For one weekend every year, the NBA’s greatest talents take a break from being the awesome physical specimens that they are to show fans that they are also entertaining physical specimens. They assemble their craziest dunks, wettest jumpers, fanciest passes, and most obscene crossovers in one nicely wrapped gift that is the All-Star Weekend. Here are some of its greatest moments.
THE 1988 DUNKOFF
There were no cars, no costumes, no mascots on hoverboards. In 1988, the Slam Dunk Contest only had air. The man who had a trademark on exactly that, Michael Jordan, bested Dominique Wilkins in what would become the greatest dunkoff of all time. Wilkins threw one emphatic slam after another, but it was Jordan’s graceful artistry that won the judges over. For his finale, Jordan taxied from the opposite end of the floor, took off from (just inside) the free throw line, and posed in midair before throwing down a perfect dunk that can only be described as Jordanesque.
THE ELBOW PASS
The All-Star Weekend is the preferred launch pad of stars for their sick moves, such as Tracy McGrady’s off the backboard dunk and Kyrie Irving’s ankle breakers. But the sickest of the moves still belongs to Jason Williams. At the 2000 Rising Stars Challenge, Williams, then on his second year with the Sacramento Kings, ran a four-on-two fastbreak with Raef Lafrentz, Dirk Nowitzki, and Paul Pierce. With the ball on his left hand, he looked to his right and motioned to pass behind his back, only to hit the ball with his right elbow to pass left to Lafrentz. If that sounded crazy, that’s because it was. The elbow pass became so legendary that it’s still being talked about–and demonstrated by the White Chocolate himself–17 years later on Inside the NBA.
‘WHERE’S MY COACH?’
Basketball is great not only because of the highlights, but also because of storylines. In 2001, the story was about the surging Philadelphia 76ers, or more accurately, the love-hate relationship between the team’s brash superstar Allen Iverson and his veteran coach Larry Brown. Iverson was the rebellious son; Brown was the strict dad. The 2001 All-Star Game set the stage perfectly for the two to make magic, as Iverson and his coach mounted a monumental comeback to give the East a victory. As Iverson received his MVP trophy, he looked for his coach in a heartwarming tribute–signaling they’ve finally learned to harmoniously co-exist. It was only fitting that Iverson was also named season MVP that year as he led the Sixers to the NBA Finals.
If Brown and Iverson had the father-and-son narrative, Jordan and Kobe Bryant had a teacher-and-student one. The 1998 All-Star Weekend was held in New York and featured peak Jordan versus 19-year-old Kobe playing in his first All-Star Game. Young Kobe brought his arsenal of 360 dunks, but the real highlight of the game was his chess match with the older and wiser Jordan, who came away with the MVP award.
WILT SCORES 42
The All-Star Game is all about scoring a bunch of points in style, and Wilt Chamberlain is still the undisputed champ. At the 1962 All-Star Game, Wilt scored a record 42 points in 23 shots for the East All-Stars. He also grabbed 24 rebounds. Jordan in 1988, Russell Westbrook in 2015, and Paul George in 2016 came close to beating the record, but Wilt’s 42 remains safe. For now.
The mechanics of the Three Point Shootout are simple: balls are set, there’s a clock, you hit as many shots as you can. It is perhaps the least entertaining event at the All-Star Weekend. But in 1988, Larry Bird did his best to make it dramatic–almost worthy of a full-length documentary. After winning the competition for two straight years, the pressure was on Bird to three-peat. He needed to beat Dale Ellis’ score of 15 to win again, and it came down to the last shot. With the score tied at 15 with five seconds left, Larry Legend shot the money ball and immediately raised his index finger upon release, signaling that his winning streak remained intact. By the time the ball went through the net, Bird was already collecting his third trophy and signing autographs at the dugout.
MJ’S LAST ALL-STAR GAME
Michael Jordan was 39 years old when he played at the 2003 All-Star Game yet he was still able to go toe-to-toe with the best ones. With the game tied at 136 in overtime, Jordan scored on a fadeaway jumper over Shawn Marion. It could’ve been the perfect sendoff for the GOAT, but Kobe was fouled on the next play to send the game into double overtime. His team lost, but Jordan tallied 20 points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals in his last All-Star Game.
Magic Johnson, with his flashy passes and infectious smile, was one of the most charismatic players of his era. He changed the game in many ways, none more important than his appearance at the 1992 All-Star Game. Despite not being part of any roster due to his sudden retirement linked to HIV, Magic was voted in as a starter by the fans. Magic didn’t just suit up, he stole the show, capping off a 25-point, 9-assist MVP performance with an off-balanced, step back 3. The game ended with hugs all over the court. The All-Star Game was always known as a showcase of talent, but this particular one on February 9, 1992 proved it could be so much more than just showtime; it was also the perfect platform to show compassion.
What were the memorable moments for you? Tell us about them below!