Ever since the inception of the McDonald's All-American team in 1977, the game has been the place to find the nation's top high school players. There have been countless superstars and breakout performers who first made their name on a national stage at the game, and the NBA and Basketball Hall of Fame is filled with McDonald's alums. Morgan Wootten, the legendary former coach of DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.) and Basketball Hall of Famer, has been involved in the game since its first days.
We asked him to share his 10 favorite McDonald's moments:
1977-78 -- The Beginning
The inaugural McDonald's All-American team didn't play a game but was selected by experts from across the country. The group, led by Wootten and legendary UCLA coach John Wooden, showed its ability to pick the very best right from the beginning, with Magic Johnson making the original 1977 squad. The following year, the first game was played at The Spectrum in Philadelphia in front of 13,063 people. "It was such a great start and that was the key because it proved to McDonald's and the whole country that we really had a winner here," Wootten says.
1979 -- Best Class Ever?
The 1979 class still stands as arguably the best group in the game's history. NBA Hall of Famers Dominique Wilkins, Isiah Thomas and James Worthy played, as did Ralph Sampson, John Paxson and Byron Scott. Future N.C. State teammates and NCAA champions Sidney Lowe and Derrick Whittenburg also participated. Thomas and Paxson led the East to a 106-105 overtime win. "We looked at it and said, 'How can it get any better?'" Wootten says. This group was also filled with eventual NBA GMs (Thomas, Paxson) and coaches (Scott and Thomas in the NBA, Lowe and Whittenburg in college).
1981 -- The Jordan Legacy Begins
Michael Jordan first showed his ability to dominate on the big stage at the McDonald's All-American Game. MJ showed the calm under pressure that would define his NBA career when he nailed two free throws with 11 seconds left to give the East a 96-95 win. Jordan finished with 30 points, a record that stood for 18 years. "We all saw that night that here's a guy that could be a great player," Wootten says. "You could see he was the complete player. He showed great comfort under pressure, great court awareness and he made other players better."
1989 -- Shaq Attack
In 1989, Shaquille O'Neal invaded Kansas City's Kemper Arena, and the McDonald's game was never the same. The dominant big man scored 18 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and swatted six shots to lead the West to a 112-103 win. O'Neal shared MVP honors with two-time NCAA champ Bobby Hurley, who had 10 assists for the East squad. But the story was Shaq. "We got in the elevator -- Coach Wooden, myself and Shaq -- and we filled up the elevator. He was the biggest guy I'd ever seen and as unstoppable a player as I'd ever seen," Wootten says.
1991 -- Fab Four
Before Michigan's Fab Five took the college basketball world by storm in the 1992 NCAA Tournament, America got its first taste of the group at the McDonald's game. Four members of the eventual Fab Five -- Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard and Jimmy King -- played together for the West team. Webber, who finished with 28 points and was co-MVP, won the game with a dunk in the final seconds of a 108-106 West victory. The game was held in Springfield, Mass., as part of basketball's centennial celebration.
1995 -- Garnett and the start of preps-to-pros
The 1995 game was an especially star-studded affair, led by Kevin Garnett, who would later become the first player in two decades to jump from high school straight to the NBA. "He was very confident, carried himself very well and had a certain maturity to him," Wootten says. "You could look back and say, 'If somebody could have done it, it would be him.'" Garnett didn't disappoint, recording 18 points and 11 rebounds to earn MVP honors as his West squad prevailed, 125-115. Teammate Paul Pierce added 28 points, while the game's other future stars included Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison and Stephon Marbury.
1998 -- McDonald's Goes Primetime
By 1998, the McDonald's game had long been established as the premier high school hoops all-star game in the country. But the game received an added boost when it was televised on ESPN for the first time. "It became even more of 'the game' than it already was," Wootten says. "It brought greater stature to it and more interest than ever before." The players didn't disappoint, with Ronald Curry earning MVP honors with 19 points and 13 rebounds to lead the East to a 128-112 win. Quentin Richardson scored 19 for the West team.
1999 -- Bender Bests MJ
Anytime you get a chance to break Jordan's record, it's pretty special. For Jonathan Bender, he got the chance on national TV. Bender went off in the game's final minutes to turn a close game into a 141-128 West victory. He finished with 31 points, topping Jordan's 18-year-old record. "The crowd was going nuts," Wootten says. "They knew he was zeroing in on the record and were really going wild." Bender also grabbed 10 rebounds and easily earned MVP honors.
2002/2004 -- She's Got Game
We're cheating here a little by including two moments, but they're so intertwined that it works. In 2002, McDonald's added a girls' game. It was an acknowledgment at how far girls' basketball had come since 1978. Future UConn star Ann Strother led the way in the 2002 game, held at Madison Square Garden. She won co-MVP honors with 21 points to lead the West to a 94-85 victory. The girls' game got a huge boost in 2004, though, when current Tennessee standout Candace Parker won the dunk contest against a field of boys. "That blew my mind," Wootten says. "It was really very special."
2003 -- Coronation of King James
No high school player has dealt with more hype than LeBron James, and that reached its peak at the 2003 McDonald's game in Cleveland. It was the Ohio native's last high school game in the Buckeye State, and James thrived on the attention. He was named MVP by recording a game-high 27 points, seven rebounds and seven assists to lead his East squad to a 122-107 win. "That was something special," Wootten says. "I thought to myself, 'Will he ever be under more pressure?' He was playing in his hometown with all the hype that was there and he was just tremendous." James now stars for the Cavaliers, where his GM is 1985 McDonald's All-American Danny Ferry.