From the All-Star Game to the Slam Dunk Contest, Chung Had Front-Row Seat to Last Weekend’s Festivities
While most students were studying or sleeping this past weekend, Pomona first-year Jay Chung was at the Los Angeles Convention Center volunteering at the 2011 NBA All-Star Weekend. The All-Star Weekend encompasses not just the All-Star Game but the NBA Dunk Contest, along with several other televised events and all day “Jam Sessions” open to the public with activities and celebrity appearances.
“It was an amazing experience,” said Chung “I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
This winter Chung was the video coordinator for the Pomona-Pitzer basketball team. At every home game, he was at the top of the stands with a video camera, and in practice he served as an extra pair of hands for Coach Katsiaficas, rebounding for the players or helping set up drills. Out of practice he spends hours every night watching basketball or shooting hoops in the gym.
“I’ve always been a big fan of basketball, but then recently I just developed this obsession. It started with reading magazines, watching the revival of the Lakers,” Chung said.
Growing up in his hometown of Seoul, South Korea, Jay supported his local team, the Seoul Samsung Thunders. However, his thirst for the game, unquenched by the Korean Basketball League, led him to become as much a Lakers fan as any L.A. native. The walls of his dorm room are framed by two Lakers championship pennants and six posters of his favorite player, Lakers captain Kobe Bryant.
Ever since enrolling at Pomona, he had his eyes set on working at All-Star Weekend, which had been planned for L.A. since June 2009. After sending in his information online, Chung attended an informational session in December and then another orientation session early last week. More than 5,000 volunteers applied, and Jay considers himself lucky to have been one of about 1,500 picked to work the event.
Much like his favorite player, Chung’s first job when he arrived on Saturday was guarding the Lakers’ last five NBA championship trophies. But while Kobe does it on the court, Jay was literally keeping the hordes of fans from touching the trophies.
“It was crazy. The all-star game is ridiculously expensive. But the jam session is only about $20, so on Saturday we had something like 27,000 people show up,” he said.
As a die-hard Lakers fan, Chung said he was awestruck spending all morning within an arm’s length of the championship trophies.
Later in the day he helped keep fans in line as they waited to get San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker’s autograph.
“Tony Parker is really nice. He’s kind of solemn, though. He’s very approachable—you’re not starstruck by him.” Chung said. “I stood by him the whole time, making sure nobody tried to jump in there and kiss him, steal his sunglasses, something like that.”
Over the course of the weekend Chung got to hang around other big stars such as Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, and L.A. Clippers forward and Dunk Contest winner Blake Griffin.
“The cool thing about Russell [Westbrook] was that he didn’t just stand around and sign autographs,” Chung said. “He actually played basketball with the kids, too.”
Even back on campus, Jay continued soaking in all that All-Star weekend had to offer, watching the Celebrity Game, Freshman vs. Sophomore Game, Dunk Contest, and finally the All-Star Game all from his dorm room.
Despite all the hype about Blake Griffin’s last dunk in the contest, when he leapt over a car to throw it down in the net, Chung thought the best play that night was Griffin’s first attempt, a perfectly executed 360 degree slam.
“That first dunk really set the tone for the rest of the contest, and while the last dunk was nice, it was overly commercialized. I mean, you could see ‘Kia Motors’ right under his feet. He deserved to win because of that first dunk,” he said.
While this may have been Chung’s most recent experience working with basketball, it certainly isn’t the only one he’s had. Two years ago he volunteered for the summer at the Jackie Robinson YMCA in San Francisco.
“The region where this YMCA was located was home to 32 gangs, so sports helps keep them off the street,” Chung said.
This past summer Jay once again ventured to the U.S. to work with basketball. He helped out the Korean Basketball League during their scouting combine and American draft in Las Vegas.
“It wasn’t quite as glamorous as the NBA draft they have at the [Madison Square] Garden, but it was still really interesting,” he said.
Chung’s love of basketball has led him to pursue these opportunities over the last several years, and he says it’s his goal to continue working with basketball in the future. As evidenced by the YMCA program, Jay believes in using basketball to eventually support a bigger cause and promote social
“The sports programs here, like the YMCA, the NCAA, even colleges and high schools, all help provide an organized way for students to become involved in sports,” he said. “Korea really lacks that system, so when I was here two years ago at the YMCA and when I was here last year for the KBL [Korean Basketball League], I talked to a lot of people and learned a lot. I’d love to bring that system back home. That’s one of my dreams.”