Forget the lockouts. Forget the he said/he said media posturing. Forget the Twitter feuds.
Forget the trade demands, the franchise relocations and the referee scandals.
And try as you might, forget trying to forget Shaq and the Jabbawockeez in 2009.
Sure, NBA All-Star weekend has morphed into a forgettable convention of parties, marketing and posturing. But that won't erase these moments NBA diehards treasure.
To celebrate the rich, varied history of NBA All-Star weekend, we asked our passionate NBA writers to tell our readers about the All-Star weekend moments they just can't shake.
What NBA All-Star moments will you never forget?
—Chris Trenchard, Bleacher Report NBA Deputy Editor
1983 was the first All-Star Game broadcast I watched.
When they announced Marvin Gaye’s name, I had reason to be excited. I was a massive Gaye fan, though I didn't know "Heard It Through The Grapevine" or any of Mr. Gaye’s legendary hits from the '60s and '70s. I just knew his hit “Sexual Healing” from several months earlier, which had helped me, a youngster just beginning to have confusing feelings, accept my own sexuality.
So I watched Mr. Gaye stride to center court with great anticipation. But I was shocked when I heard a beatbox rhythm track fill the stadium. And when Mr. Gaye started singing, I knew something unforgettable was happening.
An unspoken edict, then and even today, was "don’t mess with the national anthem." Young as I was, I knew Mr. Gaye would incur the wrath of close-minded reactionaries.
But I also knew he had me and millions of viewers spellbound.
My first thought listening to that sweet, soulful voice swoop and dive, was, "My god. He's making the national anthem cool."
Cool wasn’t the half of it. Incredibly, by song’s end, the man actually got the crowd to clap along with the national anthem.
And as he left the court to cheers, my final thought was, "Wow. The other sports are their leagues (meaning my parents’ generation). This one is ours."
The fact that Mr. Gaye was my parents’ age was lost on me. But the moment was not. For me, Mr. Gaye’s rendition would never be topped—until 2006, when my late father, an opera singer, belted out "The Star-Spangled Banner" at a sold-out Detroit Tigers-Chicago White Sox game.
He took no chances with the song. But heck, it was my dad.
Being short in stature myself, naturally, I was inspired by what Spud Webb did at the 1986 Slam Dunk Contest in Dallas.
The 5’7” Atlanta Hawks guard didn’t simply prove he could compete with the best dunkers in the game—he showed that he could surpass them in electric fashion.
Webb’s night started off with some impressive slams, but nothing outlandish. As the contest progressed, he displayed a versatile and jaw-dropping repertoire of throwdowns.
He crammed double-clutch reverses, 360-degree dunks, off-glass lobs to himself and more. Although he was the shortest one on the court, he was pulling off tricky slams that no one else could do.
The final round of the contest pitted Webb against Dominique Wilkins, his 6’8” Hawks teammate and defending Slam Dunk Contest champ. In order to win, the underdog guard would have to outdo one of the best dunkers of all time.
When he triumphed with a bounce lob and reverse, Michael Jordan himself was dumbfounded. That tells you how magnificent Webb’s performance was.
It was the first time the world realized there are “little guys” who can reach the stratosphere of the game’s best leapers.
Every time I watch the highlights, I’m still awestruck that someone can bounce so high and accomplish such difficult feats.
The year was 1987. I was serving in the U.S. Air Force and living in the dorms.
Many of us didn't have our own TVs. We lived two to a room. There were about 30 rooms to a floor. On each floor, they had a day room with a fairly large (for then) 27-inch TV we would gather around to watch sporting events.
It was only the fourth Slam Dunk Contest, and it was still pretty novel then. Previous winners had been Spud Webb, Dominique Wilkins and Larry Nance. It was rising in popularity like Webb rising for a dunk.
There was this kid competing that year who had been taking the NBA by storm. He was averaging an amazing 37 points per game, and boy, could this kid fly. We were eagerly anticipating what he would do in the Slam Dunk Contest.
The thing you need to understand about the contest then is that most of the dunks hadn't been done yet. There weren't all kinds of props and that sort of nonsense.
But the thing that it really had going for it wasn't this "you have 60 seconds to make it" thing. They went for the dunk and got it. You didn't have to endure 11 missed dunks before one went down.
There was repeatedly a chorus of oohs and aahs as the contest went on. But the things this kid was doing were amazing. He dunked from the free-throw line with a double clutch. He elevated to the rim, then ducked his head as he flew under the rim, dunking once he cleared it. (Think about that: He had to duck to dunk!)
Jerome Kersey was matching him in the finals, though, putting on a spectacular performance. But Michael Jordan's last dunk was the most beautiful I've ever seen. However, I'm a purist.
Jordan came in from the left, and with his back to the basket, "came in, flying sideways, almost like Superman," as the announcer called it.
The day room erupted. No one cared who won. We'd just seen the greatest ever dunk of our lives. And the legend of Michael Jordan, on that day, was born.
Perhaps that's why. Maybe it's the nostalgia of watching it with all my Air Force buddies. Maybe it was just the pure beauty of the dunk. Probably it's a mix of all those things together, but it was my favorite All-Star moment.
Larry Bird is a baller. Plain and simple.
At no point was that clearer than when he won the All-Star weekend's Three-Point Shootout back in 1988.
Bird had won the first two Three-Point Contests in 1986 and '87 and was going for a third straight in Chicago.
In the first round, the Hick from French Lick went for 17 points—two off leader Byron Scott’s 19—to qualify for the semifinals. He then scorched the nets for 23 in the semis to reach the final round against Seattle sharpshooter Dale Ellis.
Ellis went first and posted a solid 15 points with ‘80s guitar rock blaring in the background.
Then, Bird cemented his all-time “baller” status.
(And this is the guy who reportedly walked into the locker room prior to the 1986 Three-Point Contest, looked around and said, “I want all of you to know I am winning this thing. I'm just looking around to see who's gonna finish up second." Baller.)
Commentator Steve “Snapper” Jones summed up Bird’s confidence before his performance in the finals: “You know how Bird is. He feels that when the money’s down, no one is better than himself.”
He was right.
After notching three points on both the first and second racks and just one on the third, Bird was in a tight spot. But he heated up on the fourth rack, draining all five shots for an overall total of 13.
He needed three points on the final rack to three-peat.
He hit two of his first four to tie Ellis. It would come down to the final money ball.
As the ball left Bird’s hands, he immediately pointed toward the sky and started walking off the court. He knew it was good.
No smile. No big to-do. And he didn’t even take off his warm-up jacket.
Most NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contests are remembered for one spectacular performer, like Spud Webb in 1986 or Vince Carter in 2000.
The 1988 Slam Dunk Contest featured a showdown between two of the greatest high-flyers of all time, Dominique Wilkins and Michael Jordan, at the height of their powers.
