Tuesday, February 12, 2008

NBA All-Star Game Thoughts

Courtesy of Bill Simmons's latest links column on ESPN, I have found this link from NBA.com. It lists the top 10 plays from each All-Star game dating back to 1969. It's really quite amazing to watch the game transform and see how the players' styles differ. The game was so much quieter and slower in the 1970s. It would take people like George Gervin, Julius Erving, and Magic Johnson to liven it up a bit. It took me about two hours, but I watched all of the videos from each game and made some notes. Hope you enjoy, and please, watch these videos yourself, they're unbelievable.

  • Having watched basketball most of the 90s, I found it odd seeing certain players as All-Stars. It's hard for me to remember ever thinking of these people as All-Star quality. Good players, yes. All-Stars, no. Yet, here they are: Cliff Robinson, Horace Grant, Jeff Hornacek, Hersey Hawkins, Antonio Davis, Wally Szczerbiak, Vin Baker, Anthony Mason, Jamaal Magloire, Kenyon Martin, Mark Eaton, and Jeff Ruland.
  • Some players just don't fit as All-Stars either, as good as they may be in the regular season. Spot-shooters and lumbering centers need not apply. I'm thinking here of Richard Hamilton, Joe Dumars, Reggie Miller, Mitch Richmond, and Rik Smits. Watching those players in the All-Star Game didn't seem right. Maybe I'm just used to what the game has become -- a dunk contest. When the game meant something, I'm sure those guys would've fit right in.
  • Speaking of Smits, check out the 1998 game to see him throw a behind-the-back pass to Jayson Williams for a dunk. Read those two names again. Not sure those two ever hung out outside of that play, huh? Can you imagine the Dunking Dutchmen and murderer Jayson Williams drinking a few beers together?
  • Who was better at the post-dunk celebration? Shaq or Shawn Kemp? O'Neal had that swagger down pat, but Kemp's crotch-grabbing and utter disdain for anyone who got in his way was priceless.
  • I know this has been said ever since Dirk Nowitzki came in the league, but he reminds me so much of Larry Bird. It's just that it's unfair to Bird since he actually won something during his career. But, the way they move so awkwardly while still scoring the ball is unfathomable. They are the two least graceful wing players I've seen in the NBA.
  • Going with the graceful topic, how about Shaq running the break. It seems like he breaks it out every year. Say what you will about his body falling apart now, but the man could run like a guard until about three years ago.
  • Vince Carter had a highlight dunk seemingly every year this decade. Yet, what has he done in games that matter? It's a shame Carter didn't get to go this year, we'll never know how many meaningless dunks he could've put down.
  • I loved watching the 2003 game live and it brought back some good memories as I watched it again. That was Michael Jordan's last game and it came down to the final seconds. Jordan had a fadeaway that put the East on top with 5 seconds left, but the West ultimately won. His other highlight during the game was a simple baseline layup that would have been a power dunk or reverse layup five years earlier. The fadeaway showed what Jordan added to his game as he aged; the layup showed what his game lost as he aged.
  • One of the best things to watch in the early 90s games was the battle between Shaq and Ewing on the East and Olajuwon and Robinson in the West. Those four had some great plays against one another from 1993-1995, and even more in the years before Shaq joined in.
  • It was sad to watch Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill, and Ralph Sampson perform so well knowing their careers would be ruined by injuries later. Hardaway was to be the next great tall PG after Magic. He and Shaq were ready to dominate the East and take the Bulls' throne. Yet, Penny's injuries and Shaq's departure to LA ultimately sealed the Magic's fate. Hill was much like LeBron James, just not quite as strong. But, his ability to slash to the hole, play point guard and grab seven boards a game was a necessity for the mid-90s Pistons. Sampson was a 7'4" giant out of Virginia that was supposed to team with Olajuwon to lead Houston to a title. Yet, Sampson could never stay healthy long enough with such a long, skinny frame.
  • The announcers are quite prevalent in the videos as well. Most of the voices are recognizable, as they rarely change. It's Brent Musberger, Bob Costas, and Marv Albert for the most part. The best is when Magic Johnson does the color in 1993-94. Just sit back and listen to some of the stuff he says, or tries to say. One year, Mike Fratello calls Charles Barkley, "an unusual physical specimen." When watching Barkley play, you sort of get that feeling as well. For someone standing 6'5", Barkley was an amazing dunker, rebounder, and shot-blocker. It also helped that he looked like a runaway freight train on the court. With a body like Kirby Puckett and a scowl like Ray Lewis, it's no wonder he scored so many points.
  • For an All-Star game to have success, many experts have said teams need great point guard play. Watching this series of videos, it's quite obvious that the best plays tend to come from a select few point guards. In fact, it's about one per generation. Recently, Jason Kidd has been the best at throwing the alley-oops and leading the break. Before that was Isaiah Thomas and Magic Johnson. Thomas was probably the best I've seen at throwing the court-length bounce pass and the baseball-style bullet pass into the post. Magic made more dekes, ball fakes, head fakes, and general trickery than any other guard. It's a wonder more teammates didn't get hit in the head. Lastly, Nate "Tiny" Archibald was the man in the 1970s.
  • These guys also had to have someone throw to. I also noticed four players stand out on the wing, again, one from each generation. Recently, it's been Kobe Bryant. His All-Star certainly reflects his overall play, unlike someone like Vince Carter. Before Kobe there was Jordan of course. Then there was Dr. J himself, Julius Erving. When everyone else seemed to be playing below the rim, Dr. J was playing above it. His style of play was just so much different from the majority of guys in his time. He dunked over Artis Gilmore (7'2") and Kareem. Granted, David Thompson and George Gervin were no slouches. In fact, Gervin and Erving teamed up a couple times and from what I saw, I don't think you can get a better or more athletic pair of wings, even now. The earlier years didn't share the same type of athleticism, but Oscar Robertson was easily the best all-around player out there.

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