All-Star Memories

All-Star Memories

Pacers Recall Experiences
of NBA's Showcase Weekend

By Conrad Brunner | Feb. 17, 2004

As head coach of the Eastern Conference team in the 2004 NBA All-Star Game, Rick Carlisle had a keen understanding of his role.

"You've really got to stay out of the way," he said. "That's the biggest part of it."

Indeed, the All-Star Weekend is all about the players, an annual celebration of their fame, a monument to their accomplishments, a unique platform for the unfettered display of their remarkable abilities.

In 2004, it was very much about the Pacers. Not only were Carlisle and his staff chosen as the East coaches because the team led the conference at the break, but Jermaine O'Neal made his third All-Star appearance and Ron Artest his first, while Fred Jones was the Sprite Rising Stars Slam Dunk champion in a stunning upset of two-time defending titlist Jason Richardson of Golden State.

It wasn't quite the same in 2005. O'Neal was the team's lone representative in All-Star Weekend. Voted into the starting lineup by the fans the previous two years, O'Neal was one of the reserves selected by the coaches. It was his fourth consecutive All-Star appearance, a Pacers record. Reggie Miller holds the overall appearance mark with five, but no more than two in a row.

"It doesn't matter whether you're coming off the bench or starting," O'Neal said. "It's a remarkable experience."

In addition to Carlisle and his staff, including two-time All-Star trainer David Craig, no less than six current players have represented the team in various All-Star events: O'Neal, Artest and Miller in the game itself; Fred Jones and Jonathan Bender in the dunk contest; and Jamaal Tinsley in the rookie and sophomore games. Regardless of their level of participation, the players and coaches have strong and lasting memories of the experience.


All-Star Game 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005

While his teammates book quick getaways to tropical islands, O'Neal has grown accustomed to spending his All-Star break amid the hubbub of the league's premier talent showcase. Though he's done it four years in a row, a trend that appears destined to continue for seasons to come, O'Neal doubts he'll grow jaded to the thrill any time soon.

"Maybe when I get to the 15th one, I may feel that way," he said, smiling. "You can't ever take that for granted. I really have a new outlook on how to value my career and the game because I've been through such a tough situation this year. Basketball was taken away from me for 15 games so you get a whole new outlook on it.

"A lot of guys dream of playing in the All-Star Game one time and there are a lot of good players that never make it. To get in year-in and year-out is a goal I have but I only want that goal if my team is winning."

After leading the conference at the break in each of the previous two years, the Pacers, hard hit by injuries and NBA suspensions, found themselves battling for the eighth seed this year. Because of the team's struggle, O'Neal expressed mixed emotions upon being selected.

"It's definitely enjoyable, and I'm going to do my best to enjoy it but it is a touchy situation for me this year because my team has been through so much," he said. "Right now, it feels like I'm being honored for individual things and the team is struggling and that doesn't sit well with me. But it is a part of the business and I'm not going to be disrespectful to the people that voted me in and I'm not going to be disrespectful to the fans that voted for me. I'm appreciative.

"I'm honored that the coaches voted for me. I'm honored that I got the votes that I got from the fans. But my biggest concern isn't the All-Star Game, it's really my team to the point that you feel bad about going to the All-Star Game because of what we've been through and the position we're in right now. We're not a .500 team, so going to the All-Star Game to celebrate your individual accomplishments … this is my fourth time and it doesn't feel as good as it did the previous years."

O'Neal's feelings came as no surprise to Carlisle, who has seen the franchise forward grow into a strong team leader.

"With everything that he's been through, this is yet another sign that he's not only a great basketball player but a really important example of a guy who's persevered with dignity and class and who has represented our organization very well," Carlisle said. "Jermaine O'Neal is a guy who has a pure heart relative to the game of basketball and how he feels about his teammates and the organization. I know it hurts him that we're not where we could be if things were different on the one hand. On the other hand, he's doing everything he can to lead the team and play at the highest possible level. We're real fortunate to have a guy like him as our cornerstone."

The least productive of O'Neal's All-Star appearances – seven points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes in 2002 – also happened to be his most memorable because it was his first. After four frustrating years on the Portland bench, he was traded to the Pacers for Dale Davis in 2000. In just his second season in Indiana, O'Neal had blossomed into an All-Star.

"(His fondest memory) had to be the first time," O'Neal said. "It's a heck of an experience. If you look back at the history of the game, I remember seeing Isiah (Thomas), Larry (Bird), Magic (Johnson), (Michael) Jordan … so many great players and I'd think, 'Wow; how can they put so many great players on the court at the same time to compete for one game?' Now, to be a part of that and to go against some of the premier players in this league means a lot to me. "


Head Coach, Eastern Conference, 2004

Assistant coach, Eastern Conference, 1998

Though it requires significant achievement to earn the first seat on the bench for the All-Star Game because your team must lead the conference at the designated midseason cutoff date, coaches are not exactly the center of attention at All-Star Weekend.

Carlisle spent much of his weekend in Los Angeles in the hotel room, watching the hoopla on television.

"For me, it was more about the game," he said. "I didn't participate in a lot of the residual events. I watched most of that stuff on TV. I wanted to stay rested and I had a pregnant wife. I've been involved with it twice, once last year and when I was an assistant with Larry (Bird) in '98.

"It's interesting the contrast of the experience in a city like New York that is very self-contained and everything is in a relatively small area, and Los Angeles where everything is really spread out. Both were great experiences but the travel involved in Los Angeles made it a little tough."

With just one practice and one shootaround to prepare, there is time to install no more than one or two plays. The biggest part of the coach's job, it seems, is to be as fair as possible in parceling out the playing time.

