The Beatdown

All-Star Weekend put a jewel in Francois Baptiste's production crown.

By Friday evening, I've recovered enough to rejoin Baptiste at Vinyl, which is now transformed into a mini-studio for the private TNT/Stuff magazine party, which is being televised. A fifty-foot red carpet has been laid down in front of the club for celebrity VIPs, Charles Barkley among them. Baptiste seems a little more at ease tonight, likely because this party and the East Meets West bash, featuring Shaquille O'Neal and Amare Stoudemire across the street at Serengeti, belong to other promoters. Even so, Baptiste helped organize them, so he bounces back and forth between the venues.

By the time we make it to Serengeti, the place is jammed. Shortly after Shaq makes his exit around midnight, Iverson, Russell Simmons and Ludacris stroll through the front door, bookended by their bodyguards. Folks lined up three deep outside press against the glass, hoping to catch a glimpse. I lose Baptiste in the crowd and gratefully call it a night.

On Saturday, I head over to the Loews Denver to reconnect. Both here and at the Hotel Monaco -- where Baptiste earlier hashed out some party details with DJ Enuff -- XM stations are set to all hip-hop and R&B, all the time. As I survey the lobby -- what city are we in, anyway? -- Baptiste steps out of the elevator. He's soon followed by Hiriam Hicks, P. Diddy's manager and a legend in his own right. Tonight's event, P. Diddy's Diamonds & Fur party, has been a year in the making, and Baptiste wants to take a dry run to the Church to make sure everything's set for Diddy.

Once again, I'm riding shotgun -- but someone else is driving the Lincoln Town Car, with Hicks and a few others following in a black Cadillac Escalade. Baptiste is sitting in back with members of Diddy's crew, listening to Diddy's interview on KS-107.5. As usual, he's on the phone, coordinating our arrival. After haggling over the best way to make our entrance, he decides we should go in through the back. Unfortunately, the police have other plans; the alley is blocked off. I step out of the car and ask the officers to clear the way.

"I'm with Puffy Combs's party," I say, tripping over the words as I realize the absurdity of what I'm saying, "and we need to get through."

No dice. The boys in blue have been told to keep the alley clear. Baptiste keeps his cool and makes a quick decision: We'll enter through the side, where we encounter minor pandemonium. Now I understand why Baptiste chose to make a dry run: I can't imagine Diddy being subjected to this madness.

Inside the Church, the energy is overwhelming. Bullock and his crew usher us into the VIP area, and we make our way upstairs to the VIP room where Diddy will hold court. As Baptiste and Hicks make a few final adjustments, I look over the assembled throng, which includes Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. At this moment, the Church is not only the best room in Denver, but the finest room in the country.

Out front, Ludacris is being frisked by security. "That's Ludacris," Baptiste vouches, with a nod. "He's cool." A few minutes later, Busta Rhymes rolls up and poses for a quick photo with Baptiste. It's the first time I've seen Baptiste remotely starstruck all weekend.

Back inside, Baptiste and I pause for a photo with boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. , and then it's back to the alley: Diddy is T-minus three minutes away. Big Jon Platt rolls up in a double-breasted suit and heads in through the back door. Baptiste advises me to follow him. The hallway has been locked down in anticipation of Diddy's arrival, and Platt is having some difficulty gaining access. "That's Big Jon," I say, taking a cue from Baptiste. "He's cool, man."

Just moments later, Diddy makes his entrance -- and is upstairs with Baptiste and his entourage before anybody really notices. But then, as if on cue, the stairway leading to the VIP area turns into chaos. Each time Baptiste emerges, people start clawing at him. A guy with frosted hair and sunglasses who claims to be one of the Maloofs starts jocking him to gain access; he's with an older man who he says is Tony Bennett, as well as two females. Diddy spends about an hour in the VIP room before he makes his exit. This time, everyone is ready, and flashbulbs go off like crazy. Then, just like that, he's gone, taking with him the party's momentum and leaving behind utter pandemonium outside the Church.

The next time I speak with Baptiste, it's Monday afternoon. Sunday night went pretty much like Saturday, only with more celebrities. Baptiste is exhausted, but pleased with the weekend. "I think everybody needs to be credited equally for their part," he says, singing the praises of everyone from Hicks, Platt and Billups to Regas and Steve Christou, Roulier, Kowalski, La Cabe, Henderson and his brother Emile. "There's no slouching part in this event, you know what I'm saying? You saw how crazy it was. I might as well have just shot myself before I began if I thought I could've done this all by myself. I couldn't. There's no way. And that's one thing I've really learned: You have to really micro-manage, and you have to delegate.

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