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He's standing outside the House of Blues in Hollywood -- his lanky shadow cutting a swath through the moonlit night -- but he is not alone.
Inside, NBA All-Stars are raging, NFL Pro Bowlers are trying to keep up and a rock band is playing at jarring decibels. But outside, the solemn figure is standing tall with his friends, as he should be, for they're here to support him, even as he's come to support them.
Yes, Lamar Odom is back.
In a summer rife with tragedy and grief after the death of his infant son, the Lakers' star has mustered the strength to fly to Los Angeles in support of a charity he believes in. And now Odom is smiling, for this isn't a story of tragedy. Rather, it's the story of Baron Davis and Paul Pierce and their friends -- big stars with good hearts and fat wallets and strong livers -- who've come to help raise funds for disadvantaged youth.
And the story of the epic five-event, four-day Midsummer Night's Dream charity week does not begin here. No, it starts six days, one trade demand, three open bars, 400 beers and a hailstorm of flying marijuana cigarettes ago. Here's the play-by-play.
Midsummer Night's Dream Street Basketball Tournament @ Venice Beach
NOON: THE TOURNEY BEGINS
It's a beautiful day in Venice Beach, where roller skaters and surfers and Muscle Beach freaks are joined by The Game, Brandy and Jessica Alba to watch some basketball on the Venice courts. In Hollywood-speak, the preferred language of the locals, these are the courts where they shot "White Men Can't Jump." But in the L.A. hoops world, these are hallowed grounds, where players like Pierce and Davis once cut their teeth and now return to play in a four-team tourney, the first event in a week of charity events hosted by the two All-Stars.
Team captains Davis, Pierce and Snoop Dogg are joined by ex-UCLA Bruin Dijon Thompson, who grabs some sneaks and goes from spectator to captain, leading the fourth and final team.
JESSICA ALBA AND THE CELEBRITY DOG
Angelenos' obsession with celebrity babies is trumped only by their obsession with celebrity dogs. Just ask Jessica Alba. Though she's donning the shortest of shorts, her American bulldog Bowie is getting more love than its owner. "I'm here to support Baron," says Alba, who is dating Davis' Too Easy Entertainment partner Cash Warren. "I'm a big Lakers fan, so I'm talking to Baron about coming to play for us. But he's got to go with whoever is paying him the most money. The Lakers don't have any."
No, but they have your shorts and many celebrity mutts.
PIERCE'S BAD BACK
After serving as best man in his cousin's wedding in Boston the previous day, Paul Pierce took a red-eye to L.A. Pierce was dreadful from the field (a patented turnaround 3 over two defenders at the halftime buzzer notwithstanding). Afterwards, he was full of excuses for his first-round loss to Snoop's squad. "Snoop's got game," Pierce admits. "But I was just trying to take it easy today. And I've got a bad back." ("Sigh," says Boston.)
Unlike Pierce, Davis elected to roam the sidelines and sit out the first round, but with Snoop bringing his A-game to the final, Davis suited up and led his squad to victory. "I love Snoop," Davis says. "He hit me up this morning, saying, 'Man, they want me to coach, but I coach football. I'm a basketball player.' I said, 'Alright, Snoop, I'll bring you some shoes.' Now look at him. Should have left those shoes at home."
SNOOP DOGG AND GOONS
Afterward, I decide to approach Snoop. This is a decision that I do not take lightly because Snoop is notoriously press shy and he's rolling with no fewer than four massive and ill-tempered henchmen at his side.
So I approach Snoop gingerly, giving him my name and rank. "That's cool, dog," Snoop says, genially. "Follow me." Just like that, I am now Snoop Dogg's dog, but this fact does not appease Snoop's goons. "Back up! Back up!" one bodyguard screams directly into my ear before several sets of burly hands pull my shirt, grab my neck and twist my arms in directions God did not intend.
Luckily, Snoop's got my back. "It's cool," he says, as the goons relinquish their grasp on my esophagus.
Moments later, I find myself in an air-conditioned tent kneeling at the throne of the Dogfather -- literally (I didn't have a chair). The Lakers' fan gave a breakdown of his team. "It's cool that we drafted Jordan Farmar," Snoop says. "He's an L.A. kid and we needed a point guard. And Radmanovic is real good. He's a 6-10 big man with a jump shot, and I like that."
