The best NBA halftime shows add to the entertainment of the basketball action.
People pay just a shade over 50 bucks on average to witness an NBA game. Get yourself closer to the action, and the rate multiplies by at least a factor of three. And we’re still not talking about the beers, hotdogs, popcorn, and whatever junk food you can get your hands on.
The point is, watching NBA games live is expensive. Still, you can’t put a price on the experience of a lifetime; that’s why at the end of the day, it’s still worth it. Watching Giannis Antetokounmpo cover 94 feet with three bounds or seeing Kevin Durant bury a fadeaway with two sets of hands on his face is pretty much priceless if you’re a real basketball fan.
However, the NBA is more than just the most incredible athletic show on the planet. Even when the players sit and talk strategy back at their locker rooms, something’s going on that keeps people on the edge of their seats. What am I talking about? Yep, I’m talking about halftime acts.
While it’s true that basketball fans spend their hard-earned money to see the stars, NBA halftime shows allow the 10-minute break to fly fast. And quite honestly, there are only a handful of acts worth anyone’s time, especially if the games are boring blowouts.
1.) Christian and Scooby
For Christian Stoinev, it must not be easy knowing you’re playing second fiddle to a chihuahua. But hey, that’s not too bad considering you’re one-half of possibly the best halftime act in sports history. Sure, Stoinev does the heavy lifting here. He’s a world-class gymnast and a performer, but make no mistake about it; he knows who the star is.
I mean, even though Stoinev is probably the world’s best at doing handstands, Percy (whose stage name is Scooby) is a pretty accomplished “balancer” himself. As Stoinev makes his best human inflatable ball impression, Scooby can balance himself all over Stoinev’s body and comes out “unharmed.”
Check that routine out at the 4:00 mark of the video.
NBA Halftime Act “Christian and Scooby” Steal the Show Video
Playing Second Fiddle
Stoinev has probably come to terms with the fact that he plays a supporting role in his own show. Whatever impossible things he is doing would never get the same cheers compared to Scooby balancing himself at the top of his feet while he’s doing a handstand.
For what it’s worth, Stoinev was, at some point, like Scooby. His first taste of performing was at age 5 when he accompanied his dad for shows.
Via the Washington Post: “I stood on my dad’s shoulders as he climbed the ladder and then stood on his head while he balanced on top. It was my first taste of performing. I had a safety line, so I wasn’t risking my life.”
Stoinev was a lifelong performer. He became very good at doing handstands when he was 10. He could also juggle, do wire walks, and unicycle. Stoinev added a dog to his routines not long after, and, needless to say, it was a hit!
A Raptors Fan
At some point, Stoinev fell in love with basketball and became a Raptors and Vince Carter fan. He did attend college at Illinois State University but had to put his performance on hold until he graduated. After graduating with a degree in journalism, Stoineve saw two career paths opened to him– a job at a small-town TV station or performing with Scooby. (Percy was actually his second “Scooby.”) He chose the second, and the rest, they say, is history.
Stoinev is 29 years old now and plans to keep performing until he’s 35. That means the clock is already ticking. The next time you’re planning to watch an NBA game live, maybe you could first check out who’s keeping people interested during halftime. If that’s Christian and Scooby’s job for that particular night, it’s going to be worth every penny.
2.) Red Panda
If there ever is someone you can call a 5-foot giant, it’s Rong Niu, otherwise known as Red Panda. Some do call her the most popular intermission entertainment in the NBA, and they could be right. Niu was gracing NBA floors in 1993, way before many of the league’s young stars were born.
Red Panda’s most famous routine is “simple” enough. She rides in a 7-foot unicycle and flips four bowls at once from her feet and onto her head. But, of course, you and I know it’s not that “simple.” Being able to ride a unicycle alone takes years to master. And learning how to balance all of those bowls practically takes a lifetime. And by “lifetime,” it’s more like an actual “lifetime” than a symbolic one.
