Sunday, February 15, 2004

Nona Gaye sings national anthem with late father

All-Star notebook

By Greg Beacham
The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - Nona Gaye gave one of the most impressive performances at All-Star weekend - and she did it with a little help from her late father.

Gaye, the daughter of legendary singer Marvin Gaye, sang a stirring rendition of the national anthem during the All-Star Saturday festivities at Staples Center. It was a duet with her father, who changed the nation's perception of "The Star-Spangled Banner" with his performance at Los Angeles' last All-Star game 21 years ago.

Images of Marvin Gaye's performance played on a screen behind Nona as she sang along with an enhanced recording of the performance. The crowd whooped and cheered throughout the song.

Before the 1983 All-Star game at the Forum, Marvin Gaye stole the show with a soul-flavored rendition of the national anthem. Though a few purists, including former commissioner Larry O'Brien, were unimpressed with the unique arrangement, the players and most of the fans recognized a watershed moment in the history of sports and music.

"It was the prettiest and the most soulful national anthem I've ever heard," said former Lakers guard Michael Cooper, who attended the 1983 game. "I've never seen so many people tear up or feel the way they felt after someone sang the national anthem.

"That national anthem brought everyone together. ... You have some good renditions by different people, but nothing ever sounded, or compared to, or made you feel the way Marvin Gaye sang that one."

There was nearly as much music as basketball on All-Star Saturday: Tamia, the wife of Orlando's Grant Hill, sang the Canadian anthem, while Ruben Studdard and the Beach Boys also performed.


YAO HOMECOMING: The Houston Rockets and the Sacramento Kings will play two exhibition games in China in October, and Yao Ming expects to hear from a lot of friends and relatives in his hometown of Shanghai.

Asked how many might be on his list for free passes, Yao grinned and said: "We may have to hold out the entire stadium."

The Rockets' All-Star center, speaking through an interpreter, added: "I'm very, very happy to get a chance to play in Shanghai again."

The first game will be in Shanghai Stadium on Oct. 14. The teams play again at Capital Stadium in Beijing on Oct. 16.

Yao's Houston teammate, Steve Francis, already is excited about the trip.

"One of the things you hear about China, even when you're young, is about the Great Wall," Francis said. "Maybe Yao and I can go run along the Great Wall."

Both games - the first to be staged by an American pro sports league in China - will be televised by ESPN.


JAY WILLIAMS: A year ago, Jay Williams played in the Rookie Challenge at All-Star weekend. The Chicago guard seemed headed for an outstanding NBA career until his motorcycle accident last June, which has put his career in jeopardy.

But Williams was back at the All-Star game this weekend as a correspondent for the NBA's TV network. Williams, who received a generous contract buyout from the Bulls last week, bantered with former Duke teammates Mike Dunleavy and Carlos Boozer before speaking about his future.

"Rehab is coming well," said Williams, the second overall pick in the 2002 draft. "It's something I do every day of my life. They say it's going good. I think I'll be running by summer. Then we'll work on cutting, and then trying to get back out here."

The accident severed a main nerve in Williams' leg, fractured his pelvis and tore three of the four main ligaments in his left knee. He spent two weeks at a Chicago hospital and several more weeks at a hospital in North Carolina.

Williams still walks with a pronounced limp, and doctors have cautioned him to remain realistic about his rehab schedule. He realizes he might never play again, but refuses to give up.

Said Williams: "It could happen. You never know."


LOOSE BALLS: California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will appear on TNT's pregame show before Sunday's All-Star game. ... Both All-Star teams held practices Saturday at the nearby convention center housing the NBA's interactive fan pavilion. At the end of the East practice, Tracy McGrady, Allen Iverson, Kenyon Martin and Baron Davis threw their shoes into the crowd. ... Most of the All-Stars attended Saturday's proceedings. Iverson cheered loudly for Kyle Korver, his Philadelphia teammate, in the 3-Point Shootout. ... Lennox Lewis, who retired as heavyweight champion earlier in the month, sat next to actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith.

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