I like these sort of large events and the sort of civil pride and togetherness in a community it can help engender from shared experiences (something in the decline these days but that's a much larger conversation for another post). Last year, when living in Indianapolis, I went to the Super Bowl Village a couple of times since I worked downtown, Media Day, and the NFL Experience so I'll probably be drawing a few comparisons to that throughout the course of the FanPost. But, the long and short of it, is that I like when downtown Houston can look like this to add some more life to the city.
(Ed. note: This would be where the jump should go, if promoted)
My wife and I jumped on the Metro Rail from the med center, me sporting my old Olajuwon jersey from the not-really-popular dark blue years but perfectly retro for this occasion. My wife even agreed to wear my Yao jersey that made her look like a little kid who had stumbled upon her father's shirts, which go down to the knees. It was after 5 by the time we got downtown and there still wasn't much activity. There were some people milling around on Discovery Green but it made more sense to head inside George R Brown and the NBA Jam Session.
If you've ever been to a trade show or something like this, you kindof know what to expect: lots of marketing and cheesy activities. We actually commented at how the swag haul was a little light for what we expected: a few people had little basketballs but I think you had to win them. NASA was handing out stuff left and right (I picked up a nice calendar and coaster) but there weren't a lot of other booths really in on that. Most of the stuff was of the "stand in line for ten minutes and get a shot at a prize that's wasn't even worth ten minutes" and that was arriving before 6 when crowds were light. After 6, the crowds really picked up and standing in line at least 20 minutes for a chance at a Doritos Taco didn't appeal to me. Panini was handing out their sticker books but no free cards and they were the only sports card vendor there. They did have some nice jersey cards, one of which featured Hakeem, but you had to spend $25 on Panini cards to get it so I passed. Also, my Jayhawk self was a bit bummed that I missed out in seeing Thomas Robinson at their booth by about 5 minutes. Lots of booths had or would have players at them above and beyond the listed guests at various times of the day.
Again, to compare this to the NFL Experience at the Super Bowl, I was weighed down with a couple of mini footballs, a bunch of baseball cards, all the free junk food I could stuff in my face, and all sorts of promotional garbage. Here, there just was a lot less of that sort of stuff. So, if you were looking for free stuff: you might be disappointed.
On the positive side, there were a lot of activities if you were so inclined to wait in line to do them and the lines ranged from a couple of minutes to probably half an hour by the time we left around 7 with the crowds at their peak. There were quite a few "uncreative" sorts where they just set up a basket and you could shoot at it. However, there were some fun ones like the above where it had hoops ranging from 7' to 10' so you could dunk no matter how short (that kid) or uncoordinated (me). They had a big three on three tourney on a makeshift court and that seemed like a good idea. There was a studio set up where NBA tv was doing some live filming, Taco Bell had some basketball obstacle course, and Sears had this booth where you could use basketball slingshots to get stuffed basketballs into a hoop (never once saw a made shot). Also, of course, there was a giant NBA store with overpriced stuff for the game. I confess that I caved and got a $30 t-shirt (ouch) but I feel this is like a concert where you expect captive audience pricing. Lots of jerseys and official gear: kindof what you expect at something like this. Also, we didn't wait for any autographs but the lines didn't look too terrible and seemed reminiscent of standing in line at past TriStar shows, for instance.
Of course, there's the "exhibits". Both the 1994 and 1995 trophy are there and I was happy to take pictures next to each. The NBA Hall of Fame had set up a small area, think room-sized, with selected jerseys and paraphernalia from their collection. There was a case of Rockets gear, one of All-Star stuff, and other general historical artifacts. My wife and I had some of the most fun at a couple of other displays. She wanted a picture with me the same height as Russell Westbrook, meanwhile I took one of her looking up at James Harden. You could do the same with hand size and shoe size with a range of players. It was fun stuff that didn't take up much space and I kindof wish they had done more with it.
All in all, for the Jam Session: I feel like a $10 price point and 2 hours max, unless you like waiting in line, is reasonable. There have been some Groupons and discounts to get it to around that level. I think it's best when used as a supplemental activity added on to other activities. If I was looking for something to do today but didn't have tickets to the practice or Slam Dunk contest or whatnot, I'm not sure I would have been all that excited. We arrived a little after 5 and by 7, we happy to head to the Toyota Center for The Rising Stars game at 8
Truth be told, the last NBA game I saw was in the Summit unless you count the Wizards-Bobcats game I saw a few years ago (didn't think so) as I haven't lived in cities with an NBA team for a while. First off, a word of warning: I'm used to the baseball rules of a 16x16x8 backpack being ok as long as you have nothing dangerous or food or whatnot in it and are fine with them checking it. Not so at the Toyota Center (and they even have conflicting info on their website as there is a section saying they're ok but subject to search and another saying they are prohibited: link). I ran into an issue and if not for the intervention of a nice person working security (because some of them were not and we tried multiple lines), I would have had to decide between go to game and lose backpack or take backpack back to car at Med Center. Fortunately, they had some plans for this and you could take it to Guest Services and check your bag. However, some folks were more keen on this than others. Just keep it in mind if you go to anything this weekend.