The anticipation leading up to the showdown was similar to that before a heavyweight fight. 'Nique won the dunk contest in 1985, and MJ came away victorious in 1987. This was the rubber match to determine the world's greatest dunker. And the two did not disappoint.
I was 10 years old, and my love for basketball was in its infancy. I became mesmerized by the athleticism, grace and creativity of the two great leapers, as well as the electricity in the air at Chicago Stadium that night. The home crowd was pulling hard for Jordan.
The energy built to a crescendo as the two favorites advanced to the finals. With contrasting styles—'Nique relied more on power; Michael simply soared—they dueled it out, throwing down one sensational dunk after another. For the final dunk of the night, Michael took flight from the foul line, which earned him a perfect score and sealed the victory.
The drama continued after the contest. Many viewers believed that Wilkins delivered the more impressive dunks and attributed Jordan's victory to home-court advantage.
However, the night is remembered for the show put on by MJ and 'Nique rather than who was victorious. My obsession with NBA basketball soared like MJ from the foul line after that night. Twenty-five years later, it remains the pinnacle of the NBA Slam Dunk Contest.
The New York Knicks stunk in the mid-1980s. We’re talking three of the top eight worst records in the franchise’s 67-year history. Even Isiah Thomas’ and Stephon Marbury’s Knicks of the mid-2000s were slightly better.
Just imagine how bad that is.
That’s how I felt.
But in a way. it was good, because if you’re going to be bad in basketball, it pays to be really bad.
And so, in 1985, “The New York Knicks for their first pick select[ed] Patrick Ewing.” Things were looking up.
In 1986, they drafted Kenny Walker and in 1987, Mark Jackson.
Now, Walker never really panned out. He was a fan favorite for sure, with the flattop and high-flying style, not to mention the gold chain and the nickname “Sky,” which couldn’t be said without wondering if it was sarcastic or not.
But in between the Knicks’ 14-year playoff run—most of which was led by Ewing and Jackson—and Michael Jordan’s back-to-back Slam Dunk titles, Walker forever earned his nickname and place in Knicks history.
Walker was a bench player already toward the back end of his career in his third season. What was he doing in the Slam Dunk Contest, never mind winning it? Actually, previous winners Jordan and Dominique Wilkins opted out, paving the way.
It was still a coup. Ex-champ Spud Webb was in the mix, but Walker powered his way to the win. It was awesome, and it happened in the days when the slam dunk was at its peak in popularity—when it really meant something to win.
No Kias or capes. Just an old-fashioned, to-the-hoop throwdown with a hint of ugly flair.
First, New York drafted Ewing, and now it had the Slam Dunk champ, too. Things were just getting crazy for Knicks basketball, and it would stay that way for a long time. The fans knew it.
In 1991, I was eight years old. Patrick Ewing was my favorite player.
I didn’t like Michael Jordan, but I loved Magic Johnson. Magic had that charismatic smile with none of Jordan's cruelty.
I marveled at the way Magic could pass. He was so tricky; it was thrilling to watch.
Big news about Magic broke in November that year, but I didn't really understand it. I recall my father struggling to explain: "It's kind of like what happened to Lou Gehrig. So he has to stop playing."
"You mean he's gonna die?" I asked sorrowfully.
"Well, I don't know," was the reply.
When the fans voted Magic to be a starter for the 1992 All-Star Game even though he hadn’t played that season, I was ecstatic to watch him again. I hoped he would somehow come back for good.
My parents would let me stay up late sometimes if I begged them. This was one of those nights. I watched the All-Star Game, which was a blowout (153-113), but I just rooted for Ewing and Magic.
Ewing scored 10 points, but Magic was sublime. He was draining shots and dishing like the old days.
I’ll never forget the final 90 seconds. Isiah Thomas and Jordan challenged Magic on consecutive possessions, and he stuck to them like glue. Isiah air-balled his shot. MJ bricked his.
Then Magic dribbled up and got pressed by Jordan and Thomas, so he passed to Clyde Drexler. Drexler recognized the moment and passed back to Johnson. Magic calmly backed Thomas up to the arc and lobbed a three-pointer.
It went in. I went nuts. It was his third consecutive triple. All the players came out to congratulate him. Kevin Willis and Isiah hugged him. They didn't even play the game's final 14 seconds.
Magic was named the MVP, but as Sports Illustrated's Jack McCallum put it, those letters might as well have stood for "Most Valuable Person."
I was 11 years old at the time and just becoming an obsessive NBA fan.
Naturally, I started off by rooting for my hometown team (Minnesota Timberwolves), but it was touch-and-go, to say the least.
Front-runners like the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets were easier to like, and most kids my age had weird fascinations with "hip" teams like the Charlotte Hornets and Orlando Magic.
Nobody else really liked the 'Wolves, even in Minnesota. They were terrible, and they were never on TV. Ever.
Except the All-Star Game was being held at Target Center in 1994. And one of "our guys" was in the Slam Dunk Contest...
To see J.R. Rider not only beat a guy like Shawn Kemp, but pull off what many at the time were calling "the greatest dunk I have ever seen" (Charles Barkley), was hook, line and sinker for me as a 'Wolves fan.
My guy had won the Slam Dunk Contest, put the 'Wolves on the map for seemingly the first time ever and had given me a reason to stop hating Christian Laettner and Donyell Marshall so much.
Rider never did more than this high point of his career, and he quickly wore out his welcome with me—but he is as much a reason as anything that I'm such a hardcore 'Wolves and NBA fan today.
The 1995 NBA All-Star Game in Phoenix was the first time I ever saw the league's best play on the same court.
I was your average 10-year-old tomboy who liked recreational sports such as four-square and kickball.
After watching that game, I fell in love with basketball. And that was thanks to Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway. Michael Jordan was still in retirement, so this game was Hardaway's coming-out party.
Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp were the dynamic duo of the West, but Penny and Shaquille O'Neal stole the show. In fact, Hardaway's backward pass to Shaq as he dunked it was voted the No. 1 play of the game.
There were so many behind-the-back passes and alley-oops Hardaway threw (and connected), I could barely contain my excitement.
The West proved to be best, though.
There's no way they could have lost with Payton, Kemp, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, John Stockton and Dikembe Mutombo, to name a few.
Yet Mitch Richmond was the MVP. Out of those big names, Richmond's quiet sharp-shooting won him the trophy.
His game-high 23 points came out of nowhere! It was fundamentally-sound awesomeness.
The 1995 All-Star Game is why I can't get enough of hoops today. I will never forget the impact it has made on my life.
Every kid wants a player from his or her favorite team to participate in the Slam Dunk Contest. Doug Christie wouldn't have been my first choice, but it was the jersey he was wearing that I cared about.
I remember hearing Christie had something special planned, so expectations were high.
