Brand, Party, Repeat: NBA All-Star Weekend With Stephen Curry and Ludacris


Every year, the NBA’s biggest stars and the NBA’s biggest sponsors gather in a random city to celebrate how close they are to the NBA playoffs and promote brands – both commercial and personal. This year, the break-out star is Stephen Curry, who spent his All-Star break running around New York City making media appearances and aligning himself with whatever product he wanted.

Curry’s personal brand has grown so strong that last week Darren Rovell profiled his many endorsement opportunities and ADWEEK dubbed him “the NBA’s new marketing superstar.” Just Google “Stephen Curry marketing.” Last weekend, Stephen Curry officially arrived as the New Face of the NBA – and that was before he started his second consecutive All-Star game and won the Three-Point Contest. Curry spent his All-Star break going from event to event in New York City. On Friday, the Stephen Curry Brand Tour stopped at New York City’s “Avenue” for his Express Brand Ambassador Launch Party. For some reason, I was there.

As someone who writes things on the Internet, I often get invitations to speak with people I don’t care about or to attend events taking place nowhere near me. Rarely does a PR pitch pique my interest and coincide with my travel budget.

No, I don’t want to apply for credentials to Random Fight League in Duluth, Minnesota.

No, I don’t think my readers are interested in hearing from a random doctor because Le’Veon Bell suffered a hyper-extended knee.

Yes, I do want to see the White House Down screening.

Yes, I do want to go to Las Vegas to meet Chrissy Teigen.

Stephen Curry’s party fell in the Chrissy Teigen/White House Down category. In addition to taking place in New York City, an hour from my home, it promised cocktails, a performance by Ludacris, a free shirt and a reasonable 6pm – 9pm run time. That is how you launch a brand.

To describe this party is to break out a Stefon impression…

If you want to see Stephen Curry’s Express launch party on All-Star weekend, New York’s hottest club is Avenue. This place has everything: Someone from the cast of 2 Fast 2 Furious. A mixed martial artist from Long Island. The star of TBS’s “Ground Floor.” A Charlotte Hornet from the 1990’s. En fuego in utero… (It’s that thing, where a baby hasn’t been born yet, but he could still beat you in a free throw shooting contest.)

Yes, Dell Curry and Sonya Curry were there, though they mostly stayed tucked away in a VIP area. (Ayesha Curry was there too.) Still, I was in the same room as basketball parent royalty. UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman came late and hung out with Skylar Astin (more on him in a minute). Ludacris showed up and performed a “clean” 20-minute show. There was something jarring about Ludacris referring to “What’s Your Fantasy?” as a song that only his most loyal fans might remember. Turns out Luda considers me an old school fan. And that doesn’t even count the number of times I’ve seen the FAST movies.

Speaking of actors from movies I’ve seen way too many times… Skylar Astin. For the uninitiated, he played Jesse in Pitch Perfect, but we are initiated, aren’t we? Seeing someone from Pitch Perfect in person is  surreal. Seeing one of my favorite basketball players? Whatever. I asked for a picture with one person at this event and that was Skylar Astin. He was nice. He said thank you when I told him I was a big fan. He said thanks as he continued to walk away while I told him I loved Pitch Perfect. Even as the words were coming out of my mouth, I could imagine how ridiculous it both looked and sounded. I’m pretty sure I stood there with a goofy smile on my face while I thought both about how awesome it was to meet Jesse from Pitch Perfect, and how silly I must have looked.

That’s how the whole thing should have felt. What was anyone doing there? How much money did one have to spend at Express in the last year to get this invite? How many media members were there disguised as fans? Or, like me, fans disguised as media. There were at least a dozen photographers there to chronicle the event. Though, to the best of my Googling abilities, it appears that none of them caught me bobbing my head and rapping the expletive-laden original lyrics of Ludacris songs from the middle of a crowd. Or taking pictures and video instead of watching the show.

As you can see from the pictures, there was quite a crowd. Though I doubt it was much different from any other crowd the bar regularly saw. The only real difference was probably the handful of famous people and the temporary tattoos promoting Express. (The picture at the bottom shows the tear down that started promptly at 9pm.) It was crowded enough that it was difficult to move, it just happened that sometimes to get to the bar you had to say “excuse me” to someone you’ve seen on television doing something awesome – be it rapping, knocking out Anderson Silva, scoring 50 points, or making out with Anna Kendrick.

I’m really not sure how to wrap this up. Perhaps, like the party, it should just end. Stephen Curry is the new face of the NBA, Express was mentioned in a blog post on a sports blog, I took a selfie with an actor. And I have a free shirt coming in the mail. That pretty much sums it up. Quid pro quo. That’s All-Star weekend. It’s a celebration with a sponsor.

This was my first NBA All-Star party and I have to assume it is my last. Not because of this post (hopefully!), but because I can’t imagine a confluence of events that would lead me to be in the same city at the same time as anything like this again. I would certainly never pay to wander through such a mob for the chance to find out that Steph Curry is a legitimate 6’3″. (He is.)

Minus the celebrities and the brief Ludacris performance, it was pretty much the same as going to any other fashionable nightclub. When 9 pm came, Curry and the rest of the celebrities left. Employees started taking down the Curry posters as they prepared to open for their usual crowd at 11pm. With that, my brush with All-Star weekend had ended. Probably forever. That said, it’s nice to be asked.