You have to go to events like the 2001 NBA All-Star Weekend armed with high hopes and big plans. This is one of those events where the beautiful world and athletic realm collide, where the smiles are perfect and the bodies buffed, where the autographs flow and the entertainment is plentiful. It’s the stuff of celebrity wishes and sports fan dreams.

You didn’t need courtside tickets to Sunday’s All-Star Game to experience the grandeur of the weekend. Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson graced local nightclubs with their presence Thursday and Friday, not merely as guests, but also as entertainers.

With the expanse of the Washington Convention Center, there was more than enough room for the Fleer NBA Jam Session to accompany the All-Star Game to Washington, D.C. Downtown traffic bent to accommodate the influx and MCI and the Washington Convention Center were continually abuzz. The NBA was charging up for Sunday’s big dance and it did so with a flashy, brassy bounty of Jam Session events.

The session emanated a carnival-esque effect with an all-inclusive array of entertainment, punctuated by its flashy attractions, alluring events and steady pulse of bass-heavy music thumping through the Convention Center. Performances from artists like Lil’ Bow Wow, Shaggy and Dream busied the house stages, while kids, parents and celebrities alike tangled in charity matches, keeping the courts busy.

If you managed to ignore the traffic cops and squeeze past the limos, two-block-long lines outside and gridlocked crowd inside, you stood a chance of making it to Paradise – also known as Center Court, the land of the rich, hot and famous. This star-gazer’s heaven was where the celebrities, who are usually seen sitting courtside at official games, showed off their own basketball skills (or lack thereof). From Slam-Dunk to 2ball, this court became a dream come true for the celebrity-watcher, child at heart and any NBA fan.

The games at Jam Session were akin to Pop-a-Shot basketball on steroids. Everything was bigger, better and more exciting, with the fans loving every minute of it. Jam Session was an 8-year-old’s dream. Chock full of bungee runs, dunking hoops, inflatable courts and giveaways, the Jam Session had every possible attraction that had anything to do with basketball.

Want to know how big your hand is compared to Reggie iller’s? Got it. Always wanted an autographed Anfernee Hardaway picture? Got it. Want to test out Electronic Arts Sports’ new NBA Live video game? Got it. Ever wondered how much fun boardwalk games would be if they were all about basketball? Yeah, they’ve got that, too.

“We all think we’re Michael Jordan, let’s face it!”

Yep, Marc Blucas, that just about sums it up. Sweaty but victorious, the former “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” star (he was Riley, Buffy’s blunt-witted boyfriend), laughed as he described the appeal these charity games have for celebrities, explaining the thrill of getting on the court and “pretending” for a while.

Little Frankie Muniz (Malcolm on “Malcolm in the iddle”) played on the same team as larger-in-life supermodel Tyson Beckford and New York Giants cornerback Jason Sehorn, and opposite Bill Bellamy (Any Given Sunday) and Blucas (who was a professional player in England before bouncing through Hollywood).

It was easy to lose Muniz in the globe-trotting shuffle. But these guys were serious. No stunt-like celebrity antics, no easing up on the skinnier, younger competition. Like when Ice Cube sent uniz reeling across the court and into hiding after he took the charge.

“I didn’t want to get beat up,” Muniz said. “So I stayed on the floor for a while.”

It’s better than staying on the bench for a while, which teammates and Backstreet Boys Nick Carter and Brian Litrell did throughout most of the game. However, Gervase Peterson, the YMCA basketball coach turned ex-Survivor and Hollywood hijacker, did some heavy-duty dribbling practice with teammate Carter before the game. It didn’t pay off; Carter threw more air balls than even ‘NSYNC fans expected of him. Carson Daly (MTV VJ and host of “Total Request Live”) wandered around Center Court, calling himself a “sell-out” for donning a Knicks jersey when he’s actually from the West Coast and is a Lakers fan.

Bellamy of the red team and Donald Faison (Clueless, “Felicity”) of the black team heated things up during the game. Charity-shmarity – these guys played for real, causing enough fouls and scoring enough points in the last five minutes of play you’d think more than a Shaq-sized bar of Nestle Crunch chocolate was on the line. Bellamy scored like it was his job, missing only one basket the entire game, while Faison could be held almost entirely responsible for the surge that almost won his team the game (and all that chocolate).

But this was more of a Backstreet Boy/”Buffy” crowd than a hard-core basketball one.

So, even with people like Evander Holyfield casually watching from the sidelines, the biggest attraction was Shaggy’s halftime, on-the-press-table performance of “It Wasn’t e.”

Saturday was a calmer, cooler day, as the Jam Session’s Celebrity 2ball, Shootout and Slam Dunk took over the court. Holyfield, who participated in the Celebrity 2Ball, proclaimed the weekend a great time to relax and give a good effort without the pressure of winning.

Jason Biggs (American Pie, Loser) described the weekend almost perfectly when he said, “The great thing about this weekend is all these cool little events and stuff that go on with cool people who the fans like to see.”

Cool, yes. Little, no.

“Everyone gets to participate, including the kids. We have our own games, our own activities, and we get to feel like we’re real players,” recording artist Brian McKnight said after a charity game.

And that was the gist. This orgy of big names, big crowds and big business had – at one point – Evander Holyfield dishing a no-look pass to a 7-year-old in a match sponsored by America Online viewed by a 600-plus audience. Contrived? Yes. But the All-Star Game is one of those rare televised sporting events where winning is not the be-all, end-all. The Jam Session saturated Washington, D.C. with that philosophy and offered thousands of Washingtonians the game and its magic for a mere $15 – less for kids. After all, big doesn’t come free. But the session served big cheaply, much cheaper than courtside.

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