Christie's first dunk was a reverse, one-handed slam you'll see during any Heat or Clippers game. His second dunk could be executed by a child with a Fisher Price hoop and was first done in 1990 by Kenny "The Jet" Smith.
And then the dunk we'd all been waiting for.
Christie walked to the stripe and turned his back toward the hoop. He then proceeded to punt the ball over his head in a ridiculous attempt to set up a self-alley-oop.
It took him three tries before catching the ball and completing one of the dumbest, least dramatic dunks in All-Star history.
To make things worse, he failed to convert his fourth dunk after multiple attempts, misfiring wild behind-the-back passes off the backcourt that were intended for self-alley-oops. He ultimately completed his performance with a standard two-handed slam to avoid a zero.
Patrick Ewing and Kenny Smith made the memory extra special with wardrobes that were likely assembled in the dark.
Ewing had on a vest that made him look like a gigantic version of Aladdin. And I didn't know if Kenny was there to watch the event or set up a booth and start telling fortunes.
It was a disappointing night and, for some reason, one I won't forget. Do yourself a favor and Google what Doug Christie and his wife are up to now.
The proposition ostensibly wouldn't be a winning one: campaign for a player who had made one dunk all season to be in the dunk contest.
Wouldn't happen, right?
Well, when the two campaigning for you are All-Stars Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway and Shaquille O'Neal, the impossible becomes plausible. And thus, Darrell Armstrong was awarded a spot in the 1996 NBA Slam Dunk Contest.
Armstrong tried his best not to disappoint his All-Star teammates and came out with a strong double-pump reverse dunk to start his 1:30. He wouldn't make another dunk that entire minute-plus.
Armstrong tried a variety of different dunks, including a reverse one-handed dunk off a bounce pass at 0:50 in the video, which would have been pretty impressive...if he wasn't hung by the rim.
He eventually grew tired and ended the Slam Dunk Contest with a reverse layup, marking the first and last time that a layup had to be factored into a player's score in the Slam Dunk Contest.
Armstrong scored just 24 points from the judges and was eliminated in the first round of the contest, but to even be there after doing just one dunk all season up until the break was an accomplishment.
Perhaps the real pity is that we never got to see the dunk Armstrong and Shaq had planned: Armstrong dunking while wearing his shoes inside of Shaq's size-22 Reeboks.
It's easy to forget Brent Barry's historic 1996 NBA Slam Dunk Contest win. After all, his improbable triumph was sandwiched in between Harold Miner's 1995 performance and some guy named Kobe Bryant's victory in 1997.
But if you were a skinny, 13-year-old white kid with totally unrealistic dreams of dunking, the man they called "Bones" is forever carved into the Mount Rushmore of your basketball memory.
Maybe you had the same goofy haircut. And maybe your mom even bought you those same Nike Zoom Flight 95s. If you're that kid, the show Barry put on at All-Star weekend in San Antonio is your Woodstock.
But maybe this is getting too autobiographical, which is a disservice to the objective awesomeness of what Barry did.
The foul-line dunk had been ostensibly dead since 1988, when Michael Jordan used the slam to win his third Slam Dunk Contest. Jordan busted out the move in no fewer than three separate exhibitions since he debuted it in 1985.
So let’s all lay off of Barry for using it twice in 1996, shall we?
Barry’s takeoff was at least as far back as a couple of Jordan’s were, and let’s not forget the most important aspect of the entire production: the warmup.
Yes, Barry left his warmup jacket on throughout his victorious performance. In a nod to scrawny kids everywhere, Bones laughed in the face of aerodynamics and took flight.
For that, he’s nothing short of a hero.
The 1998 NBA All-Star Game gave fans the most memorable showdown possible.
Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant squared off in a duel between the old master and the young riser—the then-greatest player against the heir to the throne.
The pair of superstars didn’t let fans down. Jordan and Bryant traded showstopping dunks. Shaquille O’Neal fed Kobe for a couple of breakaway jams.
Each one took aim at the other at various points in the game. Kobe drained a corner three-pointer in MJ’s eye early in the game only to have Jordan return the favor on a baseline fadeaway later.
Now, there was one dunk that the “Black Mamba” missed. That this memory sticks out more than any folly committed by Jordan is simply indicative of the perceived mortality of the Los Angeles Lakers dynamo to the deism surrounding the Chicago Bulls legend.
The tally in the end fell in favor of “His Airness.” Jordan scored 23 points on 10-of-18 shooting while dishing out eight assists and grabbing three steals. Kobe had 18 points on 7-of-16 shooting, along with six rebounds and two steals.
Jordan’s last true moment of Madison Square Garden greatness earned him the All-Star Most Valuable Player Award.
It was my freshman year in college. I had left my small hometown in Maine to play Division III hoops at a small school outside of Boston.
That didn't work out, however, as I quit before the season even started. It wasn't a good fit—they wanted us to wake up too early, and frankly, I wasn't that good.
I was confident I was an "adult" now that I was a 19-year-old with a shaggy goatee, especially with all the beer cans scattered around the room every morning when I woke up.
But still, even though you convince yourself that you're an adult, deep down, you know you're just a little kid.
No event brought that feeling to the forefront of my brain more than the night Vince Carter happened.
I hesitate to even say it was the night he won the Slam Dunk Contest. It was more than that. I will just always remember it as the cold night in February that some cosmic force of nature sucked away everything I knew about life and replaced it with an exotic gas that turned grownups into puddles of youth.
Staring at the television set as Vince annexed the arena, doing things to the rim and the air and gravity that had never been done—all with a blend of grace and ferocity that may never be matched—the feeling I got wasn't like being back in high school cheering for NBA heroes.
And though it bore some resemblance, it wasn't even like I was back in third grade, dunking on my Nerf hoop with glee as I tried to mimic Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins defying physics.
No, this was more like the feeling of being a two-year-old finally figuring out what a dog was. It was a night of primal ballet in which many others participated by Vince Carter simply putting his stamp on the league—nay, the planet—to a degree that I didn't think was possible.
It was a repeated series of roundhouse kicks to my cerebellum—in a good way.
Allen Iverson frequently turned NBA All-Star Weekend into his own personal playground. The former Philadelphia 76ers guard was named the MVP of the Rookie Challenge back in 1997, and he scored 35 points, dished out seven assists and had five steals in the 2003 All-Star Game.
Yet despite those brilliant showings, it is Iverson's performance in the 2001 All-Star Game that still resonates to this day.
Fittingly, the contest was held in the building now known as the Verizon Center, less than three hours away from where Iverson was raised in Hampton, Va. With the Western Conference up by 19 heading into the fourth quarter, the six-foot Iverson led a spirited charge that resulted in a 111-110 East victory.
Defense and effort are typically optional in the NBA's midseason classic, but apparently, Iverson never received the memo. Thanks in large part to his blazing quickness, "The Answer" scored 15 of his 25 points in the final period and was the driving force behind the largest comeback in All-Star game history.
