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The 10 Biggest NBA All-Star Game Moments

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A “moment” could mean anything, but for the NBA All-Star Game we’re keeping them within the realm of the actual game. Sure, there are a few that took place outside the end lines, but they fall within the context of the game itself, so no Saturday night contests allowed — even if they weren’t yet on Saturday night. There’s still a lot of history surrounding the NBA’s annual midway point, so hopefully some of our choices fall in line with your fondest memories of the NBA All-Star Game.

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10. The 1964 All-Star Game boycott threat that changed everything

This should show you this list isn’t in any order of importance. If it were, this moment would be much higher up, and might even be No. 1. The 1964 NBA All-Star Game was the first one to be televised live, which meant there was only so much broadcast time on the Tuesday night in January when the game took place. Except the game almost didn’t take place at all.

The players huddled before the game and said they would refuse to play the game, despite the fact the fringe professional league would get a big boost with the ABC audience. Still, the owners had more to lose and after huddling with NBA commissioner J. Walter Kennedy, they eventually capitulated, agreeing to give the NBPA a seat at the bargaining table to improve working conditions, implement a pension plan and review a host of other maladies the players had been griping about for year.

The game itself was nothing special, except for the fact the players only had a few minutes to warm up after barricading themselves in the locker room until the last moment. By sticking together even as the various owners threatened to release them, the players in the 1964 All-Star game took the first big step towards the modern game, and player’s union, we know today.

Read more about the surreal events of that night in an NBA.com piece published last year on the 50th anniversary of that season, and in an earlier piece by the Los Angeles Times.

9. Wilt Chamberlain scores NBA-record 42 points in the 1962 All-Star Game, but the Eastern Conference still loses and he is NOT named MVP

Chamberlain’s 42 points are still an All-Star record, and he grabbed 24 rebounds for good measure. But the Bayou Bomber Bob Petit of the then St. Louis Hawks was named All-Star Game MVP after scoring 25 points and grabbing an NBA-record 27 rebounds.

The biggest reason Chamberlain missed out on the award — aside from Petit’s dominance on the glass — was the Western Conference won easily, 150-130. It calls to mind all the scoring titles Chamberlain won, but the scant — at least in proportion to his individual exploits — number of titles he won (just two) in his Hall-of-Fame career.

8. Allen Iverson leads huge fourth-quarter comeback on his way to MVP in 2001

At one point in the fourth quarter the Eastern Conference trailed the West by 21 points during the 2001 game. But Allen Iverson, who was playing for his own coach, Larry Brown, at the MCI Center in Washington DC wasn’t going to leave without a win. In a performance reminiscent of the 6—0 (and we’ve stood next to him before, he’s probably closer to 5-11 or 5-10) dynamo’s run through the Eastern Conference playoffs later that year.

Similar to the regular season where Iverson was named the 2001 MVP, his 15 points over the final nine minutes of the game led the East to an unbelievable 111-110 win. The Answer was the MVP in what is still one of the most competitive performances we’ve ever seen in what amounts to an aimless game, but Iverson — like all the greats — wasn’t going down without a fight.

7. Michael Jordan frozen out of 1985 All-Star Game

It’s become a part of the MJ mythos. The time in 1985 when Isiah Thomas convinced other All-Stars (remember, Zeke won the MVP the year prior) to freeze out Jordan during the contest. MJ was the brash young rookie with the lucrative Nike deal and a ton of offensive freedom for a woebegone Bulls squad. It wasn’t a hard sell for a lot of them.

Jordan finished the contest shooting just 2-of-9 in 22 minutes, so it’s not like he never touched the ball, and Thomas again flourished at the point, scoring a team-high 22 points to go with five dimes.

But His Airness had his revenge against Chicago’s former favorite later that season. MJ dropped 49 when he next matched up against Thomas and the Pistons and as the Eastern Conference calcified around the budding rivalry between the two player’s teams, it stood as a watershed in MJ’s famous memory.

Later, MJ would issue an ultimatum to the Olympic committee saying he wouldn’t join the 1992 “Dream Team” if Zeke was given an invite. While the freeze out probably didn’t play as big a role in the rumored demand as Thomas’ decision to leave Game 4 of the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals without shaking hands, it certainly stands as the beginning of their fractious relationship. For MJ, getting ignored that weekend probably worked later as the motivating factor he needed to become a better player, and not just a singular force. For primarily that reason, it had to make our list.

6. Michael Jordan vs. Kobe Bryant in the 1998 All-Star Game

Kobe was in just his second season and first All-Star game; he was still coming off the bench for the Lakers (he would start only one game for them that season). Jordan was in his last year with the Bulls, playing his twelfth All-Star game, but first in quite some time without Scottie Pippen (he was injured to start the year and didn’t get the Kevin Durant benefit of the doubt), or Phil JacksonLarry Bird coached since the Pacers, who had the top record in the East.

