“We’ll be rivals once again when we walk out of here,” James said. “But for right now, we’re trying to win for each other.”
Boston and Miami have a combined seven players on the East team for Sunday’s All-Star game at Staples Center, but that tantalizing coalition of rivals is only one reason the basketball world is gathered in Los Angeles this weekend.
The NBA’s biggest names couldn’t wait to report to the city that pretty much invented modern celebrity on Friday for the league’s annual weekend of gimmicky games tucked into a schedule of opulent parties, endorsement appearances and showbiz celebrations of a worldwide surge in popularity.
“The city is on fire,” New York forward Amare Stoudemire said. “They love it. I’m pretty sure the stars are going to be out on Sunday.”
Much of the NBA’s spike in television ratings and overall fan interest is all about the teams stacked with stars in Boston, Miami and Los Angeles. Although superteams will be a whole lot tougher to build if the NBA gets everything it wants in its next collective bargaining agreement, this weekend’s festivities are a chance to enjoy the league’s surge to another peak in prominence.
“It’s great for the game,” Miami’s Dwyane Wade said. “This is our showcase weekend, and especially having it out here in L.A., it really brings the All-Star kind of feeling to it. This is Hollywood, and they’ve done a great job of making it special.”
Yet it’s a rather exclusive party _ at least in the East locker room, where Wade, James and Chris Bosh formed their uneasy alliance with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo. With Atlanta also sending two All-Stars, just six teams are represented on the East squad.
“We just had our team meeting, and the guy I felt sorry for in it was Dwight (Howard),” East coach Doc Rivers said of the Orlando center. “Seemed like everybody else had a teammate in there with them. I sat and talked to Dwight, because I felt bad.”
At least the Los Angeles fans will know who to root against. While many All-Star games roll by with that notoriously passive atmosphere in the stands and on the court, the players are hoping an East team dominated by the Lakers’ two highest-profile rivals will amplify the competitive vibe.
“Oh, people in L.A. don’t like us too much,” Bosh said with a chuckle. “We’ll get booed. It’s OK, though. It’s only the All-Star game. Everybody is just here to have fun.”
Rivers already was talking strategy on Friday, saying fans should look out for a lineup with James playing alongside four Celtics. LeBron liked the idea, saying he could play power forward in that configuration.
West coach Gregg Popovich realizes the main man on his roster is Bryant, who has won five championship banners hanging in the Staples Center rafters. The Lakers’ 13-time All-Star will become the first athlete to put his hands and feet in cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Saturday, giving him another reason to reflect on his career in what’s almost certainly his final All-Star game at home.
“It’s gone by too fast,” said Bryant, a 13-time All-Star who also hosted the 2004 game. “It seems like it was yesterday that I was at the Garden for my first one. It’s pretty surreal. It’s always fun playing an All-Star game, but to host it makes it a little bit more exciting.”