Despite the on-court drama, the highlight of the night wasn't anything that happened during the game. Shortly after accepting the All-Star Game MVP Award, Iverson made it a point to acknowledge Sixers head coach Larry Brown—a man he had openly feuded with during the previous three-plus seasons.
That moment was something of a paradigm shift in the Iverson/Brown relationship. The coach and player would soon end their public feud (albeit briefly), and the Sixers made an improbable run the NBA Finals later that season.
Over the years, we have been told that the players don't care about the NBA All-Star Game. But anyone who saw the 2001 game knows that wasn't true that night.
The Eastern Conference All-Stars trailed the Western All-Stars by 21 points with just nine minutes remaining in the game.
Behind Allen Iverson's 15 fourth-quarter points and Stephon Marbury's clutch three-point shooting, the East overcame Kobe Bryant's 19 points and Tim Duncan's double-double en route to clinching the upset.
Not many gave the Eastern Conference All-Stars a chance to win the game, mainly due to their underwhelming array of frontcourt players that included Anthony Mason, Glen Robinson and Dikembe Mutombo.
Meanwhile, along with Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd and Gary Payton, the Western stars had the likes of Tim Duncan, Chris Webber, Rasheed Wallace, David Robinson and Karl Malone patrolling the paint.
The game featured dozens of exciting dunks and alley-oops, mostly from Kobe Bryant and Vince Carter. But down the stretch, the defenses tightened up, each team began sharing the ball and Iverson began urging his teammates to play with more energy and passion. It was obvious he wanted to win the game.
In the end, despite being overmatched on paper, the East scored an amazing 41 points in the fourth quarter and ended up collectively participating in an uncharacteristically jubilant celebration once it secured an improbable 111-110 victory over the stars from the Western Conference.
Can you get any better than 15 points in the final nine minutes of action by none other than Allen Iverson? Yeah, that's what I thought. You can't.
Iverson led the Eastern Conference, who trailed by 20 at one point, back into the game. As expected, though, Kobe Bryant wasn't having it, as he matched Iverson's performance nearly shot for shot.
If that doesn't get you excited about this moment, just take a minute to watch the video and bask in the glory of Kobe's youthful afro. That should be reason enough for this moment to be at the top.
It was a time when NBA players seemingly cared about the All-Star game and its outcome. You can tell by watching the highlights and focusing on the stingy defense played down the stretch.
Hearing Iverson say, "I ain't going hard out here" in response to Kobe telling him he had a bet on how many times AI would hit the floor is absolutely priceless.
In truth, I don't think there's anything Steve Francis could have done to beat eventual champion Jason Richardson.
J-Rich put on a masterful show and had some solid competitors outside of "Stevie Franchise" in Desmond Mason and Gerald Wallace. That being said, the dunk wheel did Francis no favors in the finals.
The dunk wheel may have been the dumbest invention All-Star weekend has ever seen. A competition like the Slam Dunk Contest should allow athletes to showcase their creativity. The dunk wheel just tried to create contemporary versions of old-school dunks.
As if everyone copying the Dr.J/MJ free-throw line dunk wasn't bad enough, we got more regurgitated jams.
Francis drew Terence Stansbury's "Statue Of Liberty" dunk from the '80s. It was an impressive display of athleticism, as Stansbury grasped the ball with one hand and did a 360 for the jam.
The issue here was that Francis' tiny hands couldn't palm the basketball, which led to a horrid attempt at Stansbury's slam.
The clip is also notable for Charles Barkley's commentary. He started off trying to force a few jokes about Craig Sager's hideous wardrobe, then went on a tangent about college student-athletes.
Both quotes show off the good and bad of having a mic around Sir Charles: He's never afraid to speak his mind, but he tries too hard to be the funniest guy in the room.
In the end, the dunk wheel gimmick tainted what could have been a great Slam Dunk Contest finale and cost Francis the puncher's chance he had at knocking out Richardson.
Before injuries plagued his career, Tracy McGrady was one of the most prolific and dominant scorers in the NBA. The combination of his fearlessness when attacking the basket and his freakish athleticism made him a nightmare for opposing defenses to game-plan for.
The 2002 All-Star Game in Philadelphia was no different.
In the second quarter, T-Mac lobbed up what looked to be a horrible, underhanded shot attempt. In reality, it was a pass to himself off the backboard, which he caught and threw down with no regard for human life (shoutout to Kevin Harlan).
We all knew McGrady was a fantastic dunker after his performance alongside Vince Carter in the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest. But this dunk happened with nine other guys on the court and completely within the flow of a live game.
I distinctly remember my jaw hitting the floor and subsequently running out of the room, asking anyone who could hear me if what I had just seen was real.
It was the ultimate “What is he doing…holy [expletive]!” moment. Had social media been around during this time, you can almost guarantee it would've broken the Internet.
T-Mac may currently be relegated to playing overseas in China, but he’ll always hold a special place in my basketball memory Hall of Fame for showcasing one of the best in-game dunks I’ve ever seen.
As an impressionable youth in the early 2000s, the NBA’s All-Star weekend played a significant role in my eventual infatuation with the game of basketball.
And if I had to select one year that propelled my love of the sport to the next level, it would be 2002.
A Philadelphia native, I attended the 2002 All-Star Game at the building formerly known as the First Union Center, where Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson were set to take center stage for an East squad that was a heavy crowd favorite.
Instead, Kobe Bryant had a coming-out party, less than a year after slaying his hometown Philadelphia 76ers in the 2001 NBA Finals on the very same floor.
Showered with boos every time he touched the ball, Bryant was fueled by the haters from the city he called home as a youth, pouring in 31 points, grabbing five rebounds and dropping five dimes en route to being named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
After propelling the West to a 135-120 victory, Kobe took to center court to accept his hardware, only to be heckled mercilessly by the fans who had once flocked to Lower Merion High School to watch the area’s greatest product since Earl Monroe.
Then again, the jeers from the Philly faithful may have been warranted after Kobe famously claimed, "We're going to cut your hearts out Wednesday,” in reference to the pain he would end up inflicting on the city during Game 4 of the NBA Finals (via Philly.com).
The other highlights from that unforgettable day include Wally Szczerbiak making his lone All-Star appearance and MJ blowing a wide-open fast-break slam.
Peja Stojakovic winning the Three-Point Shootout in 2003 comes to my mind as a favorite All-Star Weekend memory.
Along with his silky-smooth touch from downtown, what made it so impressive was that he was defending his title after winning in 2002. In the nine years since, only Jason Kapono has been able to win back-to-back Three-Point Shootouts, showing that it's not easy to do.
The win, along with being selected to his second straight All-Star team that season, established Stojakovic as one of the NBA's top players.
As a Kings fan, that's something I won't soon forget.
Part of what makes the NBA—and the All-Star Game, in particular—so spectacular is the opportunity to marvel at superhuman giants using their size, speed, strength and athleticism to do things you might try in your driveway or at the park.
Except, they're actually able to pull them off—and look about a million times cooler in the process.
In 2003, Rick Adelman nearly took this idea to its most breathtakingly absurd conclusion yet.
Adelman, then the head coach of the Sacramento Kings, sent four seven-footers—Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Yao Ming—onto the floor at the same time during the second quarter at Philips Arena in Atlanta.
He could've easily trotted out a full 35-plus feet of forwards and centers, but he opted to let Steve Nash, Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis share point guard duties while leaving Dirk Nowitzki on the bench.
Michael Jordan's 14th and final All-Star appearance was undoubtedly the story of the weekend. But, for one fleeting moment, it was Rick Adelman who had a chance to make basketball (if not human) history with a slew of seven-footers at his disposal.
The 2003 NBA All-Star Game was filled with stars on both sides of the court. With throwback names like Jermaine O'Neal and Jamal Mashburn suiting up for the East, while guys like Yao Ming and Chris Webber came off the bench out West, we knew we were in for a good one before it started.
Many were fixated on yet another showdown between Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. But this is the Washington Wizards version of Jordan we're talking about. It was still fun to watch the two battle against one another, but the luster of that particular matchup was left in the dust when Kevin Garnett began to do his thing.
Some don't like Garnett's pregame shtick and can't stand his trash talking, but 2003 was his show. En route to winning the MVP award, KG was everywhere in this one, and it was abundantly clear why he was so feared around the league.
Thirty-seven points, nine rebounds, five steals and 17-of-24 shooting in an All-Star Game is flat-out ridiculous, but couple his performance with the fact that he was the difference in a double-OT thriller, and every fan on both sides of the show had no choice but to give KG a standing ovation.
Many forget that Garnett was once an absolute beast inside, having his way with anyone who came through the lane. But all it takes is one watch of the tape to remember why Garnett will always be a legend in NBA circles.
In 2003, Michael Jordan wasn't really Michael Jordan anymore.
His uniform had a Washington Wizards logo on it instead of the usual Chicago Bulls emblem, and he was no longer the best player in the league. In fact, you could have easily made the case that he didn't deserve to be on the All-Star team that year.
In 2003, MJ was running on fumes.
But come All-Star Weekend, none of that mattered. It was going to be Michael’s last All-Star Game, and everyone just wanted to see him do his thing one more time.
To be fair, it wasn't exactly Jordan's best game. He shot just 9-of-27 and looked exhausted for much of the game. It was shocking to watch how hard he had to work to get his shot off against quality defenders. But it was an MJ-worthy performance nonetheless.
I was just 10 years old at the time. To me, and to pretty much every kid my age, Michael Jordan wasn’t just a basketball player—he was a superhero. He was the guy whose image adorned our sneakers. He was the guy who saved the Looney Tunes in Space Jam. He was Michael Jordan. He always came through. Every single time.
It didn’t matter to me that Michael had a poor shooting night or that the East eventually lost the game. That impossible fadeaway over Shawn Marion's outstretched arms was all I needed.
MJ had come through in the clutch once again. Some things never change.
-Memory courtesy of Luke Petkac, NBA League-Wide FC
Feb. 14, 2004. Yes, Valentine's Day. A trap for NBA fans looking to slip traditional obligations in favor of Saturday night All-Star festivities.
Of course, that was not my problem.
No fancy date, no flowers. I was hanging with a buddy: two 20-year-old college kids sealed in Sacramento, Warriors fan transplants from the Bay Area buried in the Kings' purple success.
This night was all we had.
The only romance for a Warriors fan in the early 2000s was the success of back-to-back slam-dunk champion Jason Richardson—a lone source of pride lost in Golden State’s perennial losing seasons.
This was a night for Warriors fans, and our only dates were the beer bought with a fake ID, only to attempt returning later because we thought the born-on date was an expiration date.
We sat with warm Coors Light, watching Richardson, again the favorite in 2004.
In 2002, he finished the Slam Dunk Contest with a lofting bounce pass from the three-point line, followed by a high catch turned into a 180-degree finish behind his head. His legs jumped out from beneath him, closed with a torque of his upper body to provide force in the finish.
He followed that act in 2003 when he executed one of the greatest dunks in contest history. He won his second consecutive dunk title when he set himself up with a baseline bounce, ripped the ball from its peak, circled the ball backward through the legs and threw it in with a left-handed reverse.
So, on Valentine’s night in 2004, expectations were heightened for an event owned by Warriors fans.
Richardson, though he ultimately finished runner-up to Fred Jones, provided one of my greatest All-Star memories when he came with it again. He tossed the ball high off the glass, caught mid-chest and mid-leap before shifting the ball through his legs and throwing it through with a right tomahawk.
Richardson’s power was matched with a quality of grace, completing a dunk off the glass and between the legs, cementing him as one of the greatest Slam Dunk Contest names of all time.
There’s something about a fresh face.
That’s what Dwyane Wade was in 2005 in Denver, even if he had participated—and dunked plenty—in the Rising Stars Challenge in Los Angeles the February before, and even if his first All-Star appearance would be overshadowed by that of his friend LeBron James.
Wade, who arrived as a fully-minted star with full sidekick status to new Heat teammate Shaquille O’Neal, still managed to make his mark. And it was interesting, as a reporter covering the team, to witness his wide-eyed excitement as the NBA’s “in crowd” allowed him entrance.
He played in the Rookie Challenge on Friday, joined O’Neal for one of several promotional and charitable junkets and even co-starred at a Converse press conference with Julius Erving.
“It was fun,” Wade said after the weekend was over. “I wish we could do it all over again.”
And he would. 2013 will be his ninth time.
But the real life-altering event of 2005, as it turned out, wouldn’t be his 14 points in 24 minutes in the East’s 125-115 win—a game in which O’Neal flipped open a phone in his shoe...to call P. Diddy.
It was a chance encounter. As Wade explained prior to that contest, he had been so weary on Saturday night that his then-wife Siohvaughn went out without him and ran into glamorous actress Gabrielle Union.
“I’ve been a huge fan since college,” Wade said, smiling. “She let (Union) know.”
-Memory Courtesy of Ethan Skolnick, NBA League-Wide FC
When you ask most NBA fans what their most memorable All-Star Game moment is, many will probably answer with one of the many ridiculous displays of athleticism that we so often see during the NBA’s All-Star weekend.
However, my favorite All-Star moment has nothing to do with a rim-rattling dunk or an insane display of skill. In fact, the moment that’s stuck with me since I first saw it was a display of everything you don’t want to see on the basketball court.
When Chris “The Birdman” Anderson stepped on the court for the 2005 NBA dunk contest, no one could’ve predicted the display of ineptitude we were about to see.
