Most Memorable Moments in NBA All-Star Game History

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistFebruary 17, 2019

Most Memorable Moments in NBA All-Star Game History

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    CHRIS O'MEARA/Associated Press

    Nostalgia and dunks. And three-pointers. That's what the NBA All-Star Game does.

    Leave the slams and 35-foot bombs to the players. The hourslong trips down memory lane? That's all us.

    Consolidating the most unforgettable moments in the history of the All-Star Game was impossibly unfair. Tough cuts were made. If anyone sees Jerry West, tell him I'm so, so sorry.

    But we must press on.

    These moments from years past stood out for all sorts of reasons. They include record-setting performances, feel-good stories, murderous dunks, comeback explosions, blurry-eyed goodbyes and even meme material.

    And just so we're clear: All-Star Weekend's extracurricular activities were not eligible for inclusion. We're looking at the Sunday showcase alone, and all the feelzy snapshots it has to offer.

Marvin Gaye Sings 'The Star-Spangled Banner' in 1983

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    Not everyone who tries to put their own spin on "The Star-Spangled Banner" comes out the other side looking rosy. (More on this shortly.) Marvin Gaye's performance in 1983 is the standard for success stories.

    His rendition of the national anthem is still, to this day, a soothing, measured, powerful treat for the ears.

    Hindsight, in fact, has only added to the lore of his performance. Gaye's effort came amid a tumultuous time in his life, and the rehearsals leading up to the All-Star Game didn't go so well. As Rolling Stone's Andy Greene wrote in 2014:

    "Few people realized that Gaye's growing cocaine addiction was causing his life to spiral completely out of control. But no matter how bad things got offstage, he always managed to pull himself together when the spotlight hit. He looked like he didn't have a care in the world when he walked onto the floor at The Forum in Inglewood, California, and delivered a spine-tingling rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner." He completely stripped it down, using little but his voice and a drum machine. Rehearsals were extremely shaky and organizers worried he'd blow it on the broadcast, but he managed to deliver one of the most beloved renditions of the song ever recorded."

    Gaye was fatally shot by his father a little over a year after this performance. But his soulful rendering lives on. Nike even used it as the backdrop for a Team USA basketball promo in 2008.

Fergie Sings 'The Star-Spangled Banner' in 2018

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    Fast-forward to 2018, and we have Fergie's take on "The Star-Spangled Banner." It, er, did not go over nearly as well as Marvin Gaye's version.

    Personally, I'm against railing on talent for trying to do too much. Performing in front of thousands of people is hard. She clearly missed the mark and apologized for as much, but artistic experimentations aren't acts of malice.

    Really, if not for the live reactions to her swing and miss, we might not be talking about this anymore.

    Draymond Green and Stephen Curry were openly snickering at the end. LeBron James appeared to be fighting back giggles. Chance the Rapper was ostensibly smirking in both confusion and disbelief. A "low chuckle rumbled" throughout Staples Center as Fergie plowed on, per the Associated Press.

    Just like that, a viral moment was born.

    Josh Duhamel, Fergie's ex-husband, even called for an apology from Green. It never came. Instead, all of us were gifted a video of the Golden State Warriors dancing to a remix of Fergie's performance.

    Hashtag This League.

Michael Jordan Owns the Weekend in 1988

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    Though this list is only taking into account moments from the actual All-Star Game, we have to give it up for Michael Jordan's entire weekend in 1988.

    That year's dunk contest remains in the running for the best ever. (Major shouts to 2016 Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon.) Jordan squared off against Dominique Wilkins, who took him down in 1985, along with fellow high-flyers Clyde Drexler, Otis Smith and Spud Webb.

    Go back and watch the greatest hits from that jam if you have the chance. It is well worth your time. Jordan's free-throw-line stuffs never get old. He edged Wilkins in the final round, and the rest is history.

    We're not making any exceptions, though, because Jordan's All-Star performance is worth inclusion on its own. He followed up that humdinger of a dunk-off by detonating for 40 points, four steals and four blocks on a very MJ 17-of-23 shooting in front of the Chicago fans. He also finished with five fouls, which would be pretty impressive for an All-Star Game by today's standards and is further proof for the yells-at-clouds crowd that post-2007 players are softer than made-to-order nine-ply bath tissue.

    Anyway, the East scraped past the West, 138-133, and Jordan secured his first-ever All-Star Game MVP. GOATs gonna GOAT*, ya know?

    Writer's note: For the three people who care, I'm Team LeBron in the greatest-of-all-time debate.

Shaq Dunks The Admiral into Another Dimension

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    History is littered with monster dunks from the All-Star Game. Another one of them made our cut.

    None of them, though, compare to Shaquille O'Neal's gargantuan yam on David Robinson in 1996.

    Find a more vicious slam. I dare you. It feels impossible.

    All-Star Games may be known for individual feats, but these accolades tend to come with minimal to no resistance. This is a casual competition. Players aren't going to challenge poster attempts like they would in a game that matters—particularly nowadays, when they're subject to social-media blowback just a few moments later.

    Props to Robinson for attempting to block Shaq. It was a futile errand, and Diesel almost ended his career in front of the San Antonio crowd, but he has my unending respect.

    On an unrelated noted: Can we have a discussion about why the East's 1996 All-Star jerseys looked like they were pilfered from the Vancouver Grizzlies locker room?

Allen Iverson Goes Bonkers in 2001

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    Allen Iverson didn't feel like walking out of MCI Center in Washington with a loss Feb. 11, 2001.

