All-Star Memories

Isiah walked away with '86 MVP on last visit to Dallas

Isiah Thomas won the All-Star MVP award in 1986, the last time the game was held in Dallas.
Andrew D. Bernstein /NBAE/Getty Images
I'm an All-Star game guy, going all the way back to when you barely got to see anybody play but the Celtics and Lakers and Knicks, maybe. It was a chance to see Oscar Robertson and some other guys who, in those days, when the NBA was more for aficionados, guys who weren't on mainstream teams – even if they were great players – didn't get much exposure.

The Pistons have had a rich All-Star history, going back to Dave Bing and Bob Lanier, who won the 1974 MVP award, and of course to Isiah Thomas, who won two MVPs in the '80s, right up to the 2006 team having four players named by the East coaches.

I'll be watching this weekend in Dallas, even though the Pistons, for one of the rare times in their history, won't have anyone in the All-Star game. Jonas Jerebko, though, will be playing in Friday's Rookie-Sophomore game and hopefully he or one of his teammates like Rodney Stuckey or Rip Hamilton or Ben Gordon will be back next year to play on Sunday.

This game will make me think about the two games Isiah made his mark as MVP – the 1984 game in Denver, because it's the 25th anniversary of that game, not to mention the 35th anniversary of Bob Lanier's MVP, and also the 1986 game because that one, like this year's game, is in Dallas.

It's remarkable that they're talking about putting 100,000 people in the new Cowboys Stadium. You can credit players like Isiah and the guys from that wonderful era of NBA basketball with growing the game's popularity to the point where they could even think about staging this game in the NFL's biggest football stadium.

Isiah was one of the guys whose game translated beautifully to not only All-Star games, but important playoff games and, for that matter, regular-season games. He could adapt to situations because his skill level was so high in every area and his basketball IQ was off the charts. He would understand in a heartbeat the situations and what every one of them called for.

I recall how K.C. Jones, with the East trailing by seven points with about four minutes to go in that game, put Isiah on the floor with four big men – Larry Bird and Kevin McHale from K.C.'s great Celtics team, plus Buck Williams and Moses Malone, a couple of ultra-rugged rebounders. Isiah led the East on an 18-4 run to close the game. Isiah had 30 points, 10 assists and four steals and the East won going away. Two years earlier, in Denver, he had 21 points, 15 assists and four steals and the East won in overtime.

The Pistons hadn't yet closed the gap on Boston in the East by that point, but you could see that when you put Isiah on the floor with other outstanding players, nine times out of 10 it was going to be a win. In big games, not just All-Star games, but the postseason and all the way to back-to-back NBA championships, Isiah would thrive in that environment.

The All-Star games during Isiah's era were suddenly magnified. They really became a show. There was a lot of national attention, so there was perhaps a maximum amount of pressure on players in those All-Star games. Of course they needed to play well – they were in the All-Star game, but they also felt like their team needed to win because people were watching not just to see the stars but watching to see who played winning basketball.

And think about the all-time great competitors in those games. When you put people like Isiah, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird on the court, they want to win – All-Star game, regular season, playoffs or preseason. So they made those games competitive and not just a showcase for the stars. We looked forward to those All-Star games not just to see our guys play in it, because that validated our favorite teams and players as fans, but we looked at those games as potentially great drama.

I can't tell you how great it was, way back when, to see Bob Lanier play at the Silverdome the one time the Pistons hosted and hear Brent Musburger introduce Bob Lanier as the heart and soul of the Pistons. All of us who were part of the Pistons family knew that, but it was nice for the world to hear it. When you moved on to the Bad Boys days, to see Isiah and Joe D and Kelly Tripucka and Bill Laimbeer represent the Pistons on that stage, it gave all Pistons fans a lot of pride.

And just about the time you think it can't get any better, it does. That's why the All-Star game is still important and a wonderful showcase for the NBA. The Pistons were an underpublicized, hard-working, great basketball team and they won a title and had a near-miss the next year. Who knows? They probably were good enough to win multiple titles, but the cards didn't fall that way.

But no one can ever take away the championship and the day when four Pistons checked into the All-Star game. When they were waiting at mid-court, if you didn't feel a sense of pride, then you really didn't bleed Pistons blue. I was so proud of Ben and Rasheed and Chauncey and Rip. God bless the fans – they deserve the vote. But those guys were put into the game by a vote of the coaches and there's a respect factor there you can't ignore. It was a red-letter day for the Pistons and one none of us will ever forget – just like we won't ever forget the MVP award Isiah Thomas took home the last time the NBA played this game in Dallas.