Anderson’s first dunk was a pitiful attempt at a self-alley-oop, where he tried to take off from the free-throw line and jam with two hands. The “Birdman” got it down after nine tries, but by that point, he lost any chance he had at bringing the house down.
Fortunately, Anderson wasn’t anywhere near finished.
The follow-up to what is sure to go down as the most excruciating-to-watch dunk attempt ever didn’t go much better for “the winged one.”
Anderson tried to have former teammate J.R. Smith toss him a bounce pass under the goal for a two-handed jam. Unfortunately, the “Birdman” could barely even catch the pass, let alone put it through the hoop.
Anderson only needed seven attempts to get this one down, but the final product was even worse than his first dunk.
No dunk contest before or since has filled me with as much joy as this one.
Chris Anderson’s inability to dunk in a dunk contest is one of the greatest fails in NBA history. And for that, we must salute him.
The 2005 NBA All-Star weekend is my favorite by far as a Phoenix Suns fan. Not only was it the year that started the “Run-and-Gun” Suns following the offseason signings of Quentin Richardson and Steve Nash, but it also played host to the Suns’ dominance during All-Star weekend and nearly a full event sweep.
Phoenix started things off by winning the Shooting Stars competition behind the exploits of “Thunder” Dan Majerle, Shawn Marion and Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi.
From there, eventual MVP Steve Nash won the Skills Challenge, which was not a shocker considering Nash was at the zenith of his NBA career at the time. That course was child’s play for him.
Phoenix kept it rolling when Q-Rich won the three-point shootout, beating out reigning champion Voshon Lenard (remember him?), Kyle Korver, Vladimir Radmanovic, future Hall of Famer Ray Allen and Suns teammate Joe Johnson.
As a 14-year-old lifelong Suns fan, I was in heaven. Not only were Phoenix Suns players (plus Majerle and Taurasi) winning the competitions, but they also looked flat-out dominant.
All those wins led to the main event: the Slam Dunk Contest.
Amar’e Stoudemire represented the Suns, a team that appeared to be on its way to a historic and magical sweep of the All-Star weekend festivities.
Other contestants included Josh Smith (Atlanta Hawks), J.R. Smith (New Orleans Hornets) and Chris “Birdman” Andersen (New Orleans Hornets).
After elimination rounds (including Andersen “stealing” the show by throwing approximately 467 unsuccessful lobs to himself for 10 minutes), only Josh Smith and Stoudemire remained.
Unfortunately, Amar’e ran out of gas in the last round. He ended up taking too many tries on a truly impressive between-the-legs reverse from the baseline, followed by a brilliantly thought out (but poorly executed) second dunk with Nash, where Nash flipped the ball up with his feet soccer-style for Amar’e to slam home.
Josh Smith’s athletic ability proved too much in the end. However, simply based on creativity with Nash, I think Amar’e had the edge. The alley-oop off the backboard, then off Nash’s head, is my favorite All-Star weekend memory. Just try recreating that in your backyard.
Josh Smith's first dunk of the 2005 Slam Dunk Contest was pretty sweet, setting the stage for an incredible night as he sprinted down the court, lifted off just in front of the charity stripe and threw the ball down after holding it in his fully outstretched left hand for the duration of his flight.
The rookie followed it up with a thunderous alley-oop, thrown by a seated and soon-to-be-jumped-over Kenyon Martin.
And that was nothing compared to Smoove's next dunk, which somehow managed to outshine the ball traveling from Amar'e Stoudemire's hand to the backboard to Steve Nash's head back into the air and into STAT's hands for a two-handed flush.
When Smith donned the famous asymmetrical Dominique Wilkins throwback, I got pretty excited.
When I saw that No. 21 jersey soaring through the air, mimicking the trademark windmill slam that Wilkins once made so popular, I couldn't help but get even more excited. Nothing else mattered, not at that moment and certainly not throughout the rest of the contest.
That moment sealed two things: my love for the history of this sport—which couldn't be helped after witnessing the fusion of the past and the present in one fantastic moment—and my Atlanta Hawks fandom.
Seeing as the Hawks were mired in a 2004-05 campaign that would see them win just 13 games, that might have been a bigger accomplishment for Smoove than actually winning the competition.
Think back on the 2005-06 season for the New York Knicks.
The team was pitifully out of sync. With Stephon Marbury running the point and an exasperated Larry Brown on the sidelines, the Knicks finished 23-59, worst in the Eastern Conference and 29th in the league.
At the time, the Knicks were playing the least attractive brand of basketball on the court, and Isiah Thomas was bumbling through his front office duties off of it. It seemed like New York basketball had hit rock bottom.
Of course, that was far from true, but let’s not get into that now.
Through the darkness of a hopelessly lost season, New Yorkers were desperate to latch onto whatever glimmer of hope they could find. That’s how a 5’9” rookie with limitless hops captured the hearts of a beleaguered fanbase.
When Nate Robinson kicked off the 2006 Slam Dunk Contest with a 360-degree throwdown, the rest of the world learned what New York already knew: The little man did not show up to be a gimmick.
Leaping over Spud Webb, his slam-dunk forefather, would’ve been enough to bring the house down. But then Nate jumped at the three-point line, went through his legs twice, threw the ball off the backboard and hammered it home. No one was taking this contest away from him.
He became the fan favorite because of his size. But the diminutive Robinson won because he was truly the best dunker on the floor, height be damned.
Yet none of those dunks are my lasting memory. Right after the 360, Robinson got right up to the camera, flashed a huge grin and popped his New York jersey.
Knicks fans had something to be proud of again.
This was just a purely fun event that also gave a glimpse into the physical requirements of being an NBA referee. Prior to the race, Ernie Johnson stated that Dick Bavetta, at 67 years old, runs a few miles every day.
But, hey, I'm no role model.
Chris Paul and Monta Ellis were different players back before injuries changed their games. The former is an all-time great despite the knee concerns, while the latter has suffered a diminished career after his 2008 moped accident.
At the 2007 Rookie Challenge, it looked like CP3 and Monta were always meant to play with one another. There was something just so jarring and perfect about two guys of that specific size running circles around the competition.
What I'll always take away from that performance, though, was Monta Ellis' bounce on those dunks. He had seven over the course of the game, six coming on lobs. One was so impressive that Danny Granger interrupted his mid-game interview to point and shout.
Chris Paul fueled Ellis' 28-point explosion with a thrilling array of alley-oop passes. CP3's such a controlled player that it was a joy to see his game so relaxed and unfettered.
The memory of Ellis and CP3 is bittersweet. Paul went on to be brilliant in the relative obscurity of New Orleans before coming to Los Angeles. He's a future Hall of Famer, but one gets the sense that he'll never be fully appreciated.
Meanwhile, Ellis was traded from the Warriors after a couple rocky years at the helm. There was such promise in his game, too much for his current style to be anything but a disappointment. I'll always remember the magnificent talent he flaunted at All-Star weekend in 2007, though.