But Snoop's mood sours when talk turns to L.A.'s other team and its bolstered bandwagon. "I love L.A., and I love everything that comes with it, but I'm a Lakers fan," he says. "I like that the Clippers are winning, but I could never love them. I don't [care] if they got to the championship; I wouldn't be at the game representing them. When they ask me about Shaq, I say, 'I love Shaq, but [screw] Miami.' It is what it is. I'm a Laker and I bleed purple and gold and if you ain't down with the Lakers, f--- you, straight up.
"And you can print that," he adds.
Midsummer Night's Dream: A Magic Night of Poker, Players and Stars @ The Avalon in Hollywood
8 p.m.: P.A.I.C. ON THE RED CARPET
On a typical night, Vine Street is home to a stretch of Hollywood's Walk of Fame, but tonight, the stars of Johnny Carson and Boris Karloff are buried beneath the red carpet and the size 17 shoes that stomp along it.
High-minded rags like People, In Style, Popstar! Magazine and, umm, ESPN are here, but Pierce doesn't care who's watching as he unabashedly recruits a young woman who's already leaving the party. "Where you going?" he asks. "I'll be back," she says. "Why can't I get a call, baby?" he continues, undeterred. "Can I get a call?"
The gauntlet of paparazzi might've given some athletes, including Emeka Okafor, a case of PAIC (Professional Athlete Inferiority Complex). "They don't want me," Okafor says as he bypasses the carpet. "They wanna talk to real celebrities. I'm D-list." Okafor's reluctance might be a good thing. His arrival had the PR personnel and celebrity rag reporters scrambling for the correct spelling of Okafor's name.
While Okafor wasn't down with the carpet, some dude from "All My Children" is proudly telling the paparazzi that he's "working on a couple of indy movies." Good luck with that.
Antoine Walker and Shawn Marion roll up together in a shiny Cadillac SUV, then work the carpet like pros. "I'm trying to get in the movie business on the producing side," Marion tells me. "I've got a lot of ideas, and I'll be hitting up some people while I'm out there. Definitely gotta hit up EB [Elton Brand]."
9:45: MAGIC PASSES THE TORCH
Magic Johnson officially hands the keys to his annual Midsummer Night's charity week to Pierce and Davis -- and he's cool with that.
"It's wonderful that this will continue on and that I'm able to pass this event on to two guys who are like my little brothers," Johnson says. "We started with one event: Larry Bird and I playing in a game. Then we added a dinner. Now look at us. We've come a long way in 20 years."
The evening starts with a ceremony marking the passing of the torch. Seems Shaq took some time off from a summer of jabbing the Buss family in the ribs with his newfound hardware to film a video tribute to Magic, crediting the HOFer with bringing "Starbucks Coffee to the hood." Pierce and Davis then take the mic to pay an emotional tribute to Johnson before giving Magic a gift: an extravagantly blinged watch. Good thing, because Magic can't afford bling.
10 p.m.: THE TOURNAMENT BEGINS
Soon, ballers and celebs take to the tables for a no-limit Texas hold 'em tourney, with the winner from each table advancing to the championship round. I'm not allowed on the gaming floor, so I turn my attention to the open bar -- all five of them -- and the teriyaki chicken skewers making the rounds. I'm not alone.
"I could give two shakes of a s--- about poker," says rapper and music producer David Banner. "Three years ago I was homeless, so I see a penny on the ground, I'm picking it up."
The first player to be eliminated soon joins us, but Pierce isn't going down without a fight. "Game was rigged, dude," Pierce says. "I just got back from Vegas, so I've been practicing, and I'm the best poker player on [the Celtics]. It's rigged."
Shawn Marion isn't buying. "Paul is a weak poker player," Marion says. "Really, that dude sucks."
STACKHOUSE: IN MOURNING
Jerry Stackhouse isn't having a great summer. He was ousted in the first round of the poker tournament and in the NBA Finals in June. The latter might explain his formal attire of suit and tie. Turns out, he's still mourning. "It's been hard," he says of the Mavericks' Finals loss to the Heat. "I'm still not ready to talk about it."
"My mind-set now is we need to keep the team intact," he continues. "Hopefully we'll be able to get Josh [Howard] his extension, and we re-signed Jason Terry, and Austin Croshere is going to give us a little of the outside shooting that Keith Van Horn gave us. We'll be back knocking on the door next year."
