The All-Star pregame was entertaining and set just the right tone for the game. As the Houston Symphony played the theme from "2001, A Space Odyssey," the East reserves walked out onto long risers and were introduced to the crowd. Actually the players were introduced after the trainer and the coaches. That's right, the crowd got whipped into a frenzy by a spectacular light show and musical buildup and the first name they heard was "Ted Arzonico."
Then the East starters were brought up through the floor, elevated slightly above the reserves. Facing away from the cameras, they turned around in unison and did a little dance step, looking like the Pips with a pituitary disorder. Shaquille O'Neal, clearly enjoying himself, made a gesture as if to suggest that his heart was bursting with joy when he was introduced. By contrast, the West All-Stars' entrance music was Beethoven's Fifth, probably more in the Houston Symphony's wheelhouse, but not so good for the weak chain reaction robot dance the West starters tried to execute. It got off to a rough start with Steve Nash and wasn't much better by the time it finished with Yao Ming. You could almost see Kobe Bryant wishing he was on the other side with all the cool kids.
Next came the national anthems of Canada and the United States. It might be time to rethink this policy of singing more than one anthem. If the NBA ever does go completely global and has to include all the anthems of the countries where it has teams, every pregame will take hours. The Canadian anthem was sung by Jann Arden, who came out wearing faded jeans and a beat-up leather jacket over an All Star Game t-shirt. It was a lovely rendition, but raise your hand if you can name one song by Jann Arden. Now raise yor hand if you know whether Jann Arden is a man or a woman. Personally, I think the NBA forgot about the anthem until the last minute when Steve Nash asked who was singing it. So they sent a promotions assistant into the pregame VIP lounge asking, "Does anyone here know the Canadian national anthem?" Destiny's Child, on the other hand, hit the floor coiffed and gowned and filled the house with a "Star Spangled Banner" that ended with floor fans blowing their hair back on the final notes. Not quite Marvin Gaye in 1983, but their performance did seem a little more thought out than Ms. Arden's (oops I gave it away).
As far as the game itself, it's hard to say whether there were more missed alley-oops or free throws. Shaq avoided complete embarrassment at the foul line by lobbing the ball off the backboard and dunking it, not a legal move but much more entertaining than watching Ben Wallace airball his first attempt and barely graze iron with the second. Nobody played any defense for the first three quarters, and Charles Barkley tried to convince us that this doesn't happen in every regular season game as well. Hometown favorite Tracy McGrady looked like a shoo-in for MVP until the Detroit Pistons shock troops of Billups, Hamilton, Wallace and Wallace, put the clamps on the West offense, and LeBron James showed why he could be the All-Star game MVP for the next 10 years. Even if he does, it's a show I'll tune in for every year.