It was All-Star weekend 2007. The New York Knicks didn't have much to entertain their fans with at the time, but at least for a night, the Isiah Thomas era didn't look entirely doomed after all.
Our curly-haired 23-year-old neophyte was representing the boys in blue and orange with a chance to show the NBA world that the Knicks' future was much brighter than their present. David Lee did that and a whole lot more.
Sporting a black eye thanks to an inadvertent elbow to the face he absorbed just nights earlier, Lee shined even brighter than his shiner. He led the sophs with 30 points on miraculous 14-of-14 shooting and even unleashed to Vegas fans the most awkward windmill dunk in All-Star weekend history.
To Knicks fans, it was glorious.
2007 may not have been the greatest Knicks season in franchise history. Actually, it wasn’t even a good season. But those 33-49 ‘Bockers—led by Lee, a pugnacious 22-year-old Nate Robinson, an over-utilized Jamal Crawford, an unpredictable Stephon Marbury and a 300-pound Eddy Curry who damn near scored 20 points per game that year—definitely had their moments.
It was a difficult era for Knicks fans to watch, but Lee helped ease our pain one double-double at a time. His 2007 MVP honors in the Rookie Challenge were the first real indication that we had a solid gem on our hands.
We didn’t know it, but Donnie Walsh would soon take the reins of the franchise and help reestablish Madison Square Garden as the mecca of basketball once again.
And just as the Knicks are thriving in 2012-13, so is Western Conference All-Star forward David Lee.
Being a Celtics fan before the team acquired Kevin Garnett was an era before the era that I still remember all too well. It was a painful, embarrassing 15 years, especially when things were darkest before the dawn in 2007.
Boston was beyond atrocious that year, putting all its eggs in the Greg Oden/Kevin Durant basket of tanking.
Then the Slam Dunk Contest happened. For just one night—or, to be more accurate, less than an hour—the Celtics and their fanbase had something to be proud of, no matter how meaningless the context.
Gerald Green made Isaac Newton look like a fool, assaulting gravity with a series of dunks that most people previously assumed to be impossible.
He was a clear showman, hurdling Nate Robinson with ease before throwing down the most underrated windmill ever caught on film. At the time, basketball was bleak in Boston.
But Green's Slam Dunk Contest performance finally gave me a reason to smile.
Despite winning the 2007 Slam Dunk Contest, then-Timberwolves role player Gerald Green returned to defend his title in 2008 as a fairly unknown competitor.
Compared to opponent Dwight Howard, Green had not yet emerged as a household name, and casual basketball fans would barely turn their heads at the sound of it. Because of this, Green used the contest in a way that has since become quite frequent: to gain recognition.
Instead of the common windmills and reverses, Green made a statement with an ordinary tomahawk, though he added a twist. On his ascent, he blew out a cupcake’s candle, creating a moment that will be forever instilled into my brain.
The dunk was hardly spectacular, and Charles Barkley’s claims that “it’s not a 10” were true. However, while his dunk wasn’t incredible, he used a simple prop to do what had never been done before.
The second he blew the flame out, he kissed anonymity goodbye.
Five years later, Green is recognized around the league as one of the best dunkers in the game. And after signing a four-year deal with the Pacers, he is not only a dunker, but a legitimate player.
Green will return to the contest this year eyeing another title, except unlike in previous years, he’ll do so not only as a recognizable competitor, but as one of the favorites.
Because he blew a candle out. And neither I nor the rest of the basketball world will ever forget it.
My favorite All-Star moment was Shaquille O’Neal’s entrance in the 2009 All-Star Game with the renowned dance crew, Jabbawockeez.
It was very symbolic for me because it was the season he regained his All-Star form after so many years of declining in skill and reputation. Shaq’s entrance was both entertaining and sad at the same time, because there was a feeling this could be his final All-Star appearance.
Being made the focal point of the Suns offense garnered him a lot of individual success, but it kept them out of contention for a playoff spot.
Perhaps it was because of Shaq’s inability to lead the team or Amar’e Stoudemire and Steve Nash’s inability to thrive in a half-court-centric offense. Whatever it was, it was clear that Shaq’s days as the franchise centerpiece were long gone by that time.
He would not be able to garner similar stats or make any All-Star teams afterward, which made this one feel like a final celebration.
This moment sticks in my head because it was probably the last great Slam Dunk Contest we've seen. Since then, all dunk contests have been rather lame.
You have two prolific athletes who just ignited the crowd with great dunk after great dunk, especially in that final round.
From Dwight Howard's near free-throw-line slam to Nate Robinson's dunk over the seven-foot Dwight, it was one of the most electrifying Slam Dunk Contests I've ever seen.
There was also awesome creativity throughout that contest, including Dwight's use of the cap and secondary, taller hoop. Also, I appreciated that the contest featured actual stars, unlike now, when it uses young players that nobody has heard of.
Just how obvious was it that Nate Robinson and Dwight Howard were going to face off in the final of the 2009 NBA Slam Dunk Contest?
Robinson’s biggest dunk of the night was entirely based around Howard. Howard was the defending champion, and Robinson had won the 2006 crown. They were the big dogs.
Howard’s title had come largely thanks to a dunk performed while wearing a Superman cape. The persona had become synonymous with the big man.
So, in response, Robinson came out with his opponent’s only weakness: kryptonite. He prepared the event by bringing out a custom neon green ball, as well as being completely decked out in green Knicks gear. As if that weren’t enough to be memorable, Robinson then proceeded to legitimize his antics.
Howard graciously came out to help the diminutive guard and even encouraged the crowd to make some noise.
That’s when Robinson did one of the most athletic things we’ve seen on a basketball court: He jumped over Howard and threw home a nasty dunk.
Jumping over another human being is always ridiculous, but when you’re 5’9” (and that’s including the inch or two added for the draft) and jump over a 6’11” center with monstrous shoulders?
Now that’s just ridiculous.
This moment reminds us not only of a time when we actually liked Dwight Howard, but also of why we watch sports—because sometimes, we see things we never thought we would.
-Memory courtesy of Thomas Attal, Knicks FC
Growing up watching great dunkers like Vince Carter, Jason Richardson and even Dwight Howard, it was truly embarrassing, and even depressing to a certain extent, as to how ugly and disjointed the 2010 Slam Dunk Contest was.
A field that held DeMar DeRozan, Shannon Brown and Gerald Wallace not only generated little excitement pregame, but even less excitement mid-game.
While I'm not a personal fan of props or things that have no use to the actual dunk, the lack of originality and creativity from the dunkers was hard to believe. It appeared that they were going through the motions, and who could blame them? All the legendary 360-windmill, off-the-backboard, between-the-legs stunts have been done already.
So, thank goodness for Blake Griffin and JaVale McGee the following seasons. And maybe one day, as unlikely as it sounds, we might see the King himself participate.
