The NBA All-Star Game is an awe-inspiring extravaganza featuring the prodigious talents of the greatest athletes on Earth. That being the case, I can't relate.
In 1987, Ralph Sampson pulled out of the game because of an injury, setting off a chain reaction that resulted in the simultaneous establishment of my favorite All-Star memory and the improbable recovery of a long-forgotten personal hoops memory.
Faced with an open roster slot in ‘87, Pat Riley, in a stroke of public relations genius, selected a player from the host city SuperSonics. Not sharpshooter Dale Ellis, who was already poised to get schooled by Larry Bird in the three-point contest. And not Xavier McDaniel, the slick-domed fan favorite who could provide some much-needed grit to the flashy West squad. Riles opted for Tom Chambers as the "Replacement Player," and thus began my trip down memory lane.
Sitting in front of the TV, I watched as Magic Johnson led break after break against Bird, Dr. J, MJ and the East. Orchestrating the offense as only he could, Magic had Kareem, Hakeem, Worthy and somewhat incongruously, Chambers by his side. Rather quickly, it became clear that Chambers was getting more than his fair share of good looks, despite opening up with an ice cold 0-4 from the field. Still the passes kept coming and Chambers kept shooting, much to the delight of the hometown crowd, when it hit me like a Moses Malone pick.
“They’re pulling a Padavano Trucking!” I thought, and that’s when it all came back to me.
In my first, and only, season of Biddy Basketball, I too was a "Replacement Player," the sixth and final roster slot for the Padavano Trucking squad. My role was simple: in the unlikely event that one of our real players didn’t show, I was the guy who would be plugged into the lineup so we wouldn’t forfeit the game.
Fate intervened before the last game of the season, however, when one of our real players pulled up lame, just like Sampson. The school gym just a half-block from my house, I took the court to a raucous home-crowd ovation, just like Chambers. Spurred on by the buzzing crowd, our point guard disproportionately fed me the rock, just like Magic. And despite my dismal 0-10 from the field, we won the game, just like the West.
The similarities end there, of course.
Chambers, a terrific player who averaged 18 points per game over the course of a fine 16-year career, scored a game-high 34 in the West’s 154-149 OT victory. To the delight of the Kingdome crowd, he was also selected as game’s MVP.
Sure he took a game-high 25 shots. Sure Rolando Blackman probably deserved the MVP.
But that one day in Seattle, helped along by his friends, Tom Chambers struck a blow for the Replacement Players.
I can relate to that.