NBA Commissioner David Stern has been hard at work the past decade or so marketing the National Basketball Association as an extension of urban playgrounds, where the play is always brash, stylish and up-tempo.
So I suppose it should not have been a surprise that the recent NBA All-Star game also sported a playground atmosphere, complete with heavy doses of drugs.
From the moment I unpacked my bags at the Sheraton Hotel on Society Hill, I choked on the noxious pot fumes that were wafting through the hallway. In fact, nearly everywhere I went during the All-Star weekend, it was clear that the young attendees had somehow received the clear impression that the law did not apply to them. And, for at least one weekend, they were correct.
What does this say about the kids who feel they can do this without any repercussions? What gives them the arrogance or gall?
The acrid stench of marijuana was so heavy during the three-point shootout that New Jersey political candidate Zanzibar Blue later told me that he had to leave First Union Arena just to get a few breaths of fresh air.
The scene repeated throughout the weekend. Saturday night, at the NBA Player's Association concert, singer Ja Rule's band mates were lighting up on stage. People were smoking in the audience. Meanwhile, security gazed blankly at the crimes being committed before them, doing nothing.
At the NBA slam-dunk concert Saturday night, people in the stands were sporadically puffing away. Again, police and security did nothing.
Throughout the NBA All-Star weekend people were openly getting high, just like some of their on-the-court heroes who for decades successfully lobbied to keep marijuana off the NBA's list of banned substances.
The police covered their eyes. One must assume that a no-arrest order had been given. Guess that whole war on drugs thing is more of a guideline than a rule. Guess it doesn't matter what message we send the children until it is too late.
Of course, selective arrests are not uncommon with festivities that generate a lot of money for a city. During Mardi Gras, for example, cops get the word not to arrest revelers unless they seem dangerously inebriated. And so people casually puff pot on the streets. Apparently, the same goes for All Star weekend.
The result: The stands were dusted with acrid smoke and inebriated fans with drooping eyelids managed an ugly crescendo when they jeered All-Star MVP Kobe Bryant.
This, after Bryant arrived in the Philly jersey that his father, Joe "jelly bean" Bryant wore when he played for the Sixes, then proceeded to glide across the court, hurl his body through the air in complete defiance of gravity, and throw down one blissful jam after another.
It was a sublime testament to individual striving and physical grace.
It did not matter. When Kobe went to accept his MVP trophy, all you heard were boos.
Why am I not surprised? Welcome to the NBA All-Star Game 2002, where fans openly smoke pot and hurl insults at the best the game has to offer.
Of course, you can chalk a certain amount of savagery up to the locale - Philly.
The list of indiscretions by Philly fans is long and distinguished, including booing Santa Claus, hurling batteries at outfielder J.D. Drew and shouting derisive snorts like "crack head" at Michael Irvin as he lay motionless on the turf at Veteran's stadium with a broken bone in his back. Not coincidentally, Veterans Stadium was the first major sporting arena to include an actual judge and jail in the stadium.
I suggest they go a step further and simply turn the Vet into a Chuck E. Cheese.
In the meantime, David Stern might want to consider the fact
that fans of the game are literally choking on its new image.