Ten All-Star Games to remember (cont.)
5. 1998: Jordan's best farewell
A lot of fans feel that the 1998 NBA Finals, with Michael Jordan draining that decisive jumper over Bryon Russell in Game 6 to win his and Chicago's sixth championship, should have been Jordan's Hollywood ending. A lot of the same folks feel the same about the 1998 All-Star Game. It was held in New York, at a Madison Square Garden that lately has become the Carnegie Hall of stellar individual performances. And Jordan gave a great one with 23 points, six rebounds, eight assists and three steals. He orchestrated a 20-1 spurt in the fourth quarter that helped the East coast to a 135-114 victory and was voted MVP for the third and final time. This was the game that nearly soured Karl Malone on All-Star events forever -- he resented being waved off a pick-and-roll play so West teammate Kobe Bryant, in his All-Star debut, could challenge Jordan one-on-one.
4. 2003: Jordan's last farewell
In 1998, East coach Larry Bird's stated strategy was to "give it to Michael and get out of the way.'' Five years later, that was taken literally by almost everyone involved. Vince Carter gave up his starting spot to His Airness and everyone in Atlanta's Philips Arena -- including the West defense -- figured this would be Jordan's last All-Star appearance. So Jordan tied Rick Barry's 36-year-old record with 27 field-goal attempts and made nine, including a baseline jumper with 4.8 seconds left in overtime that gave him 20 and the likely MVP award. Oops -- Jermaine O'Neal fouled Kobe out beyond the arc with one second left, Bryant hit his three free throws and a second OT was required. When the West dominated 17-7 in those extra-extra five minutes, Minnesota's Kevin Garnett wound up with the MVP trophy thanks to 37 points, nine rebounds, three assists and five steals. At least Jordan's final All-Star appearance gave us Mariah Carey in that slinky Wizards jersey dress, cooing in a Jordan tribute in an updated Marilyn-JFK moment.
3. 1964: East wins, NBPA wins more
The game was good -- Oscar Robertson sparked a 111-107 East victory with 26 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists for the second of his three MVPs. But the pregame was better for its unseen drama and significance. The players, frustrated in their attempts to negotiate a pension plan and gain other concessions from the owners, threatened a boycott in the hours leading up to the event. Several owners tried to intimidate their All-Stars into backing down, but the players countered that by sequestering themselves in a Boston Garden locker room.
"There was this old Irish cop standing by the locker room door and we told him not to let anyone in,'' Tom Heinsohn was quoted as saying in Thomas J. Whalen's book Dynasty's End. At one point, Lakers owner Bob Short sent an ultimatum to Elgin Baylor and Jerry West. Said Heinsohn: "I can still remember Elgin standing up and telling the cop, 'Tell Bob Short he can go [bleep] himself.' ''
ABC threatened to pull the plug on the telecast 15 minutes before tip-off, until commissioner Walter Kennedy gave his word that he would address the players' concerns. They got their pensions and the union got its first major victory.
2. 1977: Those guys can play
"Can play'' as in competent and worthy but first, "can play'' as in permitted. The 1977 All-Star Game had a little Super Bowl III feel to it, featuring both NBA stars and the best of the players who arrived from the ABA in the two leagues' merger for that season. A constellation of stars -- nine in all -- who previously had been playing with red-white-and-blue basketballs flooded in, including Julius Erving, George Gervin, David Thompson, and Maurice Lucas. It was Erving, with 30 points and 12 rebounds in a 125-124 losing effort for the East in Milwaukee, who was named the game's MVP, a nod to what his showmanship and classy public demeanor would mean to the expanded league going forward. That didn't help Phoenix guard Paul Westphal, whose 21 points and two buckets and a steal in the closing moments won the game but not the trophy. (Full disclosure: As a student reporter for my college paper, I got credentialed and voted for Westphal.)
1. 1992: It's Magic!
Six All-Star Games have gone into overtime but only one went under time: The 1992 game was shorted 15 seconds after players from both sides poured onto the floor to celebrate Magic Johnson's game-capping three-pointer in a 153-113 West victory. The score suggests a laugher but it really was more of a smiler -- big, broad smiles that mirrored Johnson's trademark expression. They came from the sheer enjoyment of seeing the longtime Lakers great back in action after the devastating news in November 1991 that Johnson had contracted HIV. His abrupt retirement, hasty in hindsight, had dealt a body blow to the league's resilience and sense of fun, but those came roaring back in the goodwill accorded Johnson at the Orlando Arena. What had begun when fans voted Johnson into the starting lineup despite his retirement ended with Johnson scoring 25 points, padding his All-Star assists total to 127, winning his second MVP and getting embraced by teammates and opponents even before the final horn. Said Johnson: "It was the first game ever called on account of hugs.''
Steve Aschburner covered the Minnesota Timberwolves and the NBA for 13 seasons for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He has served as president or vice president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association since 2005.