the All-Star Game at the hotel bar having a drink before he went to practice. The weekend has a festive atmosphere to say the least.
For players, if it’s not handled correctly, All-Star Weekend is a logistical nightmare. It’s the weekend where everyone they know wants to tag along. Want to go to the dunk contest? Enjoy spending the better part of a day tracking down four tickets. That ESPN party you really want to go to? “Can you put me down plus eight?”
It’s an exhausting experience for players, especially young ones who don’t know how to navigate things. Last year, the NBA extended the break to seven days, but in years past games would pick up the Tuesday after All-Star weekend. Those games played early in the week were some of the ugliest all year.
For fans, it’s an opportunity to see basically every player you’ve ever seen on a poster all in one place—and, more often than not, in a great mood. In my opinion, the best events for fans to attend are the Rising Stars game, dunk contest, and three-point shootout. They’re typically easier to get tickets to than the game itself and, in some ways, I’ve always found them more exciting.
In all my years of attending All-Star Weekends, I’ve seen a lot. In 2006, I ended up in an elevator with Josh Smith 20 minutes after the dunk contest where he put a piece of tape on basically the three-point line before incorporating it in no way, shape or form into the dunk itself.
I was able to ask him, “Hey man, what was the tape for?”
He told me he was going to try to jump from there, but before I could ask a follow-up question, Donald Faison from Scrubs and Clueless stepped into the elevator and our conversation came to a halt.
That same year, Smush Parker spent the entire weekend dribbling a basketball through the entire lobby for some reason. It seemed like he did it non-stop for three straight days.
The year the game was in Vegas, there was so much traffic it took a minimum of three hours to drive from one end of the Strip to the other. The NBA had to rent helicopters to ferry the players around a city the size of a small neighbourhood.
All in all, something tells me this weekend in Toronto could come together to be one of the most memorable. Here’s hoping.