By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

They brought the Pain. They scratched and clawed and fought like cats and dogs for position on the court. They ground bones to make their bread down low and still smiled for the cameras like real troopers. They had total game. They did what they had to do. The Stars showed up, then showed out.

So did the basketball players, for the most part.

Crikey! The Celebrity Hunter is hyperventilating!

Nona Gaye
Pain? Nona, a snake, a tree ...

The world's best ballers couldn't touch the Great White & Black Celebs for sheer preening power and pain threshold. Let's examine how things went at NBA All-Star Weekend.

Now, my own idea of The Sixth Element of Pain is being tied to a palm tree with nylon stockings while Nona Gaye slides up and down and around my body like a snake and I can't do anything about it but keep trembling. Saturday's NBA All-Star Weekend Slam-Dunk Contest might have been a stink bomb of "Gigli"-esque proportions, but I didn't see it because I followed Nona into the bowels of the Stapler as if on rails after her video duet of the anthem with her late father, Marvin. I don't remember walking.

But she motioned for Security, so I woke up.

This, from a guy who's usually pretty much immune to celebrity. But there's only so much any one central nervous system can take. Sunday's All-Star Game was the Glitterpimperati On Parade. Celeb Factor 9, Mr. Sulu. They were out in full force; and for the most part, "Strut" does not do them justice.

Best Actress had to go to Star Jones of "The View" and her ample, er, intellect. Star got herself proposed to just outside of the three-point arc in the second half by a money player named Whozat? She had my man on his knees and gave us hands to the face, tears, teeth, flapdoodle, whole niner. I'm not saying it was orchestrated, but they don't call her "One-Take Star" for nothing. Now Star can go out and bring home a skid full of Payless shoes ... Right.

If anybody could afford that rockzilla, it wasn't Whozitz. Star broke Ahmad Rashad's record for public proposals, his coming in an NFL pregame show. Ahmad is retired and was sitting on the opposite side of the court, chillin'. Tavis Smiley, who once said that Black America must (1) register to vote, and (2) find Star Jones a husband (preferably not him), can come out of hiding now.

Myself, I was sitting courtside in Brian Grazer's seat. But then he showed up unexpectedly. "Brian!" I said, shocked. Then I asked him if he would make my movie. He seemed disgusted even by the mere thought of it.

Andre 3000
Is that Andre 3000 or Andre Your 15 Minutes Are Up?

It was then I saw that "Hey Ya," the new national anthem for 2004, was no accident. After Andre of Outkast performed his hit for the East's player introductions, he walked all the way around the court to Grazer's seat and glad-handed. They bowed to each other like two sumo wrestlers. Out of all the celebrities, Andre went up to the right guy -- the one who can green-light a picture.

No need to guess what's up Andre's sleeve next, eh? For Best Performance in a Political Role, Andre beat out Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who photo-opped with Yao even though Ahn won't get many votes in Hunan province.

Curiously, Pat Riley seemed to be throwing gang signs.

P Diddy's bodyguard ruined my handshake moment with Denzel, who had on a Yankee lid. I was saying it was the right hat today, but then the muscle got agitated -- not because I was within 100 feet of Dids, but because a breeze from my jacket touched a woman Diddy escorted to the game. She frowned up. Like she hadn't ever been touched, and by a lot more than breezes. Security scowled and said, "Hey You!" By then, D was swallowed up by Star Jones.

Round and round, spin your head, place your bets: Joe Pesci or Andy Garcia, Cynthia Cooper or Elliott Gould, Damon Wayans or Nick Cannon, Paris Hilton or Nick the Attachment, Serena Williams or Lou Gossett, Cube or Russ or Dr. Phil, Chris Tucker eating chicken, Ashton Kutcher kissing rear, Vanessa Williams out walking Rick Fox, Snoop Dogg eyeballing Naomi Campbell. Went to an All-Star Game and the Grammys broke out, as well as the Golden Globes, barely covered by D cups. Bs need not apply.

As for the game and the hoopers ... well, I love seeing the guy who tops out just short of this level, who doesn't belong. Be it Usher, or Ron Artest. Poor Artest was trying to make like Jason Kidd; it wasn't happening. Pain. You can tell the guys who have reached their top level and it isn't this. They might score, but they're not quite White Heat -- not quite Top Of The World, Ma.

Artest was in over his head. So was Michael Redd, to some degree. Magliore didn't look artistic doing it; but without him, the East would not have been able to make it a game, not vs. the Playboy Giants of the Western World. Dirk and Peja looked out-of-sync, maybe because Janet Jackson was sitting shamelessly in their peripheal vision with Jermaine Dupri, who was making origami out of new $20 bills, saying the result reflected the Illuminati.

Shaq was MVP of the game and the quote room.

Do not tell me, ever again, that Peja is anywhere near the jaw-slacking, ball-cracking Larry Legend. You may never see the like of Bird Man again.

