It's NBA All Star Weekend!
It's a time to celebrate a bench sniper taking out the 3 point competition; celebrities doing their best to play basketball like their true hero, Arne Duncan; the wrong man winning the dunk contest….again; and the celebration of defensive intensity that is the All Star Game.
Yes, Dear Reader, that is snarkiness you sense. Whilst I usually thoroughly enjoy All Star Saturday, I've not a huge fan of the All Star game itself in recent times. I like seeing basketball that has a consequence – a meaning. The All Star game is not that, in any way, shape or form. Frankly, the reforms that that NBA have instigated this year were welcome, regardless of whether they worked (they worked wonderfully, by the way). Any time that a hyper competitive player like Jimmy Butler chooses to sit it out just....because, should be an indication that your model isn't working.
I haven't always felt this way, though. The All Star games of my youth were wonderful things. We saw remarkable athletic feats from players like Dominique Wilkins and Spud Webb. We saw scrubs like Tim Legler get their moment in the sun. And the centrepiece of the weekend was a contest – a real live contest.
People talk about how the ACC circuits and the players interactions on social media have dampened that competitive edge that the likes of Michael Jordan had (for the record, such open access to his competition would make Jordan even more competitive in this day and age - the man is a sociopath). Whilst I don't believe that the actual NBA games have been affected, the All Star games of the past 15 or so years bear that out. Nobody wants to take anybody on, or try to stop their man in the All Star game, in recent times, but back in the early days, the All Star Game was the ultimate proving ground. Bigs contested just about every shot at the rim. Every passing lane was jumped. It was glorious.
In that spirit, I'm creating my own All Time All Star Weekend.
My weekend will consist of the 3 standard bearers of the All Star format: 3 point shootout, dunk contest, and All Star game. I won't be changing a thing from the actual events – I’m transporting them straight from whatever year they happened, into a single All Star event. And my weekend will be held in Atlanta (Champagning & Campaigning, people!).
Three Point Shoot-out
1988: Larry Bird wins his 3rd straight crown.
There have been some remarkable performances in this competition over the journey, from Craig Hodges starting his round with 19 straight makes in 1991, Steph Curry putting teammate Klay Thompson back in his place in 2015, Peja Stojakovic winning the contest with a rack to spare in 2003, to Jason Kapono finishing white hot in 2008. The performance that gets the nod here is Larry Bird winning his 3rd straight shootout in 1988.
Larry Legend came into the 1988 shootout as the two time reigning champion. He was also the only 3 point shootout champion, with the competition first taking place in 1986.
Bird – as is customary – approached the contest with a swagger that would make Sam Cassell and his Big Balls blush. In 1986, Bird got in his opponent’s heads with his now famous 'Who's playing for 2nd?' quip. By the time the '88 competition rolled around, Bird didn't need to tell anyone who was winning – we all knew. Bird was so confident that, in such an understated but bad-ass move, he competed with his warm-up jacket still on.
Bird laid the smack down in the semi finals, with his 23 points almost double the 12 that 2nd place Dale Ellis scored. And poor Detlef Schrempf: the career 38% 3 point shooter froze in the semis, accruing the all time worst score in the history of the competition with 5 points. He was even booed off the floor!
In the final, Ellis scored a solid if unspectacular 15 points, but for a while it looked like it might be enough to dethrone the champ. After 3 racks, Bird only had a minuscule 7 points, helped by hitting 2 of his 3 money balls. But that 4th rack changed the story: Bird nailed every shot to get himself back in it. On the final rack, Bird bricked the first and second shots, before nailing the last three to steal victory. That last shot was iconic. A soon as it was released, Bird pointed his finger to the air and walked away without bothering to watch the ball splash into net, knowing that the crown was his.
In a career full of great moments, this was perhaps the most typical Larry Bird moment: pure, unadulterated swagger.
Bird retired from the contest after 1988, making him undefeated in the history of the NBA All Star 3 point shoot out.