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Steve Aschburner

Much like the Staples Center in L.A., the city itself looms over the history of All-Star Weekend.
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History of All-Star Weekend entwined with Los Angeles' own

Posted Feb 17 2011 11:41AM

If bigger often is better -- in basketball in general and for All-Star Weekend specifically -- then this city is the perfect setting for the NBA's annual celebration of its talent, its glamour and ultimately, itself.

This isn't about the metropolitan sprawl, the tangle of freeways, the burgeoning population or even the glitz and allure of Hollywood (which gets its own look-at-us date with Oscar next week). This is about L.A. and the way it looms over the All-Star Game, present and especially past.

With the final horn Sunday evening at Staples Center, more All-Star Games will have been played in Los Angeles (five) than anywhere else. That's no small achievement, considering that the city spotted the NBA 14 seasons before it ever entered the league.

There already had been nine All-Star Games before L.A. got its first. But it eventually passed Boston, New York and Philadelphia (four each) as host site of the event-turned-three-days-of-festivities. With the winter weather in southern California and a local culture mad about stars, it seems a no-brainer.

Actually, the bigger surprise might be that the NBA took so long to keep coming back. After L.A.'s initial taste of all things All-Star in 1963, nine years elapsed before the circus came back to town in 1972. Then the gap stretched to 11 until the 1983 game. Next, a gaping 21 years while the NBA served new and growing markets with its All-Star jewel , until Los Angeles finally got its fourth in 2004. Now everyone's back again, just seven years later.

The City of Angels has been the city of All-Stars in another way: More Most Valuable Player awards for the event have gone to L.A. players -- Lakers, that is -- than to those from any of the league's other markets. Eight Lakers from the L.A. era and, reaching back ot the franchise's Minneapolis roots, 10 overall have won that honor: Shaquille O'Neal (3), Kobe Bryant (2), Magic Johnson (2), Jerry West (1), Elgin Baylor (1) and George Mikan (1).

The Boston Celtics? Seven different players have won one each.

With Staples Center matching the Forum in Inglewood -- first The Fabulous, later The Great Western -- with its second turn as All-Star site, here is a look back at the event's previous stops in SoCal:

1963: East 115, West 108

Date: Jan. 16, 1963

Location: Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena

MVP: Bill Russell

What happened?: There was special buzz to the first All-Star game staged in L.A.: Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, already legendary rivals in the NBA's regular season and postseason, were bringing a taste of that to All-Star competition. In the three previous games in which both competed, they had been teammates for the East. But with Chamberlain's trade from Philadelphia to San Francisco, they could bang heads in the midseason exhibition as well.

Chamberlain had plenty of help in the West's starting lineup: West, Baylor, Bob Pettit and Walt Bellamy (Hall of Famers all). But Russell had his feisty coach from the Boston Celtics, Red Auerbach, who relied on Russell and a starting backcourt of Oscar Robertson and Bob Cousy to counter the West's height advantage. Russell won his personal duel with Chamberlain, getting 19 points and 24 rebounds to the Dipper's 17 and 19. He got the victory and started a pattern as well: The two NBA giants were All-Star teammates six times and posted a 3-3 record for the East. But when they were on opposite sides -- in 1963, '64, '65 and '69 -- Russell owned a 4-0 edge.

1972: West 112, East 110

Date: Jan. 18, 1972

Location: The Fabulous Forum (Inglewood, Calif.)

MVP: Jerry West

What happened?: Everything Lakers hung over the second All-Star Game to hit Los Angeles: Jerry West and Gail Goodrich started in the backcourt for the West squad, Chamberlain was a backup center and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar -- three years before becoming a Lakers great himself -- was the starter in the middle as a member of the Bucks (who back then played in the Western Conference).

That club was coached by Bill Sharman, who was leading the Lakers to their first NBA title since moving to California. And the franchise had wrapped up its historic 33-game winning streak, still the longest in NBA history, only two weeks earlier.

No surprise, then, when West turned the two-point thriller -- All-Star Games can be thrilling too, y'know -- into a distillation of what he did best. After Boston's Dave Cowens had helped pull the East back to a 110-110 tie, West went "Mr. Clutch" on the Rust Belters. His last-second 20-foot jumper sent the locals home happy and earned West MVP rights on a night when he scored 13 points. But with seven West All-Stars scoring in double figures, that tied for team high with Phoenix's Connie Hawkins. (Oddity: The West missed 21 free throws, making only 26-of-47. Chamberlain was 2-of-8, Robertson 5-of-10).

1983: East 132, West 123

Date: Feb. 13, 1983

Location: The Great Western Forum (Inglewood, Calif.)

MVP: Julius Erving

What happened?: Julius Erving had a song dedicated to him -- "Let It Flow (For Dr. J)" -- by jazz man Grover Washington Jr. on his 1980 "Winelight" album. But he teamed up with Motown's Marvin Gaye to make the 1983 game memorable. The stylish Gaye, in his avaiator sunglasses and impeccably tailored suit, dazzled the L.A. crowd with a stunning, rolling, outrageous rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner that ranks near the top -- with Jimi Hendrix's Woodstock version -- in anthem history. Francis Scott Key had no idea, as Gaye's silky voice caressed each word of the lyrics.

"I had never heard the National Anthem done quite like that," Kareem Abdul-Jabbar told me last week. "So it was pretty amazing."

So was Erving. Already an All-Star MVP once -- he won it in 1977 in his NBA debut game in Milwaukee -- Erving and his Philadelphia 76ers were hurtling toward their NBA championship spring when he rang up 25 points to lead the East to its fourth consecutive All-Star victory. He, Philadelphia coach Billy Cunningham and three other Sixers (Moses Malone and Maurice Cheeks joining Erving as starters, with Andrew Toney in reserve) staked the East to a 42-31 lead.

Among L.A. participants, Abdul-Jabbar scored 20 points, Magic Johnson dished 16 assists and Pat Riley dropped to 0-2 as West coach.

2004: West 136, East 132

Date: Feb. 15, 2004

Location: Staples Center

MVP: Shaquille O'Neal

What happened?: The Lakers were starting to pull apart at the seams by the second half of the 2003-04 season, but O'Neal and Bryant still could play nice enough with each other for the 2004 classic. They combined for 44 points -- 24 and 11 rebounds for Shaq, 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting for Bryant -- and helped the West outscore the East 78-68 in the second half.

Still, it was Tim Duncan's bank shot with 26 seconds left that put their side in front to stay. Future Laker Ron Artest was working for the other side, scoring seven points as Indiana's All-Star rep. Jason Kidd had 14 points and 10 assists for the East, while New Orleans' Jamaal Magloire led that squad with 19 points. It's right there in the box score, something he might need someday to convince those outside his immediate family that it happened.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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