It wasn’t a duel, so much as an announcement by Kobe that was someone to keep an eye on, a possible superstar who had no qualms going at his idol. Sure, MJ won the MVP award after scoring a game-high 23 points in a 135-114 Eastern Conference rout.

But Kobe led the West in scoring, causing more than a few of our friends to grumble that the youngster hadn’t yet earned the right to take 16 shots, the most on the team. But he made seven of them on his way to a team-high 18 points. To give you an idea of how long ago this was, the West player who took the second most shots was Nick Van Exel (5-of-14), Kobe’s teammate at the time (Shaq went 5-of-10).

The two would battle two more times in the All-Star game, but this was the only time Bean got a chance to compete aginst Jordan when he was still winning championships, and the Bulls star certainly showed him what a champion looks like even in his final Bulls season.


5. Michael Jordan’s fadeaway in his last All-Star Game (2003)

Kevin Garnett was the MVP with 37 points, nine rebounds and five steals; Allen Iverson paced the East with 35 on 13-for-23 shooting, seven dimes and five steals. Michael Jordan took 27 shots, and only made nine of them (33.3 percent), but his last one came with under five seconds left in overtime to put the East ahead, 138-136. It’s difficulty factor was also pretty high with a young Shawn Marion right in his mug.

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If it weren’t for a late Jermaine O’Neal foul on Kobe Bryant behind the arc, MJ’s last bucket would have been the game-winner. But Bryant hit two-of-three from the stripe, and the West cruised in the second overtime sesssion, 155-145.

Still, the fadeaway from the legend who looked like a shell of his former self earlier in the game was one of those all-star game moments fans will never forget. For a certain generation, it was also nice to see he could still deliver in the clutch, even though he could barely hit the broad side of a barn if he were standing right next to it.

It’s not exactly The Shot, but the fadeaway over Matrix appeased those people who were raised on hoops alongside MJ’s Bulls exploits.

4. NBA names the top fifty on the fiftieth anniversay of the NBA during the 1997 All-Star Game

We included this one because nothing inspired more debate. The top 50 at 50 named the fifty greatest players at the mid-century mark of the NBA’s inception in 1947. Did people argue about it? Yes, definitely…in person.

Now, an official NBA list like this one would turn into a hashtag and strangers would argue about in 140 characters or less. Then, we once saw a classmate throw a tray full of chicken nuggets (the apex of cafeteria fare) at another classmate because they had the temerity to say Dolph Schayes was crummy pick. Personally, Dennis Johnson‘s exclusion always rankled us.

But still, it’s a moment that we can’t forget, until the NBA reaches year 70 in 2017 and comes out with the top 70 at 70 and someone sets up another showdown at Temecula.

3.Michael Jordan wins the Dunk Contest and is named the All-Star Game MVP in 1988

MJ came within two points of equaling Wilt’s scoring record with 40 points on just 23 shots (17/23) and added four steals and four blocks. Jordan of course won the first of three All-Star Game MVPs that year. All this after he had won the Dunk Contest, back when it meant something, in a showdown with Dominique Wilkins.

For the record, Isiah Thomas started in that same All-Star game and finished with eight points on 4-of-10 shooting.

Jordan’s 17 field goals that game tied him with Wilt, but Blake Griffin bettered both of them last year with 19 buckets on his way to 38 points last season in New Orleans.

That year MJ won the All-Star Game MVP, the Defensive Player of the Year and MVP. He did not, however, win the NBA Championship; Magic did for the second year in a row.

2.Marvin Gaye sings “The Star-Spangled Banner” before the 1983 NBA All-Star Game

Words aren’t necessary thanks to the nostalgic magnificence of the Internet’s trove of video. Just close your eyes, listen, and remember you’re listening to an icon shattering any preconceived notions of what this song can sound like before a sporting event. There’s a reason Pete Croatto dubbed Gaye’s rendition “The All-Star Anthem” for Grantland.

1. Magic Johnson wins MVP after retiring in 1992

Earlier in the fall of 1991, Magic Johnson made the stunning announcement that he had acquired HIV, the precursor to AIDS. Magic is alive and well today, but at the time everyone was convinced he was going to die. AIDS was considered by many at the time as a disease exclusive to the homosexual community, and Magic did a lot to educate the American population and people worldwide about the pandemic AIDS was becoming.

But he also played in that season’s All-Star game, winning the MVP trophy after scoring 25 points on 9-of-12 shooting, including 3-for-3 from beyond the arc (never the strongest part of his game). He added nine dimes, five rebounds and two steals in 29 minutes of action. But the biggest moment was that he took the court at all, with many still scared to be in close physical contact with someone who was HIV positive. Magic, as was his custom, shrugged it off, and yukked it up with friends Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas on his way to the MVP.

It will always be one of the bravest moments we’ve ever seen and a touching hallmark to one of the true titans of the game.

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