Remembering McDonald's All-American Game Performances of NBA's Biggest Stars
Playing in the McDonald's All-American game is hardly a prerequisite for NBA superstardom. John Wall's five-year prep career precluded him from partaking in the Mickey D's festivities. Russell Westbrook was a relative unknown before exploding onto the scene at UCLA, where he replaced a departed McDonald's All-American (Jordan Farmar) on the roster. Tim Duncan, Paul George and Stephen Curry didn't even play on the AAU circuit from which most high school stars are plucked.
Nor did Dirk Nowitzki and Tony Parker, who plied their respective trades overseas before winding their way into the Association.
By and large, though, the NBA's best and brightest have golden arches on their resumes. There's no more prestigious showcase than the McDonald's All-American Game, which has been a staple of high school basketball excellence since its inception in 1977.
This year's edition at the United Center will mark the 37th gathering of boys and girls prep phenoms, and the fourth straight hosted in Chicago. The setting is all too fitting, since the top two players—Duke-bound Jahlil Okafor and future Jayhawk Cliff Alexander—both hail from the Windy City.
Before we all settle in for a glimpse of the sport's future, let's have a look back at the past performances of 15 of today's biggest names.
Kevin Garnett wrapped up his well-traveled high school career in Chicago at Farragut Academy before hopping down to St. Louis for the McDonald's All-American Game in 1995.
Garnett was far from the only iconic star to take the floor at the Kiel Center that night. Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison and teammates Paul Pierce and Stephon Marbury also joined him.
Even then, K.G. outshone them all. The wiry kid from South Carolina tallied 18 points and 11 rebounds to earn MVP honors.
That MVP nod wasn't Garnett's last. Nine years later, he was named the NBA's top dog while with the Minnesota Timberwolves, becoming the first preps-to-pros phenom to do so since Moses Malone took home his third in 1982-83.
Kobe Bryant snagged his own NBA MVP sans college experience in 2008, but did so without the benefit of having done the same at the McDonald's game. Bryant scored 13 points in the 1996 edition at the Pittsburgh Civic Center before taking his talents to the NBA—and solidifying the preps-to-pros pipeline in the process.
After 18 years, five titles, two NBA Finals MVPs, four All-Star Game MVPs, 14 All-Star appearances, 15 All-NBA selections and 12 All-Defensive nods, the Black Mamba probably isn't too miffed that he lost out on the Mickey D's MVP to the forgettable Shaheen Holloway as a capper for his career at Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia.
Carmelo Anthony's appearance in the 2002 McDonald's All-American Game now looks like all-too-obvious foreshadowing for what would become of his NBA career.
For one, 'Melo, then coming out of the famed Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, took to the court at Madison Square Garden, where he'd return nearly nine years later after forcing his way to the New York Knicks. That game also saw Anthony score 19 points in just 23 minutes in a variety of ways: beyond the arc (1-of-2), at the free-throw line (2-of-3), at the rim and from midrange.
And, naturally, Anthony was overshadowed by those he played with. J.J. Redick was named the MVP after scoring a game-high 26 points for the victorious East before going on to an illustrious career as one of the most hated players in the history of college basketball.
All Anthony did was lead Syracuse to the national championship as a freshman and participate in the playoffs during each of his first 10 seasons as a pro.
The choice of location for the 2003 Mickey D's game was quite curious, as well. That year, the nation's best high school ballers descended on what was then known as Gund Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, where a teenaged LeBron James played his final game as an amateur.
Several months later, James returned to Rock City as the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA draft, courtesy of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The show James put on as a representative of Akron's St. Vincent-St. Mary's wasn't at all unlike what Cavs fans would come to expect from the self-proclaimed king. James wowed the hometown crowd with a game-high 27 points to go along with seven rebounds, seven assists and an eye-popping six steals to lead the East to a 122-107 victory over the West and take home MVP honors in the process.
"Early in the game I wanted to get my teammates involved," James told USA Today's Christopher Lawlor after the win. "Once they (were) in the flow of the game, they told me to take over and shoot more. The best of the best talent like this brings out the best in me."
That proved to be the case in the pros, wherein James chose the talent of the Miami Heat over loyalty to Cleveland during his free-agent "Decision" in 2010.
Not a bad choice, in light of the back-to-back championship-MVP doubles that James has brought to South Beach.