SHAWN MARION: WORLD CUP STAR?
We already know that Marion is the NBA's top freak of nature, but I'm learning The Matrix is a bigger freak on the dance floor. Busta Rhymes' "I Love My Chick" has sent Marion's body into an orgy of swiveling hips, flailing arms, and legs that fan out like nunchakus at the first sight of female attention (and he's getting a lot of that.)
Yup, the Matrix is a freak, and he knows it. He's even thinking about testing his freakiness in a different arena. "I'm going to try and get a tryout with our World Cup team," Marion later says. "I think I could play goalie. I'm very athletic, fast and agile, and I could move side to side very easily. Only problem is, my feet are a little bit big. I'll probably break an ankle or something."
Just stick to dancing and dunking, dude.
CHAIN-SMOKING WITH CLIPPERS NATION
Because smoking in L.A. is a felony, all Los Angeles smokers are either foreigners, drunkards or members of Clippers Nation, where smoking is apparently the thing, because Penny Marshall is chain-smoking with extreme prejudice while flanked by her Clippers groupies, Sam Cassell and former Clips guard Quentin Richardson.
Cassell says Clippers fans can thank Marshall for his new two-year deal. "Penny brought me back," he says.
"I knew Sam was upset, so I kept calling him," Marshall says. "He kept saying 'It's business, not personal.'"
While Marshall is excited with the Clippers' progress -- and thrilled with the signing of Tim Thomas -- she's worried about Richardson.
"Quentin's been miserable in [New York]," she says. "But he seems pretty up now."
"This has been the craziest year of my career, and I had some crazy seasons in L.A.," Richardson admits. "But I'm looking forward to next season. After they fired coach Brown and Isiah took over, the vibe has been different. I'm ready. I'm ready to take no prisoners and bounce back from an off year."
But Marshall has a warning for the optimistic two-guard. "Isiah isn't going to be easy either," she says. "He's a street brawler. He'll give you the business."
JERRY PORTER: FURIOUS
Up at the second-floor bar, a trim-looking Jerry Porter of the Raiders is the life of the party, whooping and hollering like a madman with a retired and now very plump Dennis Scott. But when the topic turns to the Raiders, Porter's switch flips.
Turns out, Porter is furious. How do I know this?
"I'm furious," Porter says. "They might as well trade me. I wanted Mike Martz as my coach and a real offense that's proven in today's NFL. Not something dusted off from a bed and breakfast in God knows where."
I try to calm him down by offering to buy him a drink at the open bar. This strategy does not work.
2:30 a.m.: CLOSING TIME
Event No. 2 is in the books and the poker winner has been announced: After emerging from a table that included Pierce, Marion, Walker and Marshall, former New Kids on the Block ringleader Donnie Wahlberg advanced to the finals to stare down John Salley. Salley would win the tourney, but Wahlberg might have made out better because he's got a dozen former NKOTB fans giving him nonstop consolatory hugs. "I've got a 'Covergirl' ringtone," shrieks one fan before Wahlberg envelops her in his arms.
The music is gone and the athletes and celebs are leaving, some walking, some stumbling, and all in good spirits. Security is shooing comedian Anthony Anderson, Miles, Richardson, Okafor, Walker and Marion out the door, so I ask the latter about the possibility of an after-party. "Man, I'm going to the hotel," Marion says. "We still got two more nights."
A Midsummer Night's Glam Jam Fashion Show @ The House of Blues
A ROCK BAND'S SORROW
Burn the Fields just got off stage, which is a good thing, because they might've been playing to the wrong audience. But I won't cry for them because they're rock stars playing Hollywood's top rock joint where many attractive young woman are swirling about. And this can add up to only one thing: A massive, rock-fueled orgy in the dressing room.
Except they're not in the dressing room. They're in the parking lot smoking cigarettes with me. "The girls are here for the athletes," guitarist Nick Babbis says. "They've got the money, so they get the good girls, the wife material. We're left with the leftovers, the scandalous ones."
You and I alike.
SAM CASSELL AND BARON DAVIS: RECRUITING
Nearby, Baron Davis is standing behind the security fence trying to get his friends in. He's not having much luck. And neither is Sam Cassell, who's getting dissed by two young women. "You don't remember me, do you?" one girl asks him. "Last time we met, you called me a midget."
