The NBA All-Star game Jam Session, located in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, is a sort of carnival dedicated to all things basketball. Patrick Sullivan, a vice president of NBA Entertainment, gave a tour of the enormous activity area on Wednesday afternoon.
As Sullivan explained, not everyone is going to be able to attend the big game in the Smoothie King Center on Sunday night. But that doesn’t mean that families can’t indulge their love of the sport.
“This is the 21st time we’ve hosted Jam Session at All-Star weekend,” he said. “It’s really the family ticket to the NBA All-Star (game). We know it’s hard for fans to get tickets to the events in the arena, so we created this event for our fans.”
The Jam Session wasn’t quite complete as we wandered the 44 attractions. Forklifts still beeped as they delivered equipment and technicians still tweaked the digital displays.
Some activities were entirely low-tech. In one section, young fans will shoot balls at hoops of various heights. In another, fans will load plush basketballs into huge slingshots to hurl them toward goals.Fans will be able to compare their heights with stars from Dirk Nowitzki to Chris Paul. And compare their shoe sizes with Amar’e Stoudemire, LeBron James and others. They’ll also be able to rank themselves against their heroes athletically.
“One of our new areas we’re debuting this year is called the Fan Combine,” Sullivan said. So the same combine (a gathering of athletic statistics) players go through our fans can go through. At different stations you’re measured in how fast you can run, how high you can jump, hand size, arm size, etcetera. You create a player profile…”But in addition to old-fashioned statistics, there will be plenty of 21st century marvels to, well, marvel over as well. In one area, fans will be allowed to dunk a ball as a camera circles on a small railroad track, capturing the glorious moment in a 360-degree video. In an area called the Digital Village, an enormous, wall-sized video screen will bubble with scores of bouncing basketballs, most in a natural orange hue, some blue. When fans touch one of the blue basketballs, a window blossoms instantly on the screen displaying a Twitter message from somewhere in the world. In the same exhibit area, a huge three-dimensional basketball seemed to spin in a pool of fire, thanks to video magic.
Sullivan explained that fans can wear electronic bracelets called Jam Bands that allow them to “unlock” special surprises throughout their stay.
As Sullivan pointed out, part of the thrill of the Jam Session is meeting former NBA stars.
“There are lots of player appearances throughout the weekend,” he said. “All the All-Stars come, lots of legends. So, whatever type of legend you’re into, if you’re into the old-school, we have the Bob Pettits and those kind of guys. If you’re into more recent retirees like Bruce Bowen, Robert Horry, they’re all here.”
Since the convention center had no basketball court for the celebrity All-Star exhibition match on Friday at 6 p.m., the NBA All-Star practice on Saturday at 11 a.m. and other events, the Jam Session built one from the boards to the rafters, complete with 3,000-seat glinting aluminum grandstands.
Though NBA clothing and merchandise is available in athletic stores and even hotels, during the All-Star weekend, the biggest NBA outlet will be found in the Jam Session, where stacks of numbered, limited edition, 2014 All-Star basketballs await purchase.