by Russ Bengtson

The sneakers at NBA All-Star games have been off the hook ever since sneakers got big back in the '80s. For those of you old enough, you'll definitely remember when the biggest anticipation wasn't for the game itself, but the newest Mars Blackmon commercial that would finally reveal the newest Air Jordans. Those days are over, thanks to the power of the Internet. I thought about this last night as I checked out countless All-Star shots on Yahoo! Photos mere minutes after the game had ended. It's remarkable when you stop to think of it. Anyway, I wrote out my thoughts about the game over on SLAM, so you can go check that out there, if you like. Here, I'll just present some flicks. Cool?

Oh yeah. For the record, All-Star Game kicks peaked in the early 2000s. There was 2001 in DC when Kobe brought sunshine and Rasheed came with the red patent AFIs. And the following year in Philly, Paul Pierce was in green patent and Chris Webber broke out mirror-chrome Dadas. Ever since it's been a lot of grey, red and blue. This year wasn't that different—but there were some noteable exceptions. Let's go.

• Gotta start with the MVP, LeBron James. He's been killing it on so many levels that if he walked away from the game RIGHT NOW at 23 he'd still be a no-doubt Hall of Famer. This is his second All-Star MVP trophy already, which ties him with Dr. J, Magic, Kobe and Iverson (among others) and puts him only one behind Michael Jordan. Did I mention he's 23 years old?

His shoes (look how dogged they are already—LeBron is a human weartest machine) were a New Orleans inspired version of his LeBron Vs in blue and grey with red accents. One of the best colorways I've seen—and better for the lack of patent leather.

• Kobe Bryant, the other best player in the NBA, played less than three minutes on Sunday and didn't take a single shot. Must have been difficult for a guy who's thrived under the All-Star spotlight since he took on Michael Jordan in New York back in 1998 when he was just 19. Anyway, his gold and red Kobe IIIs didn't get much of a workout.

• Carlos Boozer, selected to just his second All-Star game (he was injured last year) shoudl probably get used to not taking vacations in February. One of the best low-post scorers in the game, he picked up his first career triple-double in the week before the break, and celebrated by wearing some flamboyantly gold Nikes.

• The Jordan Brand was represented quite well in the All-Star game. Not only was there host Chris Paul and Western starter Carmelo Anthony, there were also Pistons guard Rip Hamilton, Hawks guard Joe Johnson and Celtics guard Ray Allen. All of them started the game in player editions of the Air Jordan XX3, and at halftime CP3 and Melo changed into All-Star versions of their respective signature shoes. Here's Ray Allen and CP3 in the first half. And Carmelo (checking Dwyane Wade, who we'll get to in a minute) in the second. And finally, here's Joe Johnson and Rip (also with D. Wade) at practice the day before the main event. Notice Wade's kicks, too.
• Dwyane Wade must have felt awfully free on Sunday. Temporarily pardoned from his terrible team, he was all over the court, flipping in a Jordanesque blind reverse (AND the FOUL) on one end and blocking a Dirk Nowitzki three (haven't you killed him enough for one lifetime, Dwyane?) on the other. And when he wasn't on the court, flossing the exclusive Wade 3s, he was in every other commercial. For real. Hold on, I'm driving through a tunnel.

• Paul Pierce's game is straight nasty. Laser-guided threes, rugged trips to the rim, and everything in between. A game so complete they should call him The Clinic instead of The Truth. Not to mention he goes from playing with LeBron and Dwight Howard back to playing with Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in his regular job. Must be nice. Oh yeah, he also wore some gaudy-ass Nikes.

• I found it quite amusing when Shaquille O'Neal said that he was going to make Amare Stoudemire better. Has Shaq actually seen dude play? Kid's like Barkley on HGH, louder than a bomb, wrecking rims globally. If anything, Shaq's gonna clog up the paint and make things more difficult. We'll see, I suppose. As expected, STAT was in an All-Star version of his STAT IIs.

• If you don't love Rasheed Wallace, there's something wrong with you. It's that simple. Sheed wasn't originally selected for the game, but was the first injury replacement when KG dropped out. He grumbled about not wanting to play, had a family vacation already planned, but came in and rocked the house in New Orleans, jacking up threes with either hand, vacuuming up offensive rebounds and—oh yes—stomping in his Air Force 1s (with the straps hanging off the back, as usual).

• Some guys are born to play in the All-Star Game. Like Allen Iverson. Normally relied on to score by the truckload, he generally turns All-Star into a dimefest, breaking people off with crossovers, setting up all of his teammates and generally having a blast. Even back in the darkest days in Philly, you could always count on AI to bring a ray of sunshine to the midseason classic. The Jordan guys weren't the only ones to change at halftime, as AI rocked two different versions of his latest Answers.

• One of the best things about All-Star is watching the best basketball players in the universe transform into star-struck little kids around one another. One of the long-standing traditions is having all the other All-Stars sign their shoes and jerseys, like kids at a tournament. Here Rip Hamilton appears to be signing one of Jason Kidd's Nikes.

• The adidas-made warm-ups were cool (can't say as much for the bizarre two-sided uniforms), especially the embroidery denoting former All-Star service. Everybody who'd played in an All-Star game before had the game's logo in gold on his chest. Guys like Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd and Tim Duncan were the day's five-star generals.

• One of the other super-cool things about All-Star is how it brings together the stars of today and yesterday. The first All-Star weekend I ever went to was 1997 in Cleveland, which happened to be the 50th anniversary of the NBA and included the presentation of the Top 50 Players of All-Time. Seeing all that talent gathered in one place was mind-blowing. Ever since then, All-Star has been a gathering place for every living member of the 50, which is (I think) everyone except Wilt Chamberlain and Pete Maravich. And the players of today—some of them, at least—are as awed by their predecessors as we are by them. Here are the Celtic All-Stars—KG, P Double and Ray Allen—with the greatest Celtic of them all, Bill Russell. Check how much taller KG is than Russ.

• I know I didn't mention All-Star Saturday here, but I wrote an awful lot about that on the SLAM website as well. Check it out there. The defining moment of the night was Dwight Howard's Superman dunk, which was, well, interesting. I'm still not entirely positive whether it was even a dunk at all, and I thought the costume was cheesy, but the 50—and the championship—seemed almost pre-ordained. Anyway, I DID think it was cool that one of the best photographs reminded me so much of something else.