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NBA PM: Top All-Star Moments

With All-Star Weekend upon us, we look at back at the best All-Star moments of all time.

Joel Brigham

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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.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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The G-League is a Path Back to the NBA

The G-League has become an avenue for several player types toward the NBA, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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When the NBA first instituted their development league, its main purpose was two-fold. The first was to give experience to young players who perhaps were not seeing regular playing time on their respective NBA teams. The second was to give undrafted players a chance at getting exposure and ultimately getting to the NBA.

With the growth in size and popularity of the development league, now known as the G-League, it’s begun to serve another purpose. It’s become a place for older veterans who have already tasted the NBA life to get back to the highest level of basketball that they once knew.

One player in particular who has a wealth of NBA experience is Terrence Jones. Jones is currently playing with the Santa Cruz Warriors, the G-League affiliate of the Golden State Warriors.

Jones was originally drafted by the Houston Rockets with the 18th overall pick in the 2012 draft. He was part of a vaunted class of Kentucky Wildcats that year, which included Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller. During his four years with the Rockets, he emerged as a dependable reserve and part-time starter. He averaged 9.5 points per game on 49.5 percent shooting and 5.3 rebounds.

“It was just a lot of excitement and a lot of joy, being part of the Houston Rockets was a lot of fun,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “We had great memories and great seasons, a lot of up and downs, I just enjoyed the journey.”

Jones’ dealt with injuries his last two season in Houston, and when he was a free agent in the summer of 2016, the Rockets didn’t re-sign him. He was scooped by the New Orleans Pelicans, however, and he made an immediate impact for them. Prior to the trade deadline, he played in 51 games for the Pelicans, including 12 starts while putting up 11.5 points on 47.2 percent shooting, and 5.9 rebounds.

When the Pelicans acquired DeMarcus Cousins, however, they cut Jones. He didn’t stay unemployed for long, though, as he was signed by the Milwaukee Bucks to add depth for a playoff run. He was unable to crack the rotation, though, and the Bucks cut him as well before the playoff started. After a brief stint in China, he’s now back stateside and using the G-League to get back to the NBA.

“That’s the goal. Right now, I feel I’ve been playing pretty well and just trying to help my team get wins,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I think I can play multiple positions offensively and defensively. Whether that’s creating plays for myself or for others, I think I can help contribute on the offensive end.”

He’s been the second-leading scorer for Santa Cruz with 19.9 points per game. He’s pulling down 7.1 rebounds, and even dishing out 4.5 assists. In the G-League Challenge against the Mexican National Team at All-Star Weekend, he finished with eight points on 50.0 percent shooting, six rebounds, four assists, and two steals. He’s definitely a name to watch for as NBA teams scour the market for 10-day contract possibilities.

Another player who’s had a taste of the NBA is Xavier Silas. Silas is currently with the Northern Arizona Suns, the affiliate of the Phoenix Suns. He went undrafted in 2011 and started his professional career in France. That only last a few months before he came back the United States and latched on with the Philadelphia 76ers.

He played sparingly with the 76ers and was ultimately cut before the start of the 2012-13 season. Since then, he’s played summer league with the Bucks, and been in two different training camps with the Washington Wizards.

“It was amazing, any time you get to go and play at the highest level, and I even got to play in the playoffs and play in the second round and even score, that was big,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “It was a great time for me and that’s what I’m working towards getting back.”

While his professional career has taken him all across the globe from Israel to Argentina to Greece to Germany and even Ice Cube’s BIG3 league, he sees the G-League as being the one place that will get him back to where he wants to be.

He’s done well this season for Northern Arizona. He’s their third-leading scorer at 19.3 points per game and he’s one of their top three-point threats at 39.9 percent. At the All-Star Weekend G-League Challenge against the Mexican National Team, Silas had a team-high 13 points for Team USA including 3-5 shooting from three-point range.

It’s isn’t just what he brings on the court that Silas believes makes him an attractive candidate for an NBA team. At age 30, he’s one of the older guys in the G-League and one with a lot of basketball experience to be passed down to younger guys.

