Smith's MVP performance was the final hurrah for Buffalo Braves basketball. (NBAE/Getty Images)

By Martin C. Sumners


At its best, the NBA All-Star game transforms the simple into the sublime. There is a minimum of play calling and the players can take the basic DNA of basketball like the give-and-go, the pick and roll or the bounce pass to create something spectacularly new.

It's like a jazz artist improvising or a rapper free-styling.

So, it may not be strange that many of my memorable All-Star moments have a soundtrack.

My favorite moment could be from Los Angeles, 1983. Marvin Gaye tinged the whole affair with his unique soulful National Anthem rendition and Julius Erving left the crowd equally as breathless with his daring drives and dunks.

It also could be – and I can’t recall exactly what year – but in the mid 80s when Isiah Thomas bounced from about half-court an alley-oop pass for a dunk.

Then again, in Philly in 2002, I was in the house when Alicia Keys and Angie Stone mixed the "Star-Spangled Banner" with the Negro national anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing" with aplomb followed by Tracy McGrady's first self-pass off-the-glass dunk (not to be confused with his '04 L.A. version).

But for my favorite, I'll go with the sentiment of Sade's single, "Never As Good As The First Time."

Growing up as one of the youngest in a sports-crazed family, I got to hang with the big boys by spouting off all I knew about what was happening on the sports landscape. However, the NBA All-Star Game had eluded me before 1978. That was the year Randy Smith bombarded his way to MVP honors and into my life.

Smith, who played for the Buffalo Braves, took The Omni in Atlanta by storm. He was 11-14 from the floor and scored 27 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out six assists. Although perhaps the last hurrah for NBA basketball in Buffalo -- as the franchise at season's end would move and become the San Diego Clippers and then six years later move to Los Angeles -- the moment hooked me on the NBA All-Star game.

Prior to entering the NBA in 1971, Smith was a local legend at Buffalo State University. The 6-3 guard was quick on his feet and fast with his hands but still was not expected to make much of an impact in the NBA as evidenced by his seventh-round selection.

However, he would make his mark similar to contemporaries from small schools in upstate New York in the form of Bob Lanier (St. Bonaventure) and Calvin Murphy (Niagara).

Besides capturing All-Star MVP honors, Smith retired from the game with the record for consecutive games played of 906 (now held by A.C. Green with 1,192). The streak started in his rookie year and stopped in his last season, a month before he retired in 1983.

But my parents -- thanks to them breaking the parenting handbook rule forbidding a kid to have a television in their bedroom -- created the perfect environment for my own streak to start. Since watching that '78 All-Star game on a 13-inch Ford-Philco black and white television, I have not missed one.

Although a neophyte to the mid-season classic, I knew the big names of the day like Erving and Rick Barry. Yet, even through the haze of pre-cable reception, it was clearly Smith's starry day.

He came off the bench to play an East squad game-high of 29 minutes and as his stat line reflects, he was a one-man show. But it was the way he did it that's etched in my mind.

Smith was a blur of activity. His energy was unmatched and his only deterrent seemed to be the established practice of permitting just six fouls per contest. He accumulated five in one half.

He hit a 30-footer at the first quarter buzzer and then sank a 40-foot bomb to end the first half. Still not done, Smith dominated the end of the game keying the East comeback by scoring eight straight fourth-quarter points to secure a 133-125 victory.

Sade was right. It's never as good as the first time.

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