LOS ANGELES — Paris Hilton, an assistant coach at Friday’s NBA All-Star Celebrity Game, spent a portion of the game talking on her cell phone. Perhaps she was booking reservations for next year’s event in Denver.
There was a time when the NBA’s mid-season break was about the league’s all-stars facing off, but nowadays the parties, the celebrities and the music are just as much a centerpiece of the weekend as actual basketball.
Consider that there were just as many official celebrity games over the weekend as NBA games. (Along with Friday’s NBA-sponsored celebrity game, Snoop Dogg hosted a Saturday match called Hoop Magic; the NBA also hosted a rookies vs. sophomores game.)
Also consider that the three main performers during Sunday’s All-Star game — Outkast, Beyoncé and Christina Aguilera — all performed at the Staples Center a week earlier. It’s like the Grammys never ended.
With the game in Los Angeles for the first time in 21 years, the NBA welcomed the glitz and glamour of Hollywood onto the court like never before.
Along with the performers during the NBA contests, which also included Ruben Studdard, Kelly Clarkson and Nelly Furtado, the league hosted a TV special Saturday for its Read to Achieve organization featuring Hilary Duff, Ashanti, Usher and Will Smith.
And then there was the celebrity game, which pitted self-proclaimed modern Rat Packers P. Diddy (coaching with Hilton) against Ashton Kutcher (coaching with WNBA star Lisa Leslie). Or, as it was billed, the Buffalo Braves vs. the Minnesota Lakers — being that, of course, throwback jerseys are all the rage.
“Ashton was very efficient,” Nick Cannon said of his coach. “He took it seriously. He didn’t try to punk no one.”
Even so, Kutcher’s team, which also featured Sean Paul, Mark McGrath and Frankie Muniz, lost by a couple of baskets. Not that he was there to see it. The actor and girlfriend Demi Moore split when there were still a few minutes left.
Cannon had two air balls but was happy with his performance. “They could have put me in the game a little more, but when I was in, I was effective,” he said. “I got two steals, six points. I did my thing.”
Paul, who wore a Jamaican headband, had his work cut out guarding the speedy Nelly, so he was happy to let his teammates handle the scoring. “That Malcolm in the Middle, he got a shot,” Paul said of Muniz.
“I only shot twice today, but I average 15 points a game in the entertainers league,” Muniz said. “Everyone knows I can shoot.”
Several players, including McGrath and actors Bill Bellamy and Morris Chestnut, also play in the same Hollywood league as Muniz.
“It’s not fun when you lose, but it’s fun being out here with everyone,” said a brown-haired McGrath, who drained a three-pointer Friday. “Nelly doesn’t even try, he’s so good. He’s like [famous street ball player] Hot Sauce out there.”
Nelly was late to Friday’s game, debuting in the second quarter and taking the court in a white cap and backward jersey.
“I think the celebrity game is rising up, as far as [skill level] and us being able to play the game,” said the rapper, who praised his winning coach and “Shake Ya Tailfeather” co-star. “He’s probably the only one who could coach the team and own it.”
Hip-hop stars were also prevalent at the Hoop Magic game, a benefit for Snoop’s Save a Life Foundation. Snoop was joined on the court by Bow Wow, B2K’s Raz-B, Swizz Beatz and Murphy Lee in a match-up against West Coast legends from the NBA, such as Flynn Robinson and Jerry Chambers.
Kanye West, David Banner and Murphy Lee performed at halftime, while Sleepy Brown and Loon took the court before the game and Anthony Hamilton sang the national anthem.
With all the rappers in town, Russell Simmons’ nonprofit Hip-Hop Summit Action Network hosted a voter drive Saturday on the University of Southern California campus and registered more than 60,000 people, according to organizers. Damon Dash hosted that event, which was attended by Snoop, Kanye West, Loon, Tamia, the Young Gunz and Layzie Bone (see “Loon Proclaims Innocence In Stabbing Of Nightclub Guard” ).
As for the parties, Nicole Richie, Jay-Z and Beyoncé were among those making the rounds, while Outkast, Ludacris, Kanye West, Lil’ Kim and Sleepy Brown took the stages at various clubs around L.A.
Perhaps the hottest invite in town was Shaquille O’Neal’s Friday night bash at the Playboy Mansion. 50 Cent made an appearance, while Nick Cannon and B2K chummed with the many athletes in attendance, including Tim Duncan, Terrell Davis and Lennox Lewis.
“There’s a lot of hot parties,” Sean Paul said on his way to the dressing room. Forget basketball.