“I think it’s a little bit of leadership, definitely some shooting. I’m a vet now so I’m able to come in and help in that aspect as well. But everybody needs someone who can hit an open shot and I think I can bring that to a team,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “I think it’s the best place for anyone who’s trying to make that next step. We’re available and we’re right here, it’s just a call away.”

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NBA Daily: Lillard Playing For Something Bigger

Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has his eyes set on a bigger prize than just being an NBA All-Star.

Steve Kyler

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Playing For Something Bigger

The NBA All-Star Game is a spectacle.

By design, the game is meant to be a showcase, not just for the players selected to compete, but for the league and all of its partners, on and off the floor. It is easy to get caught up in how players selected actually play, but the reality is while most see the game as important for a lot of reasons, Portland Trail Blazer star Damian Lillard understands it has to be put into perspective.

“I don’t think it’s fair to expect people to go out there and treat it like they are playing for the team they’re under contract for,” Lillard explained this weekend.

“It’s the one time in an 82-game season plus playoffs, preseason and training camp that we actually get a break. It’s necessary to take a mental break, along with a physical break from what we do every day. There’s nothing wrong with that, so I don’t think it’s fair to ask guys to go out there and play like it’s for the Trail Blazers. My loyalty is to my team; I got to stay healthy for my team. I got to do what’s best for my team. Obviously, go out there [during All-Star] and not mess around too much and that’s how people get hurt and stuff like that. You got to go out there and play and have respect for the game, but I don’t think it’s necessary to go out there and go crazy like it’s a playoff game.”

Lillard notched 21 minutes in Sunday’s big game, going 9-for-14 from the field for 21 points for Team Stephen, a roster that included three Golden State Warriors players. Lillard believes that eventually, he’ll get the chance to share the weekend, his third, with teammate C. J. McCollum.

“Each year you see teams are getting two to three, Golden State got four this year,” Lillard said. “But you look at it and say ‘why is that happening’ and it has a lot to do with team success. Me and C.J. just have to take that challenge of making our team win more games. I think when we do that, we’ll be rewarded with both of us making it. If we really want to make that happen, then we’ll do whatever it takes to win more games.

“I feel like this season we’ve moved closer in that direction. In the past, we haven’t even been in the position to get one, because I did not make it the past two years. I think if we keep on improving we’ll eventually get to the point that we’re winning games and people will say ‘how are they doing this’ and then hopefully our names come up. Hopefully, one day, it’ll happen.”

Another issue that got addressed during the All-Star Weekend was the growing tensions between the NBA players and the NBA referees. Representatives from both sides met to address the gap developing on the court, something Lillard felt was necessary.

“We’re all human,” Lillard said. “As competitors, we want to win. If you feel like you got fouled, you want them to call the foul every time. I think sometimes as players, we forget how hard their job can be. At the pace we play, it’s hard to get every call, and then you got guys tricking the referees sometimes, we’re clever too. It’s a tough job for them. I think when we get caught up in our competitive nature, and we forget that they’re not just these robots with stripes, they are people too. You have got to think, as a man if someone comes screaming at you every three plays, you are going to react in your own way. Maybe you’re not going to make the next call; maybe I am going to stand my ground. It’s just something that I think will get better over time. I think both have to do a better job of understanding.”

With 24 games left to play in Lillard’s sixth NBA season, the desire to be more than a playoff team or an All-Star is coming more into focus for Lillard, something he reportedly expressed to Blazers management several weeks ago.

“There are guys that have this record and guys that have done these things, and I want to at least get myself the chance to compete for a championship,” Lillard said. “If I get there and we don’t win it, it happens. A lot of people had to go see about Michael Jordan, a lot of people had to go see about Shaq and Kobe. You know, those great teams, but I have a strong desire to at least give myself a chance to be there. Take a shot at it.”

With All-Star out of the way, the focus in the NBA will switch to the race to the playoffs. As things stand today Lillard and his Blazers hold the seventh seed in the West and are tied with Denver, and just a half of a game back from the five seed Oklahoma City Thunder.