You see, a life of acrobatics and juggling is inevitable for Niu. Her father was a pole acrobat, and her mother was an aerial talent herself who specializes in juggling. At seven years of age, Niu was in a one-bedroom apartment the government provided for them and practiced her known skill in the NBA circuit. At 10, Niu was practicing 7 hours a day and a full-fledged performer at 12.
Niu is now 51 years old, but she’s not stopping anytime soon. She still craves perfection, and putting on a show for the fans fills that need. The CoVid 19 pandemic put a brief halt to her gigs, but as soon as the 2021-22 season opens, Rong Niu will be at it again that we can put money on.
3.) Amazing Sladek
The Amazing Sladek is known as America’s oldest daredevil, and it’s hard to prove the opposite. At 63 years old, the guy is doing handstands and defies gravity one chair at a time. Of course, he has more tricks than the “Tower of Chairs” stunt he has pulled off in every NBA arena from Philly to Sacramento.
But let’s go back to where it all started. The Amazing Sladek, whose real name is Gary Borstelmann, was a former New York state gymnastics champion. From there, he worked and performed with the Royal Hanneford Circus. Well, that was 40 years ago, give or take, and he doesn’t plan on slowing down.
Borstelmann once said he wanted to perform until he couldn’t. When he was 55, he planned to go on and be fit enough at 65 that he could still do his stunts as quickly as it was decades ago. But he knows one mistake could end it all.
“In my act, there are no gimmicks, no safeties,” he said, “If I fall, I will be a cripple. I am doing something that nobody else can do. Mine is an old-school daredevil act.”
If the stakes are that much higher, then all the more reason to watch while it lasts.
4.) Simon Arestov and Lyric Wallenda Arestov
The performing business is usually a family matter, and the Arestovs is no different. Simon and Lyric Wallenda perform all over the NBA circuit and even bring their 3-year-old son Alex along from time to time. And we don’t have to guess who’s on the receiving end of the audience’s applause.
The Arestovs are a part of Circus Incredible. Lyric Wallenda is from the seventh generation of the Flying Wallenda family. Arestov was a member of the Arestov Circus Troupe from Moscow. Arestov makes a living performing his famous Rolla Bolla, a routine where he had to balance on a piece of flat wood on top of a circular roll.
As lifelong circus performers, the couple can, of course, do much more. However, halftime shows are typically just five minutes to make room for all the other stuff the league and the players have to do. And at halftime shows, they do not have to do the ultra-dangerous stuff. All they need to do is entertain, and boy, they sure always did.
You might like The Making of an NBA Superfan.
5.) Steve Max
Steve Max doesn’t have the fantastic balance of the Red Panda nor the cute appeal of the Arestovs or Scooby. But one thing he can do better than anyone else? Throw one hell of a Simon Says party.
Yes, Max makes a living as a professional Simon Says caller, the best in his craft. Otherwise known as the Simon Sez guy, Max travels around the country the whole year and often performs for NBA halftime shows during winter. He also does corporate shows and other events where people need a necessary icebreaker.
Many do not realize the unique skills a guy like Max puts on the table. He needs to have a quick mouth and a whole lot of concentration to do what he does. And more often than not, he would also need his quick wit to turn an ordinary moment into something unforgettable. That’s what makes his act one of the 5 best NBA halftime shows.
For instance, when the Mavericks invited him to do a halftime show, one of the participants was a soldier who lost his left hand. When Max called out to raise a left hand, the soldier raised the wrong arm. Rather than call him out, Max decided to let the guy in the game because ‘he gave his left hand for the country.’ And from that, a potentially awkward moment turned into a memorable one for everybody in the arena.
Now, NBA halftime acts are paid $1,500 to $5,000, but who says Steve Max had it easy? Like every other performer in this list, he had to prepare and bring it all the time. He had to tailor his performances so that no two were alike while keeping an ordinary game fun and interactive. Anything less is unacceptable, and that’s why the Simon Sez guy is practically a legend in these NBA halftime shows.
By Jan Rey
Jan is a sucker for all things basketball and still yells, “Kobe!” every time he throws crumpled paper in the trash bin. He loves Thai massages, Japanese whiskey, and American burgers and cooks his favorite Filipino meat dishes all by himself.
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