Due to the wild celebrity stalking, it was hard to keep your mind on the game, even while the world's best were just rolling along in hyperdrive, going up and down the court at the highest plane of human accomplishment in the world in that particular field. But there's always somebody who is in over his head, whose returns are diminishing, who's Peter-Principling it up. He looks no different than you or me struggling against some kid up at the Y.

God, it does me good to see that! Artest, not artiste.

Everybody else threw down, and even defended. It was close at the end. Then the cream rose. They all D'd up. Tim Duncan, who can get 14, 13 and five without you noticing, hit a turnaround, grabbed the biggest board, screwed up a lob that East go-to-guy T-Mac meant for Jermaine O'Neal. Shaq, KG, Yao and Dunc turned Jermaine O'Neal into Jermaine Dupri making origami.

J. O'Neal is super when he's got the edge on you, When he's in there with boys as big as him -- it ain't happening. Not yet, anyway. Don't know why. Nice enough kid, not stupid or anything. Kind of smart. But it would take both of his de-calved, pipe-cleaner legs to make one of Yao's massive pins.

Shaq turned out to be the Sammy Davis Jr. of the entire room. That Ruben Studdard hug after a coast-to-coast, rim-roasting dunk ... "I'm suing Ruben Studdard because when I ran into him, he grabbed my ass and wouldn't let it go," said Shaq, adding a droll postgame stand-up to his 24/11 MVP game. He even acted like he took his own picture; sheer athleticism on the ramble.

Kobe showed up late. He's trying to play cool, but he's conflicted, in pain. He did show up, on both ends. The court is his only refuge. He can't even go home in peace. We'll go more into the Seven Voyages of Kobe Bryant later. Suffice it to say for now that Jerry West was in the house, big-time, so West is where we'll start the 2004 NBA All-Star Uncensored Thought Balloons.

* * * * *

Kobe Bryant
Will Kobe be starting the 2005 All-Star Game ... for the Memphis Grizzlies?

Jerry West, general manager, Memphis Grizzlies: "Arnold can have Cali. I'll take Kobe. It's not tampering. I always slowly bat my eyes and lick my lips like this."

Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor, California: "Ya, I see Yao, but it hurts my neck to look up that high. I need some muscle relaxers, some Creatine, some cortisone. Ya I yam against steroids, too, just like President Ashcroft."

Christina Aguilera, singer: "I would have passionately kissed Beyonce for the benefit of voyeuristic men. But I don't have a CD coming out."

Janet Jackson, singer, Neverland Ranch: "I apologize for being downloaded more than anyone in history. What was I thinking? I mean, besides sales of the Damita Jo CD, and taking the general public's mind off Michael?"

Jack Nicholson, Laker fan, Hollywood: "Nice move, Andre. I can't get Grazer to return my people's calls. He can't handle The Truth!"

Pat Riley, Miami Heat: "Should've listened to Robert Towne and taken that role in 'Tequila Sunrise.' Could've been in 'Miracle' as Herb Brooks. Who knows more about being a coach, me or Kurt Russell? What did that punk mean, saying he was real sorry to see I was a Hoover Crip? What in hell is a Hoover Crip? Say ... why are all those guys in red bandannas following us?"

Will Smith, Laker fan, Beverly Hills: "Might as well face it I'm addicted to fame, might as well face it I'm addicted to fame. Love me! Love me now!"

Yao Ming, center, West All-Stars: "Madness ... madness."

Shaquille O'Neal, center/forward, West All-Stars: "Tupac shoulda been here to see this. MV-Me. Where was your boy Kobe at, until just before the game? What does he mean, he don't like Phil as a man but he likes him as a coach? Who's easier to replace, me or Kobe? Hmm. Whattup, T-Mac?"

Kevin Garnett, forward/guard, West All-Stars: "I'd like to thank my coach, my teammates, the good people of Minneapolis ... oh wait, it's not time for the regular-season MVP yet. Sorry ... my bad ..."

Tim Duncan
"No, I am not Frankstein. I just play like a quiet monster."

Tim Duncan, forward, West All-Stars: "Why do they call me the best boring player in the history of basketball? Isn't it enough that my hairline looks as if it was stitched together by Victor Frankenstein?"

Steve Francis, guard, West All-Stars: "Yao. Yow!"

Kobe Bryant, guard, West All-Stars: "Shaq. Shoot!"

Flip Saunders, coach, West All-Stars: " ... I'm hyperventilating ..."

Beyonce Knowles, singer, Hollywood: "It all depends by what you mean when you say, 'Over-exposed.' I think I'm just fine. How 'bout you? Ow!"

Allen Iverson, guard, East All-Stars: "I vote fine right over here, B."

Vince Carter, guard, East All-Stars: "ZZZzzzzz ..."

Jermaine O'Neal, center, East All-Stars: "Grrrrrrrr ..."

Tracy McGrady, forward, East All-Stars: "I was the go-to guy. Now will somebody go-to Orlando with me?"

Ben Wallace, center, East All-Stars: "Wantu Wazuri, use Afro Sheen ... I can't get that song out of my head ... and I don't even know where I heard it. Was it Michael Jordan? But what would Jordan need with hair products?"

Jason Kidd, guard, East All-Stars: "Genius is as Jason does ..."

Rick Carlisle, coach, East All-Stars: "I'd kill for Jason Kidd."

Jay-Z, hip-hop impresario, Brooklyn (to the tune of "Come Together," by the Beatles): "Come to Brooklyn, right now ...over me."

Chris Anderson, dunker, Denver Nuggets: "I got screwed. How could old Laker guys give me 8s on my first dunk? Are they blind? Were they drunk? High? Jack Nicholson liked my hair. Brian Grazer copied it. I got screwed."

Fred Jones, dunker, Indiana Pacers: "You mean I #%$@! \ won?! I won in spite of those absurd passes from my white-lipped brother who then had the freaking nerve to berate me? Good. Now I can not return his calls."

P Diddy, hip-hop impresario: "How long before I can sample Outkast and perform with them with my mike turned off? I used to be a dancer, though, you know. Who is this bi-yootiful thang I got me with tonight? None of 'em will ever be J-Lo. What did she ever see in Afflicted? He's a Red Sox fan."

Peja Stojakovic, guard/forward, West All-Stars: "I feel, how you say, kwazy? Oh, queasy. Leather-jets. Oh. Lethargy. I feel in bones something wrong. Then they tell me Webber suspended. Now I am deeply depression."

Andre Kirilenko, forward, West All-Stars: "I must break you, and rim."

Amare Stoudamire, MVP, Rookie Challenge: "Already took care of it."

Dirk Nowitzki, forward, West All-Stars: "I'll lay out on this one. Hoser."

Ray Allen, guard, West All-Stars: "Two aliens are about to bust out of my calves ... but until they do, lift, and separate."

Sam Cassell, guard, West All-Stars: "I do not like Green Eggs and Ham, but I do like KG, Sam I Am ..."

Brad Miller, forward, West All-Stars: "I'm here. I'm actually here."

Baron Davis, guard, East All-Stars: "The call me the Mask. It's the teeth."

Jamaal Magliore, center, East All-Stars: "Why do people keep trying to hang their coats and jackets on me? I am not a walking piece of furniture. Anybody who says I am will get looked at with pure contemptuous disdain. I don't care. It's not my job to care. Look what it did for Kareem. Difference between me and Kareem is, I'm gonna save my money. Won't catch me groveling for charity later. Bring all the coats and jackets on!"

Paul Pierce, guard/forward, East All-Stars: "Why did I bother to come here? Wait, I know why. There's a Nike billboard of me as big as Shaq's head up on Sunset. I'm from Inglewood. My peeps are here. I'm from L.A. That's why. I know they would rather have had LeBron. Screw LeBron. I'm better than LeBron. LeBron is not the Truth. I am. Apparently, that's the only reason why I am here. I cannot stand Rick Carlisle! I could not stand last year's All-Star coach, either. At least then I had 'Toine to pout with me."

Ron Artest, guard, East All-Stars: "I'm sweet. $%@#! I got handle. Oops. I guess I don't. Yes I do. I play with all the finesse of a cigar-store Indian come to life. That's a foul, ref! He fouled! What? What do you mean I fouled him? I ain't never fouled nobody in my life. You better recognize."

Kenyon Martin, forward, East All-Stars: "Who said playing with Jason Kidd makes me look 25-to-50 percent better than I actually am? I got the hops of life, fool. I got the ... uh-oh, here comes Shaq. Ole!"

Michael Redd, guard, East All-Stars: "Damn, Kobe blocked my shot down my throat. I've got Spalding tattooed on my tonsils. It's embarrassing. But did anybody see? What? Oh, everybody saw? Geez ..."

Marv Albert, broadcaster, TNT (to Janet Jackson at courtside): "Let's see that again ... Yes! ... Let's see that again ... Yes! ... Let's see that again ...!"

Ralph Wiley has written articles for Sports Illustrated, Premiere, GQ, and National Geographic, and many national newspapers. He was one of the original NFL Insiders on NBC. His many books include "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir," "Why Black People Tend To Shout," "By Any Means Necessary: The Trials and Tribulations of the Making of Malcolm X" with Spike Lee, "Dark Witness," "Best Seat in the House" with Spike Lee, "Born to Play" with Eric Davis, and "Growing Up King" with Dexter Scott King and the children of Martin Luther King Jr. He contributes to many ESPN productions, and bats cleanup on a weekly basis for Page 2.