Don't assume, though, that LeBron James dominated the game all on his own. He had plenty of help from his talented teammates, particularly a heady guard out of North Carolina by the name of Chris Paul.
The Wake Forest signee scored a modest four points but added 10 assists, several of which contributed directly to James' scoring exploits. James and Paul's friendship remains strong to this day, but could be tested if the Heat and the Los Angeles Clippers meet in the 2014 NBA Finals.
For now, CP3 has his work cut out for him, carrying a Clippers squad that's awaiting the return of another Mickey D's alum (Blake Griffin) from a bout with back spasms.
Dwight Howard swept through awards season as a senior at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy in 2004. He took home the Naismith Prep Player of the Year Award, the Morgan Wootten High School Player of the Year Award and the Gatorade National Player of the Year Award before making the leap to the NBA as the No. 1 pick in the 2004 draft.
But even Howard couldn't quite claim McDonald's MVP honors—not on his own, anyway. He ended up sharing the distinction with East teammate and current New York Knicks nincompoop J.R. Smith, who led all scorers with 25 points and went on to skip college as well.
Of course, Howard's no perfect citizen himself. He practically threw the entire Orlando Magic organization under the bus before all but forcing his way to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012, and left the Purple and Gold in the dust last summer to join the Houston Rockets as a free agent.
Long before he tainted his reputation, though, an 18-year-old Howard piled up 19 points and eight rebounds as part of the East's 126-96 smashing of the West at the Ford Center (now known as Chesapeake Energy Arena) in Oklahoma City.
LaMarcus Aldridge was on the wrong end of that Dwight-J.R. tandem beatdown in OKC. The future Texas Longhorn managed just five points in 11 minutes for the West.
Such quiet nights are a rarity for Aldridge nowadays. The three-time All-Star has scored in single digits just once this season for the Portland Trail Blazers. On the flip side, Aldridge has topped the 30-point plateau nine times, including a career-best 44-point effort at the Denver Nuggets' expense in January.
Yet, somehow, Aldridge can still be as unassuming as he was as a teenager coming out of Seagoville High. Part of that stems from playing in a smaller market like Portland, though one might also blame Aldridge's game—old-school skill, lots of midrange jumpers, very little highlight-worthy flair—for the lack of attention.
The 2006 McDonald's All-American Game at Cox Arena in San Diego marked the first of what was expected to be many epic meetings between Kevin Durant and Greg Oden.
As would come to be the case in the NBA, Durant dominated Oden on the floor. The former scored a game-high 25 points, and chipped in five rebounds and four assists for good measure, to propel the West to a 112-94 win. Oden accounted for 10 points, five boards and four blocks on the losing side.
Oden still has the upper hand on Durant in head-to-head meetings as a pro, with a 4-1 record for his teams opposite KD's. But there's no debating which of these two phenoms has fared better in the NBA. Durant already has five All-Star appearances, four first-team All-NBA selections, a Rookie of the Year award and a trip to the finals under his belt, and is soon to add a fourth scoring title.
Oden, on the other hand, missed more than four years to bum knees and now rides the pine for the Miami Heat.
Four years before he leaped over a Kia, Blake Griffin was busy making rims look nine feet tall at the Powerade Jamfest in Louisville, Kentucky, just prior to playing in the 2007 McDonald's All-American Game at Freedom Hall.
Griffin didn't exactly blow anyone away during the game itself. The Oklahoma Christian School product posted just four points and five rebounds in 16 minutes. Those numbers, though, proved to be important, as his loaded West squad barely edged the East, 114-112.
But really, what need was there for an Oklahoma-bound Griffin to exert himself during the Mickey D's game when he'd already announced himself as the champion of the Dunk Contest with an electrifying preview of Lob City?
Blake Griffin can blame his modest performance, in part, on Kevin Love. The skilled big man from Lake Oswego High contributed 13 points, six rebounds, three assists and a steal in 20 minutes for the West as a starter, ahead of Griffin on the depth chart.
Love, the Naismith Player of the Year in high school, would go on to claim Pac-10 Player of the Year and first-team All-American honors during his lone season at UCLA, during which he led the Bruins to their third straight Final Four.
He's since appeared in three All-Star Games and established himself as one of the finest power forwards on the planet, though Love is still missing one crucial line on his resume: a trip to the playoffs. His Minnesota Timberwolves haven't been to the postseason in a decade, including all six seasons of Love's tenure.