If the Blazers are going to make noise this post season its going to be on the shoulder of Lillard, and based on what he said, it seems he’s up to the challenge.

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NBA Daily: James Harden on the new All-Star Format and Chris Paul Being Snubbed

James Harden shared his thoughts on the new All-Star game format and teammate Chris Paul not being selected as an All-Star

James Blancarte

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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made a bold decision to alter the All-Star game format. By allowing the two highest voted players in each conference to be team captains, Silver did away with tradition and the usual West versus East format. While there were a few complaints about the switch, fans were seemingly more vocal about the decision to not televise the selection of players by the team captains.

Well, the results are in and praise for new format has been nearly universal. With players more invested in the new format, and perhaps the $100k per player bonus for the winners, the effort level was up, plays were being drawn up and executed and defense made a surprise appearance in an exciting game that came down to the final possession.

2018 NBA All-Star and Houston Rockets guard James Harden spoke about the All-Star game and the new format.

“I think it is exciting. You get an opportunity, you know, for a mixture of guys to play on the same team together. We’re trying to win though, it’s competitive,” Harden stated. “Obviously, the All-Star game has a lot of highlights but we’re trying to win, we’re going to go out there and prove we’re trying to win.”

Harden, who played for Team Stephen, did not get the win. However, Harden also made it clear that playing in the this year’s All-Star game meant even more having grown up in Los Angeles.

“To be able to play in the big boy game means a lot. I grew up, especially being from LA, you grew up watching Kobe, watching Shaq every single year. You see how fun, you see how exciting it was,” Harden said. “Now to be here, to be in the city is more special.”

While Harden made it a point to talk about what it means to play in Los Angeles, another factor he seemed excited and appreciative about was being the first player picked for Team Stephen.

“Man, that’s a great feeling. Just because in middle school I was the last pick. So, to be the number one pick in the All-Star game, that’s what the swag champ is for,” Harden said.

Harden wasn’t universally positive about All-Star Weekend. Specifically, he was not happy about being the only Rockets All-Star – especially considering Houston’s standing in the Western Conference playoff race.

“I have a lot to say about that. What are we talking about? Everyone knows Chris Paul is with the Rockets and the Rockets have the number one [record]. How does that not happen?” Harden asked rhetorically. “It’s frustrating. I know he’s frustrated. He never brings it up. That’s why I did say what I said. He’s never going to bring it up. But, I’ll defend for him. He should be here with me in LA as an All-Star.”

Harden had some success as he led his team in minutes and logged 12 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He spoke after the game and confirmed the reconfiguration of the All-Star game produced a competitive game and a fun product for the fans.

“Felt great. I hope all the fans enjoyed [the All-Star game] as well. It was very competitive. Guys got after it from the beginning of the game. Usually All-Star [games] there are a lot of dunks, a lot of freedom. Tonight was intense,” Harden said.

Harden was not wrong with his conclusion that there was less freedom. With less freedom and better defense played, Harden went 5-19 from the field and 2-13 from three-point range while finishing the game without a single free throw attempted. The lack of free throws may have irked Harden, who is renowned for his ability to get to the line (9.9 free throw attempts per game this season). Adding to that frustration, Harden had the opportunity to put his team ahead with a three-pointer late in the game but failed to connect on the shot. Unsurprisingly, Harden expressed his disappointment with the result.

“I was pissed we lost. I’m still mad,” Harden stated.

On the final play of the game, while ignoring Harden, Curry kept the ball with the chance to tie the game. Curry dribbled into a LeBron James/Kevin Durant double team. Curry wasn’t able to get a shot off and Harden was left with his hands up waiting for a pass and a chance to win the game that never came.

Looking toward next year, Harden was asked if as a possible captain he would prefer to have the player selection two weeks before or right before the game. He thought about it and then smiled.

“Probably right before the game,” Harden answered.

Commissioner Silver has spoken on the subject and is sending strong signals that next year’s selection will be televised. That will potentially add another layer of excitement to the new All-Star game format, which is already paying off for the NBA.

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