New technology expected to enhance All-Star weekend

It’s as much a show as a contest.

So it’s hardly surprising that Wednesday, the Smoothie King Arena looked like it was being prepped more for a concert than this weekend’s NBA All-Star activities.

The stage where the pregame and halftime shows will take place along with the much-anticipate player introductions displaces more than 1,000 lower baseline seats. And the scoreboard has been replaced with a high-resolution video board to bring what’s happening on stage closer to the fans.

Even the lighting system has been changed to ones akin to those used at the Staples Center and Barklays Center that brighten the playing court to theatrical levels.

In contrast, in 2008 when the All-Star Game was played in New Orleans, the concerts were staged on the arena floor. For this weekend, more than 40 truckloads of new equipment have been installed in the arena and its environs.

“That’s our biggest challenge,” said Kevin Dobstaff, the league’s vice-president for live programming and entertainment. “We’re putting on a basketball game and a concert at the same time.

“And we want to present them both in the best way possible.”

The arena is also a lab of sorts.

Around the suite level of the arena are stationed 23 cameras that can provide 360-degree views of dunks from Saturday’s dunk contest on NBA.com.

“The All-Star Game is where we like to debut new technology,” said Steve Hellmuth, the NBA’s executive vice-president of operations and technology. “We’ve known for months that we would be here, while The Finals can be more difficult because you don’t have that kind of lead time.

“The thing is that for three nights, fans around the world are going to see the latest technology being put to full use.”

That goes for those attending the NBA Fan Jam in the Morial Convention Center, too.

Upon entering, fans will be given “jam bands” that can be used at any of the 37 stations to do such things as having photos made and e-mailed to them.

There’s also a new re-creation of the combine experience, where fans can measure themselves running, dribbling and shooting, and then compare their results to NBA players.

And for parents who get tired of following their kids from station to station, there’s a new NBA lounge featuring vintage games.

Adi Wilk, the NBA’s director of events, said about 80,000-90,000 are expected to attend, and that the average fan will spend four hours at Jam Session, which opens at 4 p.m. Thursday.

“We guarantee that you will come away with something,” he said Wednesday as workmen put the final touches on the various stations, including the 3,200-seat Sprint Arena where Friday’s Celebrity Game and Saturday’s All-Star practice session will be held. “It might be headband or wristband, but it will be something.

“There’s always going to be players here signing autographs, too. It may not be the person you were hoping for, but you will get an autograph.”

Ski Austin, the NBA’s vice-president for events and attractions since 1993, said New Orleans lends itself to staging successful All-Star weekends, both because having the Superdome next door to the arena allows it to be utilized in ways such as putting in a practice court for the Saturday night skills contests.

“There’s just a lot of energy around here,” he said. “With all of the hotels lined up on Canal and Poydras, people who don’t get to see each other for the rest of the year run into each other there instead of just at the arena.

“This event has become so big. But having it in New Orleans feels a lot like the old days.”

Harden, Love at Walmart

All-Stars James Harden of the Houston Rockets and Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves will be making appearances at two local Walmarts on Thursday and Friday.

Love will be at the 1901 Tchopitoulas location from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Harden will be at the 5110 Jefferson Highway, Hahahan, store from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday.

Currys keeping busy

In addition to participating in the Shooting Stars competition on Saturday night, All-Star starter Stephen Curry and his father, former All-Star Dell Curry, will be conducting a clinic for local youth at 4 p.m. Thursday at Kingsley House.

ESPN in town

Mike Golic and Mike Greeenberg will be airing “Mike & Mike” from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Friday from the Hyatt Regency.

“First Take” will emanate from Jam Session at 10 a.m. Friday, and “SportsCenter” will have segments from the Smoothie King Center, Hyatt and Jam Session starting at 10 a.m. each day.