It's no wonder, then, that rumors of Love bolting Minny for a gig in a big city are as rampant as ever.
James Harden made the leap from small market to major metropolis (that Love supposedly has his sights set on) back in 2012, albeit not entirely of his own volition. The Oklahoma City Thunder, unwilling to meet Harden's contract demands, opted instead to send the reigning Sixth Man of the Year to the Houston Rockets in a trade that netted Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and the pick that became Steve Adams last June.
Harden hardly looked like someone who would single-handedly shift the NBA landscape when he took the court in Louisville for the 2007 McDonald's game. The L.A. native and Artesia High product scored eight points in 13 minutes as Eric Gordon's understudy.
And without his infamous beard, no less.
That paled in comparison to his explosive scoring exploits as the leader on a loaded Pump-N-Run Elite squad on the AAU circuit.
Not to mention what he did as an All-American at Arizona State, or as a two-time All-Star with the Rockets.
It seems strange, if not downright baffling, now, but there was a time when there was a debate over who, between Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley, was the better player. Rose accounted for a modest five points, five assists and six rebounds in the 2007 McDonald's game. Beasley, on the other hand, was named MVP after piling up 23 points and 12 boards.
Beasley even had the more decorated college "career" between the two. The Beltway native was a consensus first-team All-American and the Big 12 Player of the Year as a freshman at Kansas State.
Rose's lone collegiate campaign was nothing to sneeze at. The Simeon Career Academy graduate led Memphis to the national championship game in 2008, wherein his Tigers lost to Mario Chalmers' Kansas Jayhawks in overtime.
There's no argument now about who turned out to be the superior prospect. Even after missing the vast majority of two seasons with knee injuries, Rose has more than validated the Chicago Bulls' decision to take the hometown kid with the first pick in the 2008 NBA draft. Rose has played in three All-Star Games and became the league's youngest MVP ever in 2010-11. As for Beasley, he bounced around the league, dogged by bad habits and run-ins with the law, before returning to the Heat (who took him with the second pick in 2008) this season.
DeMarcus Cousins is the only player on this list who's yet to play in an NBA All-Star Game, though that doesn't figure to be the case for long. Boogie's 2013-14 season averages (22.3 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.8 combined steals and blocks) point to a player whose productivity may be enough to earn him a spot in the midseason showcase next season, even if the Sacramento Kings still stink.
And even if Cousins' maturity (or lack thereof) continues to be a problem.
Boogie's temper didn't keep him from opening some eyes at the 2009 McDonald's All-American Game in Coral Gables, Florida. The LeFlore Magnet star and future Kentucky one-and-doner contributed 14 points, eight rebounds and a block in 17 minutes while backing up MVP Derrick Favors in a 113-110 win for the East.
Chances are, Cousins will beat out Favors to become the first participant in that year's Mickey D's classic to appear in an All-Star Game at the pro level.
That is, if Cousins' talent can ever escape his team's futility and his own role therein.
Kyrie Irving's flashy on-ball game was on full display during the 2010 McDonald's All-American Game in Columbus, Ohio. The St. Patrick High product poured in 13 points and a pair of assists as the starting point guard for the East.
The one-and-done Dukie fell short of MVP honors, though. That was split between Harrison Barnes, a Tar Heel-to-be, and Jared Sullinger, a local boy who'd twice be named an All-American at Ohio State.
Of course, Irving's already outpaced both of those youngsters in the pros. Irving was named the NBA's Rookie of the Year in 2011-12 and has since represented the Cleveland Cavaliers twice in the All-Star Game.
The McDonald's All-American Game began its current four-year run at the United Center just in time to see Chicago's own Anthony Davis take the floor for the West. The Perspectives Charter grad tallied 14 points and six rebounds, with four blocks and two steals to boot, albeit in a 111-96 loss to the East.
MVP honors went to East teammates Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and James Michael McAdoo, the former of whom would go on to win a national title with Davis at Kentucky in 2012.
Davis' excellence may have gone somewhat unrecognized in the Windy City that day, though it certainly hasn't been lost on anyone since then. The lanky big man swept up seemingly every accolade during his lone season in Lexington, and now looks like the NBA's next great player on account of what he's done in his All-Star sophomore season for the New Orleans Pelicans.
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