TORONTO — There weren’t any Utah Jazz players participating in the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday night, so my brave editor gave me free reign on my story topic.
It was tempting to explore an angle no other sports writer thought of tackling — Kobe Bryant’s final All-Star appearance, for instance — but I don’t want to get laughed at the next time the Professional Basketball Writers Association meets.
Writing about the hometown cooking by the referees was another possibility — after all, the East had 250 percent more free throws than the West — but nobody wants to read about refs.
It’s also highly likely that nobody wants to read much about a game that featured a combined 369 points, 286 shots, 139 3-pointers, seven free throws and innumerable Kobe adoration moments.
Instead, let’s take a stroll through my All-Star Weekend memory lane and/or wisecracks (an option I chose, in part, so I didn’t have to fight 75,000 reporters in the media mixed zone):
• The NBA produced a stirring video for a pregame tribute to Kobe. It included his career highlights, from game-winning baskets to his 81-point game. Not included: Clips from his playoff airballs against the Jazz when he was a rookie.
• Some people were stunned the NBA chose a non-Canadian musical act à la Toronto’s very own Drake. Sting, whose fame peaked before many of the current All-Stars were even born, was an odd choice but he sounded good. At least this ‘80s kid enjoyed his 10-minute act. The guy next to me apparently didn’t. I only say that because he muttered, “I’m going to fall asleep” as Sting performed “Every Breath You Take.”
• In retrospect, it’s likely the NBA picked Sting to honor the beginning of Kobe’s NBA career.
• Just for old-time sakes, Kobe waved off a pick by Karl Malone to reminisce about one of his previous 18 All-Star games. (Not really, but it would've been a propos considering this one.)
• Kobe’s first basket was a short jumper that spun and spun and spun around and on top of the rim before finally plopping in. His second shot bounced on the rim three times before dropping in. If he could repeat those shots on a consistent basis, he might have a future with the Harlem Globetrotters.
• The grandson of James Naismith, basketball's founder and Ontario native, received a basketball from LeBron James. The ball had been signed by all of the All-Star players. It will look great in a peach basket on Naismith’s mantle.
• The label on the pizza served at the Air Canada Centre included these words next to each other: “pizza pizza 100% Recycled!”
Not sure if Air Canada Centre should market this aspect of its pizza. pic.twitter.com/ryFwR2JvUa— Jody Genessy (@DJJazzyJody) February 15, 2016
• Sign I’m in Canada, Part I: I saw a commercial for curling (the sport, not for hair) on my hotel TV.
• Random cabbie’s response when told I’m from Utah: “The Land of Karl Malone, The Mailman.”
• Friendly warning: Kawhi Leonard’s bodyguards will bulldoze you if they want the NBA star to be in the spot where you are.
• En route to Canada, I chatted with an NBA ref with whom I crossed paths. First, he said how much he appreciates how the Jazz — players, coaches and the organization — respectfully interact with officials.
The ref then laughed about how Trevor Booker disputed a call he made in a recent game.
Ref: “How many times do you get away with that?”
Booker: “A lot.”
End of complaint.
• Sign I’m in Canada, Part II: Walked by a guy carrying a couple of hockey sticks on one of Toronto's main streets.
• Highlight of the Rising Stars Challenge practice: Apologies to Rodney Hood, Raul Neto and Trey Lyles, but it was watching Celtics guard Marcus Smart juggle basketballs.
• Suns rookie Devin Booker was surprised to learn that his Kentucky teammate, Trey Lyles, used to play hockey. Booker laughed, and quipped, “He said that to prove he was Canadian.”
• Weird moment: Watching former BYU star Jimmer Fredette sing the lyrics to Justin Bieber (“Baby, baby, baby oh!”) and Drake (“Late night when you need my love ”) during a humorous D-League All-Star Game karaoke video. Jimmer might make the NBA. He'll never be its All-Star halftime entertainment act, though.
Best mash ever: The Jimmer covers Justin Bieber and Drake. https://t.co/l8ZRMl8ZzL— Jody Genessy (@DJJazzyJody) February 13, 2016
• Rodney Hood was teased for making four basic two-handed slams during the Rising Stars game. He joked back: “I told Zach (LaVine) that he’s lucky I’m not in the dunk contest."
• Raul Neto great quote I (on why he didn’t play defense in the Rising Stars game): "I don’t want to look like the crazy guy, the only guy who’s going to play defense."
• Raul Neto great quote II (on dishing out nine assists): “That game is not hard to get assists. Nobody played defense.”
• Sign I’m in Canada III: Not only do they sell ketchup chips — the best chip known to mankind — but they also sell ketchup-flavored Doritos. Wonder how many bags of ketchup chips one American can pack in his suitcase without causing a scene at customs.
• I tracked Jimmer’s makes (X) and misses (O) — or hugs and kisses, you choose — during the D-League 3-point contest. Despite what a fellow writer hinted, the end result (XXXXOXXXOOXXXXOXXOXXXXXXO) was not a Valentine’s Day message to the former BYU star.
• Fredette had to hold his D-League All-Star Game MVP trophy for quite a while as he spoke to media members and received congratulations Saturday afternoon. He smiled when I asked if the trophy was getting heavy.
“It’s my weight training for today,” he joked. “So it’s all good.”
• Idea for the next time the NBA Slam Dunk Contest goes into extra rounds: Make players dunk over defenders like Rudy Gobert or Derrick Favors.
• The Jazz had several people in Toronto for the All-Star festivities. Gail Miller and a few family members sat on the second row behind Jon Stewart for all of the Saturday night fun. (Here's guessing it's the first time the Jazz owner heard him speak.) A couple of Jazz stunt team members and a dancer were there. Trevor Booker and Rudy Gobert also attended the Rising Stars Challenge and were in town for player meetings.
Hood saw Gobert, who was seated at courtside of the rookie-sophomore game.
“It was good to see him,” Hood said.
It had been a whole two days.
• Saw a guy wearing pants that looked like the American flag. I pledged allegiance.
• Classic West coach Gregg Popovich quote (when asked which player drew up the best play after being handed the clipboard): “DeMarcus Cousins. We gave him the clipboard and he said get out of my way, go flat on the baseline and I'm shooting it, and he made the three. That might be the only one that worked all night long.”
• Sign I’m in Canada IV: The Air Canada Centre concessions sell a fries concoction called “Hot Lime Bling,” playing off of Drake’s popular “Hotline Bling” song. I wisely skipped it.
• Fun Kobe moments: Watching him walk right by Drake, who was anticipating a hug, during introductions; Seeing Chris Paul’s little son steal the ball from him during warmups; LeBron James slapping the court while taking Kobe in an iso; Hearing the crowd respectfully and enthusiastically chant, “Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!” as he was taken out of the game in the last minute; and Kobe joking that many All-Stars were the age of his kids when he started playing in the NBA two decades ago during a pregame speech.
• A fitting ending to the weekend: Air Canada Centre fans loudly booed Steph Curry as it appears he’s going to dribble out the clock. Curry, of course, was just saving the best for last. He heaved up a half-court swish with two seconds remaining.
"Thankfully it went in," Curry said, "and kind of finished the game off with a bang and caused some excitement."
The crowd went bonkers.
Kobe raised his hands and smiled.
And the Deseret News’ intrepid reporter?
He missed the game’s best shot while taking a selfie.
• 3-year-old son to his sports writer father, who's been gone since last Monday, during a FaceTime chat: "Dad, you come home?!"
The answer: Today! (Well, barring a ketchup chips scene in customs.)