All-Stars Align Again in Phoenix
Posted: Jan. 15, 2009
“I kinda’ like Phoenix...”
Suns All-Star Charlie Scott defends MVP Walt Frazier in Phoenix's first NBA All-Star Game in 1975.
New York Knicks legend Walt Frazier’s quote to The Arizona Republic following the 1975 NBA All-Star Game may be over three decades old, but it’s easy to understand his sentiment. Just days after exploding for 43 points vs. the Suns at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, “Clyde” once again played big at the Madhouse on McDowell, scoring a game-high 30 points on his way to MVP honors at the first-ever All-Star Game in Phoenix.
Since then, Frazier’s postgame opinion of the Valley has become one shared by the NBA who, come February 2009, makes its third All-Star trip to Phoenix.
“For the last four years, I have personally been pushing for one more bite of the apple,” Suns Chairman Jerry Colangelo said. “The timing is going to be just ideal in 2009, because it’s the perfect storm – the stars are aligned with the city’s new hotels, the light rail and the convention center. Our downtown landscape has changed dramatically, so it’s a great opportunity for Phoenix to show its new look.”
Differences not only abound for the city, but also the sport itself, especially when compared to the 1975 game.
Back then, the NBA was celebrating its 25th All-Star Game, featuring representatives from nearly all the 18 teams in existence at the time. The most expensive game ticket for the exhibition was $15. And Phoenix was hoping to use the nationally televised showing as a way to help put the city on the NBA map.
That’s because, at the time, Phoenix was a still-emerging sports market in a league generally dominated by the media coverage in the larger metropolitan areas like New York and Los Angeles. That made ensuring a successful All-Star Game all the more important for the Valley.
A record crowd filled the Coliseum on Jan. 14, 1975, to watch what was originally touted as a battle of the All-Star big men, namely top vote getters Bob McAdoo and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But aside from 61 total turnovers from both teams, it was Frazier who made headlines, going off for a game-best 30 points (the fourth highest in All-Star history at that point) en route to a 108-102 Eastern Conference win.
Before the exhibition, then-Suns GM Jerry Colangelo addresses guests at an All-Star banquet.
Charlie Scott, the lone Phoenix representative in the ’75 game was the league’s top-scoring guard during the first half of the regular season, but even that couldn’t help him crack the starting lineup. Thanks to a new fan voting selection process that resulted in heavy balloting for perennial favorites like former Sun Gail Goodrich, Nate Archibald and Dave Bing, Scott was left the odd man out, at least initially. It took a coach’s selection for the Suns’ guard to be named to the All-Star squad as a reserve, resulting in two points and two rebounds in 16 minutes of action in his third and final All-Star appearance for Phoenix.
Scott’s starting snub was the perfect microcosm of why the game and everything leading up to it was a true make-or-break opportunity for the city in terms of building respect and making itself known on a national stage. Fans outside Phoenix would soon know what the city and its NBA franchise were capable of as All-Star hosts.
“The 1975 All-Star Game was something the league had very little control of,” Colangelo said. “The entire All-Star activities were in the hands of the team that was hosting. I saw it as a vehicle to help establish support for our franchise and bring credibility and exposure to the community. It was also a way for the business community to get exposure and grow their businesses.”
Colangelo not only spearheaded plans to organize the game, he also helped put together a 1,500-guest banquet at the Phoenix convention center, featuring tributes to the All-Stars and retiring NBA Commissioner J. Walter Kennedy. But his biggest coup may have been flying to New York to meet with the president of CBS Sports to requisition a few minutes of television airtime to help create a buzz for the city.
“I had the audacity to ask for two minutes of primetime,” Colangelo said, “so that we could promote the city and state on national TV for the lead-in. Singer Andy Williams was one of our partners, and we’d have him singing ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix,’ we’d show the sun rising over Camelback Mountain, heading to the Coliseum and the court… We just needed something to sell in our marketplace. They said, ‘We’ll do it.’ The game opened on national TV, we pulled it off, and it was great success.”
The 1975 contest would turn out to the be the first and only All-Star Game at the Coliseum, as 20 years later, the scene shifted a few miles southeast to the Suns’ new home, America West Arena (now US Airways Center). The game itself expanded to encompass a whole weekend of festivities, with the beneficiary once again being the city, as the NBA had truly turned into a global entity.
Suns great Dan Majerle battles future Phoenix star Shaquille O'Neal at the 1995 contest.
“It was now an opportunity to show the rebirth of downtown Phoenix,” Colangelo said of the 1995 All-Star Weekend. “We had an excellent team and a vibrant, growing downtown that we wanted to show the rest of the country. At that point, the league was very much involved, but the NBA would say we have always been on the cutting edge of being able to do these things and do them appropriately, so they look forward to working with the Suns organization. That’s always been the case. They would say that the 1995 All-Star Game was one of the best and thoroughly run, going off like clockwork. It was one of the very best they’ve done.”
As for hometown representation, the numbers were a little more in Phoenix’s favor this go-around. Suns Head Coach Paul Westphal took the reins of the Western Conference squad that featured the likes of David Robinson, Karl Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon, as well as two of his Suns as starters – Charles Barkley and an unlikely, but nonetheless honored, Dan Majerle.
“I was playing on a great team with Phoenix that year,” said Majerle, who posted 10 points, five boards and three assists in the one-sided 139-112 Western Conference win. “I had been an All-Star twice already, but to be voted in as a starter by the fans, especially with the game being in Phoenix, I never thought that would happen. That was a special feeling and not a feeling many guys get, so I was very lucky to do that here in my hometown.”
Sacramento’s Mitch Richmond shot 10-of-13 en route to a game-high 23 points and MVP honors, while current Suns forward Grant Hill was not only making his All-Star debut as a rookie for the Detroit Pistons, he was also making a little history in the process. He was the first NBA freshman to lead all players in fan voting.
“The NBA recognized that this is a city where people want to come and be a part of an All-Star-type weekend,” said Hill, who finished with 10 points and three assists in his first All-Star appearance. “The organization and fan base here have been wonderful through the years, so it’s a chance to reward everyone associated with the Suns.
“I remember it was a great weekend. It was my first opportunity to play in the All-Star Game, and I just remember it being a lot of fun. The fans here in town were wonderful and very hospitable. It was nice, of course, to be out on the court with all those great players, getting a chance to not only come in and play like you do during the normal season, but to spend a three- or four-day weekend here. How can you not love Phoenix?”