The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

At All-Star weekend, NBA players preach patience with replacing ousted union head Billy Hunter

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NEW ORLEANS - While the NBA All-Star dunk contest had come under increasing scrutiny for a lack of originality and an increase in gimmicks, Washington's John Wall insisted some new ideas are out there, if people know where to look.

Wall said a friend sent him a YouTube video of 27 dunks that had never been performed during the marquee event of NBA All-Star Saturday.

"There's some ideas out there. It's just the dunks are very hard to do," Wall said. "You've just got to trust yourself to go out there and try, and try to master it."

The first dunk Wall saw in the online video, he liked, and used it to eliminate Sacramento's Ben McLemore and seal up the Eastern Conference's triumph in the event, which for the first time was a competition among conferences.

The winning dunk involved leaping over a mascot from behind, grabbing the ball on the way over the mascot's head, then slamming home a two-handed, double-pump reverse jam.

"It seemed hard, but for me it came out to be easy, so it worked out in my favour," Wall said.

This dunk contest was not without gimmicks, however. Defending champion Terrence Ross entered the court wearing a boxing robe. Later, McLemore dunked by leaping over a throne on which Kings minority owner Shaquille O'Neal sat, and then McLemore knelt while O'Neal placed a crown on his head.

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CELEBS: As usual, All-Star Saturday night drew its share of celebrities.

They included Rappers Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, Nelly and Drake; actors Chris Tucker and Kevin Hart; film maker Spike Lee, and popular New Orleans musician Trombone Shorty.

Drake even got on the court during the dunk contest, holding the ball up about chest-high to help Ross execute his jam that eliminated Portland's Damian Lillard. As Ross initiated his jump, he grabbed the ball from Drake, passed it under his legs and then threw down a windmill jam.

Meanwhile, the NBA invited current rapper Kendrick Lamar, who wore a black hooded sweatshirt, to perform after the 3-point contest, and 90s rapper Vanilla Ice, wearing a red ball-cap, red T-shirt, red shorts and red sneakers, to perform before the final round of the dunk contest.

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PATIENT UNION: A year after ousting Billy Hunter as executive director of the union, NBA players still aren't ready to replace him.

Players held their All-Star weekend meeting Saturday and were introduced to the remaining candidates for Hunter's old job, but they aren't ready to make a decision, or even to say when they expect one.

"This process has been long but we're not in a rush," vice-president Roger Mason Jr. of the Miami Heat said.

Working with the executive search firm Reilly Partners, players said they began with a list of more than 200 candidates, but wouldn't say how many remain or even if they should be considered finalists. Those who remained in the process were invited to the meeting Saturday and met with a group of about 30 players who attended.

Plans are being made to distribute a video of the meeting to additional players so they can fully informed about the candidates before one is eventually hired.

Hunter was voted out during last year's All-Star meeting, shortly after an independent review of the union was critical of a number of his business decisions and hiring practices.

Secretary-treasurer James Jones, also of the Heat, refused to speculate if a replacement would be named by the start of next season, saying that "that would be giving a timeline and so we're not into timelines."

But Mason said players aren't frustrated that a replacement hasn't yet been chosen.

"It takes time but we haven't heard any pushback on it taking too long," he said. "We want to make this a thorough, transparent process and I think our players respect that."

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D-LEAGUE: Before the various challenges of NBA All-Star Saturday night got going, the best of the NBA Development League took the court in a temporary stadium set up in the city's convention centre.

The game was of particular interest to New Orleans NBA fans because of the presence of Idaho point guard Pierre Jackson, whose rights are controlled by the Pelicans.

Jackson is the D-League's leading scorer, averaging 29.1 points, and he and his agent have been lobbying for the Pelicans to give the 2013 second-round draft choice out of Baylor a chance to play in the NBA this season.

His problem is the Pelicans already have three point guards on the roster: Jrue Holiday, Brian Roberts and Austin Rivers, though Holiday is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his shin.

On Saturday, Jackson led the Futures team with 30 points and eight assists, hitting six 3s and going 11 of 18 from the field. However, his squad lost to the Prospects team led by game MVP Robert Covington, who scored 33 points.

Jackson hoped his outing motivates Pelicans, who had several basketball operations executives and assistant coaches at the game, to give him his chance in the NBA.

"I'm waiting. The time's going to come sooner or later," Jackson said. "I've just got to stay positive and keep my head up."

Several other players with past ties to New Orleans or south Louisiana were in the game, including former Hornets Hilton Armstrong, Ike Diogu and Melvin Ely; former Pelicans centre Arinze Onuaku and former LSU centre Justin Hamilton.

The D-League event included a dunk contest if its own, won by Tony Mitchell. His dunks included one in which another player lobbed a blind bounce pass from up in the stands.

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AP Basketball Writer Brian Mahoney contributed to this report.

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