Posted Feb 12 2010 8:44AM
Something may happen. Perhaps a pass you didn't see coming, or a unique dunk, or a dramatic sequence downcourt, whatever. On All-Star Weekend, anything's possible. That's why the NBA showcase has a leg up on the Pro Bowl and NHL All-Star Game and even the MLB All-Star Game.
Seriously: The Pro Bowl was so captivating the NFL finally moved it from Hawaii to the week before the Super Bowl in order to justify the game's existence. The NHL game doesn't distinguish itself from any other NHL game, and other than Pete Rose's nasty slide that nearly killed a catcher, does anyone remember much from baseball's midseason game after all these years?
The NBA game brings creativity and showmanship and these 10 moments in my lifetime that show why it's still the best:
The dunk contest began to lose some luster and spark until Carter breathed life back into the contest. He did windmills, between-the-legs, anything possible, and anything improbable. Limbs were everywhere. Good as he was, Carter saved his best for later that year, in the Sydney Olympics, when he treated French player Frederic Weis like a high jump bar.
For many, this was the first real All-Star Game ever staged. It fused talents from two leagues and finally gave fans a chance to see Julius Erving in his element, since he was rarely televised in the ABA. Erving scored 30 points; Paul Westphal had two baskets and a steal for the victory.
The game was rather sloppy and lacked a moment, in terms of performance or play or whatnot. But it'll be forever recalled for what -- supposedly -- took place behind the scenes. The story is legendary now, how Isiah Thomas and others, jealous of the endorsement riches and media hype placed on a rookie, conspired to deny Jordan the ball. Strangely, nobody who watched the game had any idea something was in the works. Jordan took only nine shots, low for a starter, and the locker room buzz was Jordan was taught a lesson. But the conspiracy theory, long denied by Thomas, doesn't seem to fly, based on circumstance. To this day, nobody can come up with a sequence or three where players on the East intentionally kept Jordan from shooting. Something good did come from it, though: Jordan's competitive drive kicked into extra gear and stayed that way for another decade or so.
Vince Carter gave up his starting spot to Jordan, who thanked Carter by taking 27 shots in his final All-Star appearance. The real show-stealer was Mariah Carey's snug-fitting Wizards dress, worn while she sang a song especially for Jordan, shades of Marilyn Monroe singing for President Kennedy.
The theme for this game was played out right from the start, when Kobe Bryant, a 19-year-old newcomer, squared off against Jordan, 34 and retirement-ready, in the opening minute. Their one-on-one duels gave legitimacy to the notion of this game serving as a torch-passing. It took guts for Kobe, who had hype but wasn't yet a true star, to issue such challenges to Jordan, who respected Kobe for that. And yet, Jordan put Kobe in his place, scoring 23 points to Kobe's 18.
The setting (Chicago) was ripe for a Jordan coming out, and he didn't disappoint. For the first time, a player owned both All-Star Saturday and Sunday, as Jordan won the slam dunk contest (taking Julius Erving's advice and dunking from the free throw line), then scoring 40 points and winning MVP in the game. It provided closure for Jordan for the '85 experience and cemented his status as the NBA's best showman.
Let's be honest here. The voting and the final outcome of the contest dripped with political correctness, because Dominique Wilkins really won this contest. His dunks were better and executed with more authority. Still, the little guy wasn't to be denied. Besides, he did throw down a 360. OK, in hindsight, maybe it was deserved. The mere sight of someone 5-foot-7 doing any dunk is epic stuff.
Alright, this is cheating. This contest happened at halftime of the ABA All-Star Game, witnessed by about 350 people nationwide. But let's make an allowance for this, since it basically created the blueprint for All-Star Saturday. Dr. J from the free throw line. 'Nuff said.
"Oh, say, can ... you ... see." All it took were a few bars from the organ and those words from the golden pipes of the greatest soul singer ever to make the game that followed a complete afterthought. To this day, I'm not sure who won, who played, who coached, who walked home with the MVP ... who cares? Once Marvin took the microphone at the Forum and started singing, nothing else mattered. It was a culturally defining moment. Until then, the national anthem sung at sporting events was done without much flair or personality. Marvin changed everything, and not necessarily for the better. Too many copycats tried to follow a true original. True story: In an era before cell phones, the All-Star Game organizers hadn't heard from Gaye or his people all day and figured the quirky singer, notorious for being late to his own concerts, wouldn't show. During the layup line, the emergency backup plan was hastily put in place until he appeared, wearing an all-white suit and shades. Suddenly, it was on.
This game put a basketball in your throat. Mere months after learning he had "attained" a potentially deadly virus and decided to retire, Magic accepted pregame and postgame hugs from members of both teams. He played 29 minutes, threw some no-looks, and dropped his 25th point from deep at the buzzer after playfully engaging in a one-on-one with Isiah Thomas. Then he walked off again, this time with the All-Star Game's MVP trophy. Priceless.
Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here.
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