All-Star Weekend gets underway Friday night and if all goes well, fans will be privy to another classic midseason exhibition that always proves to be fun in a way that only NBA basketball can be. Of course, some All-Star Weekends have proven more memorable than others, so as we head into this year’s events let’s take a look back at some of the most memorable moments in NBA All-Star history:
Larry Bird Begins His 3-Point Dominance, Dallas, 1986 – The 1980s were a different time, competitively speaking, as the game’s greatest players didn’t want to just beat their opponents; they wanted to break their will to continue playing basketball at all. This was Bird’s approach to everything in that era, including the three-point contest, so when he was asked to participate in 1986 he spent weeks ahead of the event shooting thousands of three-pointers from the five shooting locations set for the event.
Before the contest, Bird famously walked into the locker room with typical Larry Legend Swagger and asked the rest of the field, “Which one of you guys is going to finish second?”
He destroyed that first competition, even going so far as to call “bank” on one deep shot once he knew he had sewn up the event. He’d walk off the court yelling, “I am the three-point king!” and of course he was, as he’d win the next two competitions, as well.
Blackman Has Confidence, Seattle, 1987 – In what was arguably the most suspenseful game in All-Star history, the Western Conference found themselves down by a couple of points with a just a few seconds left in the game, when Dallas Mavericks All-Star Rolando Blackman drove baseline and ran into four East defenders, at least one of whom fouled him as time expired.
This meant pulling everybody else off the floor and letting Blackman shoot two free throws completely alone. It was just him and the basket, down by two, needing both free throws to send the game into overtime. He, of course, made both shots, and when the camera zoomed in on his face following the second make, Blackman was seeing yelling out, “Confidence, baby! Confidence!” giving him not just a moment, but an iconic moment.
In overtime, Blackman’s Western Conference team won the game, and while Tom Chambers earned the game’s MVP, Blackman owned the most memorable moment of one of the most memorable All-Star games ever.
Jordan vs. ‘Nique, Chicago, 1988 – Even now, almost 30 years later, the back-and-forth between Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins in the 1988 dunk contest still holds up as one of the best ever. Jordan won the contest on his home court with a 50-point score on his free-throw line dunk, which remains the most graceful of any free throw line dunk the league has seen before or since, but Wilkins was in a lot of ways the star of the show, throwing down graceful, powerful dunk after graceful, powerful dunk. Both guys represented poetic motion in a way fans had never really seen on that level before. There’s a reason that Jordan’s free-throw line dunk is one of the best-selling basketball posters of all time.
What really helps keep this in the memory of long-time basketball fans is the fact that Wilkins may have been robbed to give Jordan the title in front of the home fans. The scoring was arguably inconsistent, and Jordan himself reportedly told Wilkins after the event that he probably should have won.
“You know it. I know it,” Jordan told Wilkins. “But hey, you’re in Chicago. What can I tell you?”
Magic Johnson Wins MVP After Write-In, Orlando, 1992 – In what might be the best All-Star story of all-time, Magic Johnson, after retiring from basketball following his HIV diagnosis in late 1991, was written in by fans to appear in the 1992 All-Star Game just months later. Not only did he appear in the game, but he was named MVP after scoring a game-high 25 points. Nobody could have written it any better.
Johnson’s early retirement at age 33 shocked the world, and as one of the league’s most beloved superstars, it should come as no surprise that fans were champing at the bit to make the 1992 All-Star Game their opportunity to give the man the goodbye they felt he deserved. Johnson was announced last in that year’s starting lineups to raucous applause, and the joy with which he played that game was both tangible and utterly unforgettable.
“Words mean a lot,” Johnson said after the game. “But it’s feelings that count most. Ours is a game of compassion. I’ll never forget those hugs and high-fives.”
Thankfully, Johnson hasn’t met the end most assumed he would when HIV served as a death sentence in the early ‘90s, giving him a lot more time to remember that compassion than either he or fans thought possible at the time.
The Elbow Pass, Oakland, 2000 – Jason “White Chocolate” Williams turned passing into an art form during his tenure in the NBA, but never was he more creative with a dish than during the Rookie-Sophomore game in February of 2000.
On a fast break, Williams ran down the court with Dirk Nowitzki on his right and Raef LaFrentz trailing. When he swung the ball behind his back the assumption was that he’d be delivering a little bit of stylistic flair for a Nowitzki layup, but instead, the ball somehow squirted out from behind Williams and into the hands of LaFrentz. It looked purposeful somehow, but even after watching the replay live it was nearly impossible to discover the physics of it all. How had Williams delivered a perfect no-look pass off of his elbow?
All these years later, the replay hasn’t lost any of its zest. It’s every bit as fresh as it was 17 years ago.
Vince Carter’s Dunk Contest Victory, Oakland, 2000 – While there certainly have been more competitive dunk contests, it’s hard to remember a time when any player made such difficult dunks look so easy. It almost felt like Carter was backstage somewhere before the 2000 dunk contest, playing video games in street clothes until about 30 seconds before it was his turn to dunk. Then he walked casually out to the court, put up a handful of perfect-score dunks and walked back to the locker room casually as if nothing unearthly had just happened.
Getting prime Carter in the dunk contest is something we’ll all be glad happened when we look back at the pantheon of dunk contests past. The 360 Windmill, the elbow through the rim, the bounce from T-Mac and then through the legs—it was all essentially flawless. In an era when dunk contest performers were taking several attempts at landing two-bit tricks, Vince was hitting most of these incredibly difficult dunks on the first try.
The crowd in the building and the audience at home were dumbstruck. In a world before YouTube, nobody had ever seen anything remotely close to those dunks before. The only bad thing is that it was the only time Carter ever participated.
East Rallies from 21 Down, Washington, D.C., 2001 – Down 21 points with nine minutes to go in the fourth quarter, this particular All-Star Game looked like the sort of blowout that forces viewers to tune out after a long weekend of watching basketball exhibitions. But Allen Iverson made sure fans stayed glued to their sets and guaranteed that fans got every ounce of the show they expected.
Iverson scored 15 of his 25 points in those final nine minutes, spurring a massive 21-point comeback and leading the Eastern Conference squad to a shocking win. Iverson was, of course, named the game’s MVP, which was fitting considering his role in the biggest fourth-quarter comeback in All-Star Game history.
The “Perfect” Dunk Contest, Toronto, 2016 – While it’s still fresh in everybody’s mind because it only happened a year ago, the 2016 dunk contest was arguably the greatest showdown in league history. While Jordan vs. Wilkins was packed with a whole lot more star power than Zach LaVine vs. Aaron Gordon, the showmanship of last winter’s contest was unparalleled, as it ultimately led to six consecutive perfect scores from those two dunkers, forcing a double-overtime in something most fans didn’t know could have even one overtime.
LaVine dunked through his legs from the free throw line. Gordon jumped a million feet in the air to rip the ball from Orlando’s mascot and tucking it under his rear end before throwing it down. There were more unbelievable dunks, obviously, and every single one of them represented a certain fluidity and power that made this event special. LaVine had turned down his opportunity to three-peat this month even before tearing his ACL, but Gordon will be back and hopefully has enough ideas left over to keep this event as fun as it has been the last couple of years.
The thing about All-Star Weekend is that it’s supposed to be a lot of fun, and as the events on this list prove, that’s exactly what it is more often than not. Stay plugged into Basketball Insiders all weekend for updates and analysis from New Orleans, and just know that even more memorable All-Star moments are just over the horizon.
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