My favorite NBA All-Star weekend moment took place when Paul Pierce won the Three-Point Shootout in 2010.
The 2010 All-Star weekend was at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. It marked the second time the Dallas/Fort Worth Metropolitan area had hosted the All-Star Game. It also marked the second time Pierce was participating in the Three-Point Shootout.
When Pierce first competed in the contest in 2002, he recorded just eight points in a very disappointing performance. It took him eight years to get a chance to prove that his 2002 showing was an aberration.
Pierce scored 20 points in the final round in Dallas, making all five of the two-point money balls to defeat Stephen Curry and Chauncey Billups. He became the first Celtic to win the contest since Larry Bird won it back-to-back in 1986 and 1987.
As he accepted the trophy, Paul Pierce told Cheryl Miller:
I wanted this real bad. I know a lot of these people in the stands, when they looked at the names in the competition, didn't think I had a chance. People don't really look at me as a shooter. They look at me as a scorer. But I knew I had a chance coming in here. I think I'm one of the better shooters in NBA history. I wanted to come out here and prove something.
As a Celtics fan, it was obviously a treat to see Pierce get a chance to redeem himself.
But my favorite part of the performance was listening to Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith make complete fools of themselves as they belittled Pierce throughout the contest. It was also nice to see Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo in attendance to cheer on their teammate.
One of the moments that really stood out to me was hilarious.
The 2011 Slam Dunk Contest featured JaVale McGee, and in my opinion, he deserved to win. Unfortunately for him, he went up against media darling Blake Griffin.
And while Griffin's dunk over the Kia was cool, I didn’t think it measured up to the creativity and fury with which JaVale threw it down numerous times.
What made things worse for McGee was when his mom showed up and greeted the Slam Dunk Contest voters—most of which were NBA legends. She greeted each one with a kiss or two on the cheek, but when she went to greet Julius Irving, she gave him a kiss on the lips.
I just remember dying of laughter at the crowd’s reaction, as well as JaVale’s look of frustration. It was such a subtle thing, but it was one of the funnier things I can recall in recent All-Star weekends over the years.
-Memory courtesy of Eric Edelman, NBA League-Wide FC
Early in his rookie season, Blake Griffin emerged as a YouTube legend due to his slam-dunking prowess.
When he entered the 2011 Slam Dunk Contest, he appeared all but a lock to dominate his competition.
JaVale McGee tried to stand in the way of Griffin's dunk title, though.
Griffin needed to whip out something spectacular to win the dunk contest.
So naturally, he dunked over a car.
The second the car rolled out onto the court, Clippers fans were immediately struck with fear. Surely, Griffin wasn't about to blow out his knee (again) in a dunk contest...right?
As Griffin started running from outside the three-point arc to the free-throw line, you could almost hear Clippers fans collectively holding their breath.
With the help of a gospel choir singing "I Believe I Can Fly," those fears were quickly assuaged.
Griffin took flight, leaped over the hood of the car and jammed home the contest-winning dunk.
The 2011 Slam Dunk Contest doesn't hold a candle to the infamous Michael Jordan vs. Dominique Wilkins battles of the 1980s, but that doesn't detract from its significance.
The relevance of the Slam Dunk Contest had been called into question in the years leading up to 2011, with 5'9" Nate Robinson having earned three Slam Dunk Contest titles in 2006, 2009 and 2010.
Griffin's soaring dunk served as the reminder that the Slam Dunk Contest still has its place in the NBA.
It just needs stars to truly shine.
Before the ring, the NBA Finals MVP honor and the 2012 Olympic gold medal, there was a question: "Who’s the best player in the league today, Kobe Bryant or LeBron James?"
Prior to the 2011 NBA All-Star Game, the answer was simple: Kobe.
LeBron had done everything there was to do in the NBA regular season, but Bryant was the Association’s gold standard.
In an exhibition on the All-Star stage—in Kobe’s home arena—LeBron exploded for 29 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in 32 minutes. This guy recorded a triple-double in an All-Star Game.
That made the debate a little more interesting.
Kobe ultimately walked away with the All-Star MVP Award after dumping 37 points (and grabbing 14 rebounds) on the East in a West win. But LeBron made you think about which of the two you would rather have as the cornerstone of your franchise.
Kobe wasn’t going to readily pass the torch—or trophy, as the case may be. Still, it was ultimately a precursor to LeBron’s unanimous recognition as the best player on the planet.
Triple-doubles in All-Star Games just don’t happen. Whether it’s because minutes are spread out more evenly—all 12 guys on the roster get some run—or because lack of defense in All-Star Games means fewer rebounds to go around, it’s exceedingly rare that one guy pulls down 10-plus boards and distributes 10 or more dimes in the exhibition.
Only two other people have ever accomplished the feat. A 33-year-old Michael Jordan put up 14 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in 1997. And Dwyane Wade put up 24 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in last year's All-Star Game.
As much as NBA All-Star weekend is about celebrating the elite talent already present in the NBA, it also provides an excellent opportunity to expose some of the league’s top emerging talents through the Rising Stars Challenge.
A year ago, fans were treated to a particularly special breakout performance from Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving. He absolutely stole the show, lighting it up from inside and outside while leading Team Chuck to victory.
Irving solidified himself as a rising star in the NBA through his incredible shooting performance, validating the purpose of the Rising Stars Challenge: to provide talented young players the opportunity to showcase their skills without needing to worry about that pesky obstacle called defense.
Irving’s performance stood out to me because it was something fresh and new.
I certainly enjoyed watching incumbent superstars like LeBron, Kobe and Durant pump in baskets during the main event, but having seen so much of these players over the past few seasons, I had come to expect their greatness and therefore was not all that blown away.
Irving, on the other hand, did not. So his 34-point outburst was surprising enough to keep me glued to the screen.
Hopefully, one of this year’s rookies can provide fans with a solid encore (Damian Lillard, anyone?).
-Memory courtesy of Preston DeGarmo, Rockets FC
With the Eastern Conference All-Stars down by two, Deron Williams missed an open three-pointer to give his team the lead. But the East rebounded the ball, and LeBron started dribbling to the right side of the court.
Given that James had produced 36 points and seven assists up to that point and converted 6-of-8 shots from long range, many expected him to rise up over Kobe Bryant for the potential game-winner.
But sensing the extra defender coming his way, LeBron tried to make a cross-court pass, which resulted in a turnover and pretty much ended the game.
The moment is memorable because many thought this was the instance that best captured the superstar’s play in Miami—highlights, production from all over the court and breathtaking plays, but a failure to rise up to the challenge in the final minutes of a tight contest.
This was the new LeBron, the one who could not close the deal or lead his team to victory against stiff competition in high-pressure situations. Well, until he broke through and won an NBA title, that is.
This is the last memorable moment in which many perceive the King failed on a national stage.