"It's a great honor to represent your team at the All-Star Game, but it's tricky," Carlisle said. "One of the things you don't like to deal with is minutes and how to divvy up the minutes. You try to be as fair as possible, but you can never get everybody happy."

In 2004, Carlisle drew some heat in Boston and Toronto because the Celtics' Paul Pierce played just 13 minutes and the Raptors' Vince Carter, a starter, played 16. But there was certainly no slight intended; in fact, Carlisle had planned out the minutes in advance, with some flexibility built in for the fourth quarter.

"We did a minutes chart before the game and really had a set minutes pattern but we left the last 5 or 6 minutes open to who was playing well and who was going good to try to win the game," he said. "At that point in time, you're not exactly sure who's going to be in so you've got to be ready to work off the fly a little bit."

While the game offers the players the chance to spread their creative wings, it is quite the opposite experience for a coach.

"You've got to have a couple of simple things in," Carlisle said, "but you just let the players go."


All-Star Game 1990, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2000

3-point contest 1989, 1990, 1993, 1995 and 1998.

No Pacers player has made more trips to the All-Star Weekend, but Miller has spent the past few years vacationing on the beach.

His best game performance came, naturally, in New York in 1998 when he scored 14 points and hit 6-of-8 shots in 20 minutes. He did not score in double figures in his other four appearances.

"It's one of the greatest showcases in all of professional sports," Miller said in 1998. "To have the actual opportunity to play with guys from other teams you're elbowing and tripping and to come together for a weekend and have a great time, it's wonderful."

Ironically, the greatest 3-point shooter in NBA history failed to win in five tries in the 3-point shootout. In 1989, he finished fourth (Dale Ellis won); in 1990 he lost a 19-18 shootout to Craig Hodges; in 1993 he was fifth (Mark Price won); in 1995 he lost by one point again, 17-16, to Glen Rice; and in 1998 he finished tied for seventh (Jeff Hornacek won).


Slam Dunk champion, 2004

That he was not able to defend his title because of tendinitis in his right knee was something of a badge of honor for Jones. He led the team in minutes played at the break, a sign of how far he has come in the past year.

And it all started with the Slam Dunk contest.

"That was one of the greatest moments I've had in basketball," he said. "It was something I've looked forward to my whole life. I don't think I'd ever missed a dunk contest ever since I could remember. I watched the dunk contest every year and it was something I dreamed about being in."

Jones made back-to-back perfect scores of 50, but had the Staples Center buzzing with the one dunk that didn't work. For his final try, he threw the ball to a fan wearing his replica jersey about five rows deep in the stands. The fan turned out to be Brandon Brooks, his former high school teammate. The idea was for Brooks to loft the ball, have it bounce off the court for Jones to grab and dunk. The first two passes went awry and the third slipped through Jones' fingers and into the basket.

"(Brooks) came up with that the night before," Jones said. "I think he wanted some air time. We planned all my dunks in the hotel room the night before the contest. He came up with it and we said we'd try it."

Jones' career has taken flight since then. A little-used reserve prior to the event, he has become entrenched in the Pacers' rotation and is now the team's Sixth Man. But his fondest memory of his first trip to All-Star Weekend was the effect it had on his family and friends.

"The environment was real nice and crazy," Jones said. "Probably my favorite moment of it was having my friends and family being able to enjoy it with me. We were like 20 deep out there. The best part of it was after I won it, and after doing all the media and everything, to come out and see my family and friends on the court, how happy they were."


Rookie Challenge, 2002, 2003.

Though the annual competition between top rookies and sophomores is a defense-free dunk-fest, Tinsley managed to make strong showings. He had 10 assists while playing with the rookies in 2002 and 11 assists with the sophomores in 2003.

For a young player still in the process of being introduced to the NBA scene, the weekend provided strong memories.

"It was the whole scene, being a part of a bunch of athletes that get together to show their talent on one weekend," he said. "You have a whole lot of celebrities and superstars around and a party atmosphere. It was just a lot of fun.

"I was just out there enjoying the day, enjoying the event, trying to get my feet wet. It was new scenery and I was just trying to enjoy it. It was a blessing to be there. It was an honor to get the call to play in the rookie game and the sophomore game. I just wanted to have fun and win."

Tinsley has been targeted by President of Basketball Larry Bird as the Pacers player most likely to follow O'Neal and Artest into the All-Star Game. Tinsley's supporters had hoped that day might come with his stellar play this season, but he wasn't selected.

"It'll come one day," he said.


Slam Dunk contest, 2001

Though a spectacular leaper and dunker, Bender faced two distinct disadvantages in his one shot at the slam dunk title. His height worked against him as judges tend to favor shorter players who can make the dunks look more spectacular. Perhaps more importantly, his subtlety turned out to be a detriment.

Bender was eliminated in the first round and finished in a tie for fourth because the judges failed to notice that he had executed a dunk never before performed. Bender raced the length of the court, leapt at the free throw line and slammed the ball home. The judges offered a collective yawn, noting that the free-throw line dunk had been performed many times, which was true.

But Bender was the first to do it left-handed. They just didn't notice.

"I needed a hype man," Bender said. "I needed somebody on my side to get the hype because I'm not a hype man. Everything I do is mellow. If I had jumped from the 3-point line they would've been screaming or something, but it was too easy."

Though Bender enjoyed the event, he isn't anxious to return. The high-voltage atmosphere of the All-Star Weekend doesn't suit his style.

"It was a good experience, but I don't too much like all that stuff," he said. "There's too many people out there. It's too crazy. I did (the social scene) a little bit, but I don't like being around that many people. It needs to be something a little more mellow. For me, it was too much. I like to walk freely. You can't do that there."

(Editor's Note: Artest, who made his first All-Star appearance in 2004, was not available for comment).


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