That silliness aside, the Toyota center strikes me as similar to a couple of the other arenas I have been in. Baseball stadiums all have their own character to a greater or lesser degree but for an arena, it mostly seems like if you don't have some sort of historic significance like a Madison Square Garden or Allen Fieldhouse, you're there to be functional and that's just fine. Also, I love the giant Rockets mural. So there's my brief review of the Toyota Center: functional.
We were up in the 200s: 207, I believe. So the camera shots won't be the best.
A couple of notes on the tickets and crowd. On the one hand, the tickets weren't too bad pricewise. Down below, it was the expected few hundred bucks. However, face value for the upper deck was $50-something and I saw them on Stubhub for as low as $20 during the week (and was kicking myself a little for paying face value for something I thought would be a rarer ticket). This was easily the cheapest ticket of the weekend as the celebrity game cost more and was in the makeshift stadium in GRB and the cheapest price to see the Saturday night or Sunday activities are in the $300-$500 range. So, if you wanted to check out the All Star game for under $100, this was the best chance (that or the Saturday morning All Star practice: I think those were under $100, too).
The crowd was a bit sparse, unfortunately. I think I'm being generous in saying it was 2/3rds full. I think more accurate would be to say that the bottom bowl might have been 1/2 full while the top was 2/3. I think that led to the some of the comments in the game thread. The crowd was quiet because the crowd was small. Also, it was fairly partisan: until something we'll get to in a bit, the loudest cheer of the night was easily for Chandler Parsons.
As for the game itself, I think the crowd enjoyed the Chuck vs Shaq concept. But what was up with Barkley not even being there? Anyone know the story behind that? I get being injured and not coming to the game but he's the freaking coach of "Team Chuck".
The first half had two major storylines for me
- Team Shaq had no big men so Team Chuck got a lot of easy dunks
- Team Chuck was hitting from outside, especially Isaiah Thomas
As with any All Star event in any sport, defense is optional. My wife, not being a basketball fan, actually enjoyed it quite a bit and certainly more than she would have enjoyed a standard regular season game. So maybe this exhibition format works better for a more casual fan.
The halftime show was fun. They had a dunk team made up of stunt dunkers from 4 different teams and they each did individual trampoline dunks and then partners before doing a giant 6 person dunk.
During the game, they had timeouts about every 5 minutes and we got everything from 4 different mascots from around the league making out with fans on the kiss cam to the standard Rockets dance teams.
The 90-66 halftime score did not lead to a lot of "drama" for the second half. Team Shaq put together a little run to get the lead down to around 15 but once Team Chuck pushed things back out to past 20, the crowd started losing interest.
But with about 7 minutes to go in the game Kyrie Irving had a crossover that caused Brandon Knight to fall over and that woke the crowd up a little. Knight came back up the court a little shaken, almost threw the ball away, and then airballed a shot. Irving took it right at Knight again and he fell over again. Suitably embarrassed, it was now on. The two went back and forth for the next 3 or 4 minutes, trying to fake each other out and their teams kept funneling the ball to them. The crowd really got into it and enjoyed the show.
Then, with a couple of minutes left, the guys were starting to stand around a little so it turned into a mini slam dunk contest. I saw some disparaging comments about it in the game thread, but the crowd was again enjoying it, the game having been decided more than a half hour ago. Kenneth Faried was putting on a show on the one end and Chandler Parsons got a chance to dunk the final shot as the crowd was chanting for him. Yes, it became a joke of a game but it was an exhibition and that was more entertaining than the rest of the second half.
I'll leave you with this silly story about a guy sitting behind us who we all know the type. Before the game, he was talking about how Team Shaq had the three best players and there's no way Team Chuck could win. He called his shot that Irving would be the MVP which wasn't much of a stretch as he's probably the best player on the floor and last year's MVP. When Team Shaq was down 20 with about 4 minutes to go in the first half and Irving and Lillard came back into the game, he said it would be tied by halftime. Early in the 2nd half, when it's becoming obvious Team Chuck is going to win, he starts trying to change his called shot to Faried. "Well, I said Manimal would be best for Team Chuck so I got it right" and all throughout the rest of the game up until the trophy was presented, he maintained he had always called it for Faried. But his friends would have nothing to do with it and gave him grief until they left the arena. Good times!