A look back at 2008 All-Star Game in New Orleans
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
One of the most creative and memorable dunk contests in NBA history, the 2008 event in New Orleans more closely resembled the joy and merriment of a child’s birthday party than that of a serious athletic endeavor. At one point during the fun-filled competition, a Minnesota teammate of Gerald Green placed a cupcake on top of the rim and lit a candle, which Green would extinguish as he dunked. Minutes later, Orlando’s Dwight Howard donned a superhero’s cape and soared through the air to throw down an iconic slam, sealing his victory.
Fittingly for a ’08 All-Star weekend centered on celebrating basketball’s full-time return to the Crescent City, cupcakes and Superman capes were among the unexpected props in what turned out to be a turning point for the NBA in New Orleans. The then-Hornets began the 2007-08 season surrounded by question marks about their future in Louisiana, but by the spring of ’08, they attracted 13 consecutive sellout crowds and came within one win of reaching the Western Conference finals.
The first All-Star in the Big Easy also focused the world’s attention on the post-Katrina revitalization of the city, which had been devastated by the 2005 disaster. Once again demonstrating its ability to superbly host the biggest sporting events, New Orleans proved to be an ideal location for professional basketball’s marquee weekend. After a ’07 All-Star in Las Vegas remembered partly for its logistical – or worse – issues off the court, the ’08 event was such a success that it immediately caused the NBA to consider a future encore. Four years later, the city was rewarded with the 2014 All-Star festivities as many in the basketball world, including David Stern, wondered if it might make sense to install NOLA as a permanent rotating host.
As time has passed, few basketball fans outside the Crescent City likely recall that ’08 All-Star Game MVP LeBron James led the Eastern Conference to an entertaining 134-128 victory over the West, or that the host city was extremely well-represented. The West was led by New Orleans Coach Byron Scott and his staff, who were joined by Hornets players Chris Paul and David West in the debut All-Star appearances for both men. The 2008 All-Star extravaganza is instead most vividly remembered for its can-you-top-this dunk contest, starring the likes of Howard, Green and Rudy Gay.
Throughout the recent history of the event, there have occasionally been ebbs in creativity – after all, how many different ways can a man dunk a basketball? The ’08 slam-fest stood out, however, for participants’ ability to come up with several unprecedented ideas, no easy feat while serving an audience that probably believed it had already seen just about everything.
“It was a night to remember,” Howard said this season, while visiting New Orleans as a member of the Houston Rockets. “It was very creative. Gerald and I came up with some good ideas. That’s probably one of the best memories for me in the NBA, being in the dunk contest here in New Orleans. The fans were amazing here. Every time I come to this building, I get chills thinking about it.”
The arena – renamed the Smoothie King Center earlier this month – was abuzz as its 17,000-plus fans saw Howard don his Superman cape, wondering what the center had planned for his contest finale. Howard explains now that the idea originated from his Orlando teammates, who came up with the “Superman” nickname for their fresh-faced 21-year-old star based on his on- and off-court feats.
“My teammates called me Superman in the locker room, because I would do crazy stuff in practice dunking on guys, and I lifted crazy amounts of weight,” Howard remembered. “They said, ‘Why don’t you wear a cape in the dunk contest, since you’re always flying around?’ At first I said, ‘Nah, I’ll look silly.’
“Right before the dunk contest, I asked my manager to go to a costume shop and find a Superman outfit. He found a full-body Superman outfit, but I said, ‘I’m not going to wear this full-body outfit!’ It had boots and everything. So he cut half of it off, so that it was just the cape.”
As it became clear to the audience what Howard had in mind while sporting a cape, fans and fellow NBA players alike rose from their seats, in anticipation of what would go down as one of the greatest moments in All-Star history. Howard took off from just inside the foul line, leaped across the paint and threw down the most inedible (unofficial) two points of his career.
“It came out great and I had so much fun,” Howard said. “One thing I really tried to do that I didn’t see in past years (at dunk contests) was really engage the crowd. I like to entertain. I wanted to engage the fans and give them something to remember.”