    With the East trailing by as many as 21 in the fourth quarter, The Answer scored 15 of his 25 points in the final nine minutes to spearhead the come-from-behind, 111-110 victory.

    You might even say he A.I.'d the West for the East's survival. (I'm sorry.)

    Iverson added five assists and four steals and naturally earned the MVP nod for putting an entire conference's finest on his back. Months later, he also won league MVP honors and lead the Philadelphia 76ers to the NBA Finals.

    His 2000-01 campaign was lit before lit ever became a thing.

Michael Jordan Bids Farewell, for Real, in 2003

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    By letter of life's law, all Michael Jordan's swan songs must include a pivotal fadeaway or pull-up jumper. The Utah Jazz know how it goes.

    Jordan didn't break from the script in 2003 during his final All-Star appearance.

    His Airness was promoted from reserve to starter following a last-second gesture from fellow University of North Carolina product Vince Carter. The 39-year-old Jordan responded with 20 points on an Allen Iverson-like 9-of-27 clip.

    But with the score tied in the closing seconds, he had the ball in his hands. And Grandpa Mike proved yet again that he could ball, swishing what should have been a game-winner over the forever arms of Shawn Marion.

    It was not a game-winner, of course. Jermaine O'Neal fouled Kobe Bryant at the other end, and the West won 155-145 in double overtime.

    Still: Wow. Jordan has enjoyed more walk-off moments than anyone. Almost winning an All-Star Game while staring 40 in the face is GOAT behavior.

    Oh, and if his shot doesn't do it for you, the fact that he and Kobe were both mic'd up most assuredly should.

Vince Carter's Self-Assist in 2005

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    As far as uncontested dunks go, the NBA All-Star Game has never seen a better smash than Vince Carter's off-the-backboard sledgehammer.

    Watch this video. Like, really watch it. And then rewatch it another six to 96 times.

    The 28-year-old Carter seems to get higher on every viewing. Promise.

    It's a shame the 42-year-old Carter wasn't given the career-achievement nod this year like Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade. Maybe that's because he doesn't have any plans to retire, which would be fantastic.

    We need to get him back into the All-Star Game before he walks away. It just wouldn't feel right if he's not given the opportunity to recreate this boomstick moment as an oldish man.

Shaq and Kobe Play Nice in 2009

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    Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    Less than a half-decade after their great-but-grating partnership with the Los Angeles Lakers ended, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal joined forces once Western Conference All-Stars.

    Together, with Shaq repping the host-team Phoenix Suns, they obliterated the LeBron James-led Eastern Conference, 146-119, to earn co-MVP honors. Kobe went for 27 points, four assists and four steals, while The Big Aristotle posted 17 points, five rebounds and three assists in just under 11 minutes of action.

    Afterward, their reactions were exactly what you'd expect them to be: verging on polar opposite.

    "It felt like old times," Shaq said, per the Orange County Register's Art Thompson III. "I miss those times. "He was really looking for me, especially when we went to a pick-and-roll and they had Rashard Lewis on me."

    Kobe added: "We are not going to go back to the room and watch Steel Magnolias or something like that, you know what I'm saying, crying [and] all that stuff. We had a good time. That's all."

    We now know Bryant to be more of a sentimentalist, as his 2015-16 swan song proved. Even in 2009, though, the no-hugs Grumpus showed teddy-bear tendencies. He sat next to Shaq in the waning minutes of the game, sharing three championships' worth of laughs.

Anthony Davis Breaks Wilt Chamberlain's Scoring Record in 2017

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    Wilt Chamberlain set the NBA's All-Star Game scoring record in 1962 with 42 points, a watermark that appeared on track to stand for six decades.

    Until Anthony Davis came along in 2017.

    After publicly saying he planned to go for All-Star MVP, Davis dropped 52 points in front of the New Orleans crowd to shatter the previous benchmark. He also launched a record 39 shots at the urgency of Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry.

    "Coach Gentry told me every time I catch it, put it up," Davis said after earning his fourth consecutive All-Star selection, per John Reid of

    Mission accomplished. Davis led the West to a 192-182 victory and did grab the MVP award.

    If you remember 2017's superstar party for anything other than his scoring outburst, it's probably the DeMarcus Cousins trade, which unfolded while the game was being played.

    Talk about a big night for Davis, by the way. He left Smoothie King Center with the win, an NBA record, the MVP award and a new All-Star running mate.

    Years from now, when he's busy winning championships with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in New York, Davis will still look back at this night as one of his best ever.

Magic Johnson in the 1992 All-Star Game

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    In November 1991, Magic Johnson announced he had contracted HIV and would retire from the NBA as a result.

    He didn't play in the regular season, but fans voted him in as a starter for the 1992 All-Star Game.

    Both the league and Johnson obliged, setting the stage for what remains the most memorable moment of February's showcase. And while the entire weekend turned into a celebration of him and his career, few could have predicted what would happen during the game.

    In the last two minutes, Johnson dished an assist to Dan Majerle, coaxed Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan into missed jumpers and put down his third straight three-pointer. With time still left on the clock, players from both teams stopped to bask in the gravity of Johnson's 25-point, nine-assist performance.

    Basketball had, again, become secondary.

    "It's the first game ever to be called on account of hugs," Johnson said. "This was the perfect end to the story. I'd been trying to write this story all week, and that was like I was at my typewriter and I said: 'Here's my ending. Period.'"

    Decades later, this moment continues to incite all the feels.


    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by SLC Dunk's Andrew Bailey.