Cassell can only laugh and walk away.
REPRESENTING THE BAY
Like all the attendees, Bay Area athletes Jerry Porter and Jason Richardson of the Warriors are confused by the evening's bar policy. Turns out, only some drinks are complementary. While a bottle of water will run you $7, some vodka is free. But when the bartender waves a bottle of Smirnoff in front of Richardson, the expression on his mug might read: "Get that Russian toilet water out of my face."
After ponying up for quality liquor, Richardson exchanges phone numbers with the disgruntled Raider, and given Porter's surly mood the previous night, this concerns me. What are they plotting?
"Jason's going to hook me up with tickets," Porter says. "It's amazing, I can go to a Sacramento game for free, and they'll even send a car, but the Warriors want me to pay $1,000 for seats. Could you believe that? That sorry-ass team?"
Only minutes away from Snoop's performance, the crowd gathers around the stage for an auction. Penny Marshall and J.R. Smith are in a bidding war over a signed jersey from many of the athletes and celebs in attendance. After Stephen Jackson whispers in his ear, Smith raises his bet to $2,500. Marshall won't match, so Smith takes the jersey. Because, you know, he needs one.
Plump Dennis Scott, the auction MC, announces that the 20-minute auction has raised more than $20,000. Sweet.
SNOOP SENDS US OFF
(Note: No lungs belonging to professional athletes where hurt in the making of this music.)
The crowd roars its approval as Jermaine Dupri takes the stage to introduce Snoop Dogg, who emerges from the darkness to the tune of "Murder was the Case." The crowd explodes, and from the smell of things, inhales.
I'm now standing at the foot of the stage watching Baron Davis falling out of his chair, swaying his arms and leading the audience through the chorus of "Ain't No Fun (If My Homies Can't Have None)." Good times.
After a break in the action, Snoop sets the record straight. "This is all for charity so I haven't taken a hit yet," he tells the audience. "This would be a good time for someone to throw me a joint."
And this was a mistake.
Suddenly, a hail of already-lit marijuana cigarettes pierce the sky, landing on the stage like offerings to the god of rap. But Snoop does not reach for a joint. No, he's smarter than that. He has an entourage member reach for one. After smelling the fumes and confirming the substance's authenticity, Snoop is pleased.
"That's why I love L.A.," Snoop says. "Where else do they throw weed on a stage?"
The concert wraps up with "2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted," an ode to Snoop's fallen friend 2Pac, and when the music dies, the party is over, and the audience members make their way outside to the parking lot -- all hailing the charity, Snoop Dogg and the city that is Los Angeles.
"This is my first time really kicking it on the West Coast," says Celtics guard Delonte West. "I've heard Jay-Z in New York, but Snoop Dogg in L.A.? West Coast all the way, baby."
When he sees the zoo that was once a parking lot, West changes his tune.
"L.A. traffic," he observes. "This is bull----."
Championship Celebration @ Day After Club in Hollywood
11:00 p.m.: THE FINAL ENTRY
This is the final event of this charity, the final entry in this diary and, possibly, the final night of my life.
Apparently, I'd missed a celebrity basketball game during the afternoon, where that "All My Children" guy surely dropped many J's in Brandy's face.
I'm tired. Strangely, the stars and celebs are not. They're all here, and they're joined by a new crop of charity-goers: Snoop is chatting with Bay Area rap legend Too Short while Darius Miles shows Larry Hughes the ropes while Penny Marshall (Laverne) drinks Red Bull with Cindy Williams (Shirley). DJ Clue even gives a shout out to Bill Russell, though I'm fairly certain he wasn't there.
Finally, in a case of life imitating art imitating life -- or a case of lameness -- far too many eyes shoot to Shawn Marion at the mention of the Steve Nash line in Nelly Furtado's "Promiscuous." He clearly couldn't care less.
I need a vacation. And I'm not alone.
"I'm feeling like I need a vacation," Davis says as he leaves the party early. "This is tough to do. Hopefully, Magic will come strong next year and we can work with him more."
Big bro, we need you.
Sam Alipour is based in Los Angeles and writes the Media Blitz column for ESPN The Magazine.