Downtown Salt Lake City got its first taste Thursday of what the busy NBA All-Star Weekend has in store — as the NBA Crossover, a fan experience at the Salt Palace Convention Center, kicked off.
According to the league’s website, the event is “a multi-day interactive fan event that brings basketball culture to the forefront, featuring player appearances, live performances and unique activations focused on art, music, fashion, technology and entertainment.”
Some of the offerings inside the Crossover event include displays of historical basketball jerseys — including Utah Jazz legends John Stockton and Karl Malone’s jerseys when they played in the 1993 All-Star Game in Salt Lake City — and an mirror-lined “infinity room” holding trophies. At another display, people could get a “photo with Larry,” aka the Larry O’Brien Trophy, given to the league champion at the end of NBA Finals.
A number of the NBA’s corporate sponsors — including AT&T, Kia, Canada Goose, Starry soda and Wilson sporting goods — have booths with games and giveaways. In the NBA Jam Session, fans can partake in mini-games and activities. At Center Stage, in the Salt Palace’s Grand Ballroom, there will be concerts from such artists as Pitbull, The Kid Laroi, G-Eazy, Saweetie and Ria.
During Thursday’s preview, South African illustrator Karabo Poppy Moletsane was at the WNBA’s Creators Court booth, which carries custom stickers she designed. The stickers celebrate basketball and Black culture, while nodding to the WNBA’s history — including a sticker honoring the Utah Starzz, one of the league’s original teams (before relocating to San Antonio and later Las Vegas, where they now play as the Aces).
Moletsane — who also painted the Utah Jazz mural on the side of Valter’s Osteria on 300 South in downtown Salt Lake City — said she has a long history with basketball, because all three of her brothers play the game back home in Johannesburg.
“I kind of had the culture ingrained in me from pretty young,” she said. “As soon as I learned how to draw, basketball themes carried on into my work.” When the WNBA sent her an email to collaborate and combine her two passions — art and basketball — it all came together for her.
It took 21 hours for Moletsane to travel to Salt Lake City, and she said she’s excited to be in Utah for All-Star Weekend. “This is history in the making,” she said. “It’s the first time WNBA has had such a prominent presence within NBA weekend and culture.”
Moletsane said she hopes people keep in mind the presence and significance of the WNBA, which she said often gets pushed to the side in favor of the men’s game. “It’s pretty cool to be one of the starters and igniters of this new change,” she said.
Amid all the hustle, with a DJ mixing tracks in the middle of the room, a local voice was getting its due as well. Craft Lake City has a booth in the NBA Crossover, a pop-up tattoo parlor space that will host six to seven different Salt Lake-area designers and artists — creating Sharpie tattoos of their custom artwork for anyone who wants one.
On Thursday, artist Ricky Vigil was drawing Jazz-inspired tattoos for media attendees.
Kimberly Rosler, the community events assistant with Craft Lake City, said this weekend they’re hoping to elevate Utah’s creative culture, artists and their non-profit work.
“It’s really important for us to be represented here, because so many people from all over the country are coming through here,” Rosler said. “Maybe not a lot of people understand how creative and artistic Salt Lake City is, or that we have that kind of culture here.”
Next door to the Salt Palace, Utah’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Services has opened a pop-up liquor store for visitors — the first such store the state’s liquor agency has ever created.
The liquor store’s central shelves carry a range of products from Utah distilleries and breweries — including High West Whiskey, Vida Tequila, Five Wives Vodka, Sugar House Whiskey and Beehive Gin.
Also for sale are beverages with ties to basketball and Sunday’s game: Maison No. 9 rose wine from rapper Post Malone (who’s set to perform before Sunday’s game), Utah Jazz minority owner Dwyane Wade’s Wade Cellar Wine, and the NBA’s corporate partner, Hennessy cognac.
One of the most expensive bottles, at $3,670. 86, is for the French spirit Cognac Frapin — whose North American brand ambassador is Minnesota Timberwolves (and former Utah Jazz) center Rudy Gobert.
A couple blocks from the Salt Palace, Google was giving a preview of its “Pixel Playground,” taking over the Sky SLC nightclub at 149 W. Pierpont Ave. for the long weekend. It will be open to the public during the day, and have private events in the evenings.
The “Pixel Playground” features a barbershop and a nail salon — and, like the NBA Crossover, will have pro basketball players making appearances. During Thursday’s media preview, Kenneth Norton Jr., who plays for the Memphis Hustle in the G League and is slated to play in the NBA Rising Stars game Friday, shot some baskets and chatted with some of those attending.
Other brands are represented by lounges and other pop-ups around downtown.
In City Creek Center, a pop-up Foot Locker store with Air Jordan brands dominating was selling merchandise, and letting people take photos in front of an oversized Wheaties box. A floor below, a “style lounge” for Tissot watches was giving people a chance to shoot virtual free throws.
Elsewhere downtown, spaces were still being prepared. A pop-up space sponsored by American Express, called “Outside the Court,” was still being constructed in The Gateway. On 300 South, crews were putting the final touches of a two-story basketball shoe at a Nike pop-up.
Editor’s note • Tribune culture editor Sean P. Means contributed to this article.