Sean Pendergast

The 8 Most Significant NBA All Star Games

All Star weekend is an underrated chapter in the NBA's ongoing soap opera each season.
All Star weekend is an underrated chapter in the NBA's ongoing soap opera each season. Screen grab from YouTube
The NBA All-Star Game gets a bit of a bad rap, in my opinion. If you accept the level of basketball for what it is, essentially a glorified pickup game (after which everyone wants to still have enough energy to party), and embrace the historical significance of some of the things we see from time to time, then it's a perfectly acceptable and enjoyable way to spend a Sunday evening.

For example, this Sunday, it will be fascinating to see if Western Conference head coach Steve Kerr decides to troll the hell out of Thunder fans by putting Russell Westbrook on the floor with his four Golden State Warrior All-Stars (which includes one particular former teammate of Westbrook).

We've seen other history-making events happen in these games before. Here are eight of my personal favorites (with plenty of time-wasting video footage, if you're at work!):

8. Allen Iverson sparks historic comeback (2001)
Final Score:
EAST 111, WEST 110
Site: Washington, D.C. (MCI Center)
MVP: Allen Iverson, Philadelphia (25 points, 5 assists, 4 steals)
Most Random All-Star:
 (tie) Antonio Davis (TOR) and Anthony Mason (MIA) both starting for the East (also random — Davis was replacing Theo Ratliff, of all people)

In the season in which he won the league's MVP and led the Sixers to the NBA Finals, Iverson scored 15 of his 25 points in the final nine minutes, and Stephon Marbury hit two huge three pointers late to complete a 21-point fourth quarter comeback for the East.

7. Doctor J's last stand (1984)
Final Score:
 EAST 154, WEST 145 (OT)
Site: Denver, CO (McNichols Sports Arena)
MVP: Isiah Thomas, Detroit (21 points, 15 assists, 4 steals)
Most Random All-Star: Jeff Ruland, Washington (who would be traded for Moses Malone two seasons before watching his knees disintegrate the second he put on a Sixers uniform)

Summary: This was the last Jordan-less All Star Game we would have for quite some time, as Michael Jordan was finishing up his junior year at North Carolina while this game was being played. Erving, at age 33, would reach back for some of that youthful bounce and notch 34 points to lead the East to an overtime win. This was probably Isiah Thomas's last enjoyable All-Star experience, as he not only won MVP, but didn't have to play with the guy who would end up being his archenemy, Jordan.

6. Tom Chambers, Hometown Hero (1987)
Final Score:
WEST 154, EAST 149 (OT)
Site: Seattle, WA (Kingdome, Seattle Center Coliseum)
MVP: Tom Chambers, Seattle (34 points, several dunks)
Most Random All-Star: Joe Barry Carroll, Golden State (which means he got to face off against BOTH of the guys he was theoretically traded for — Robert Parish and Kevin McHale)

As everyone expects Russell Westbrook to start a brawl this weekend with all of his Western Conference teammates — okay, just the ones from Golden State...okay, just Kevin Durant — this game serves as a reminder that an All-Star team can be a powder keg and still function normally. The East had Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer, and somehow managed to escape without a bench-clearing civil war.

5. Kobe ridicules unselfish LeBron (2012)
Final Score:
 WEST 152, EAST 149
Site: Orlando, FL (Amway Arena)
MVP: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City (36 points, 7 rebounds)
Most Random All-Star: Roy Hibbert, Indiana (which may have been the impetus to no longer give centers their own category on the ballot)

Summary: This game will be remembered for the closing moments when LeBron James passed on a chance to tie the game not once, but twice, and Kobe Bryant shaking his head in the fashion you would envision when someone texts you "SMH." Keep in mind, LeBron was a ZERO time NBA champion at this point, so his futile deference at the end of the game nourished talk radio for a solid two days. (LeBron responded by winning three titles in the next five seasons.)

4. Michael vs Kobe, first time ever (1998)

Final Score: EAST 135, WEST 114
Site: New York, NY (Madison Square Garden)
MVP: Michael Jordan, Chicago (23 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists)
Most Random All-Star: Jayson Williams, New Jersey Nets (who would accidentally kill a man not long after this).

Summary: Kobe Bryant entered the league in 1996, and one thing was clear — he had spent years standing in front of a mirror mimicking Michael Jordan's every move, right down to the way he moved his lips when he talked. So it had to be a real thrill for Kobe to not only be the youngest All-Star in league history, but to start opposite his idol. This game would also be the first of 15 All-Star appearances for Tim Duncan.

3. Jordan scores 40 in Chicago All-Star party weekend (1988)
Final Score:
 EAST 138, WEST 133
Site: Chicago, IL (Chicago Stadium)
MVP: Michael Jordan (40 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists)
Most Random All-Star: James Donaldson (DAL) backing up Hakeem Olajuwon and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at center for the West... three greats — Hakeem, Kareem and Donaldson.

Summary: This game was legendary for Jordan's individual performance, as his 40 points fell two short of the All-Star Game record (Wilt Chamberlain, 42), but truth be told, this weekend of basketball in the Windy City will be remembered more for the dunk contest than the game, so let's give the people what they want. Sit back and marvel...

You're welcome!

2, Jordan's final All-Star game (2003)
Final Score:
 WEST 155, EAST 145 (2 OT)
Site: Atlanta, GA (Phillips Arena)
MVP: Kevin Garnett, Minnesota (37 points, 9 rebounds)
Most Random All-Star: (tie) Ben Wallace (DET) started at center, and was backed up by Brad Miller (IND) and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (CLE)

Summary: This was Michael Jordan's final NBA All-Star Game, in his rogue season with the Washington Wizards. Jordan made sure to get in as many shots as he could on the way out, firing up 27 field goal attempts (and making nine).

1. The Magic Johnson Game (1992)
Final Score:
WEST 153, EAST 113
Site: Orlando, FL (Orlando Arena)
MVP: Magic Johnson, Los Angeles Lakers (25 point, 9 assists, many big moments)
Most Random All-Star: Kevin Willis, Atlanta (striking a blow for every human with arms designed for people a foot shorter than they are).

Summary: The final margin on this game was not indicative of the intrigue, with Magic Johnson getting the start for the West, despite announcing his retirement at the outset of the season because of the discovery that he was HIV-positive. The final three pointer by Johnson, fading away over his best friend at the time (Isiah Thomas), is perhaps THE signature All-Star Game moment.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at and like him on Facebook at
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast