On the eve of the most anticipated NBA All-Star Weekend ever, it seemed like the optimal time to break out my illegally burned DVD of the ’87 game from the Kingdome in Seattle. What better way to get fired up for the NBA’s first official foray into Vegas than reliving the most memorable All-Star Game ever, right? Without further ado, a running diary:
0:00 – Hey, remember when Pat O’Brien was a credible journalist? Serving as CBS’ pregame studio host, he just welcomed us to Seattle with a montage of photos and videos of the city. Twenty years later, he’s hosting “The Insider” and getting instructions from his producers like, “Pat, we moved Angelina’s weight loss to Act 2 and we’re bumping Lindsay’s rehab stint to Act 1.” This is already weird.
0:02 – And speaking of weird, the CBS announcers for the game? Dick Stockton and Tommy Heinsohn! Can you believe we once lived in a world where a major network relied on Tommy for objective NBA analysis? This is the same guy who went on “Mike and the Mad Dog” last week and compared Rajon Rondo to Bob Cousy.
0:04 – As the teams are introduced, we’re reminded why this was the most memorable All-Star Game other than when Magic won the ’92 MVP because everyone was afraid to guard him because America was still in the middle of the HIV-knowledge dark ages.
Bench guys for the West: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (all-time leading NBA scorer), Joe Barry Carroll (once traded for Robert Parish AND Kevin McHale), Walter Davis (fell just short of 20,000 career points), Sleepy Floyd (star of “The Sleepy Floyd Game“), Alex English (25,000-plus career points), Rolando Blackman (most underrated 2-guard of the ’80s) and Mark Aguirre (topped 25-plus in four different seasons).
Bench guys for the East: Robert Parish (Hall of Famer), Charles Barkley (top-five greatest power forward), Jeff Malone (averaged 19 a game for his career), Mo Cheeks (most underrated point guard of the ’80s), Bill Laimbeer (most hated player of the past 30 years), Kevin McHale (top-six greatest power forward) and Isiah Thomas (greatest pure point guard ever).
Starters for the West: Tom Chambers (most underrated forward of the ’80s), James Worthy (Hall of Famer, super clutch), Hakeem Olajuwon (top-five greatest center), Alvin Robertson (the “Paul Young leading off ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas'” of this game) and Magic Johnson (one of the top-five players ever).
Starters for the East: Dominique Wilkins (most exciting player of the ’80s other than MJ), Larry Bird (top-five greatest player ever), Moses Malone (top-five greatest center), Michael Jordan (greatest player ever) and Julius Erving (top-five forward ever).
I mean …
For the love of God, LOOK at those lineups again. You had Magic and Bird in their absolute primes. You had MJ during the season when he won the dunk contest, averaged 37 a game and put himself on the map as The Next Great Guy. You had Barkley and Hakeem in their breakout seasons. You had Isiah, McHale, Parish, Worthy and ‘Nique at their absolute peaks. You had Moses, English, Cheeks, Davis and Kareem with something left in the tank. You had Doctor J in his final All-Star appearance. You had six guys who ended up making the NBA’s “Top 50″ list on the bench to start the game. You had John Stockton, Joe Dumars, Patrick Ewing, Fat Lever, Clyde Drexler, Terry Cummings, Sidney Moncrief and Karl Malone watching from home because THEY WEREN’T GOOD ENOUGH TO BE INVITED. Will we ever see anything approaching this again? I say no.
(All right, I’ll throw some water on myself.)
0:14 – Moses scores the first four points of the game. I enjoyed the phase of the Moses Era when he gained about 25 pounds (24 of them in his butt), slipped on goggles, started running like Fred Sanford and somehow remained 85 percent as effective.
0:16 – ‘Nique caps a fastbreak with a reverse two-hand jam. If I could purchase the ability on eBay to dunk like one NBA player (past or present) for an hour, I’d pick ‘Nique and just do double-pump jams, reverses and windmills in traffic for the next 60 straight minutes. He was the best.
0:17 – Tommy uses the word “widebody” for the sixth time in three minutes. This was during the time when Tommy broke everyone into three categories — “widebodies,” “basketball brains” and “leapers” — and forced every player into one of those three categories, even if it meant calling Hakeem a “widebody” when he wasn’t even remotely a widebody. Trust me, it was wildly frustrating at the time.
0:18 – Bird breaks up a three-on-one fast break. Nobody broke up more three-on-ones and four-on-ones than Bird. This seems like a good time to mention that Bird is wearing Randy West’s blonde afro-perm.
0:22 – Isiah comes in for MJ. Now we’re cooking — the two best point guards ever going head to head. By the way, no truth to the rumor that Isiah tried to trade McHale and Parish to the West for Joe Barry Carroll right before tipoff.
0:24 – Tommy changes his mind and decides that Hakeem is “a widebody, a leaper and a jet.” They might have to cut off his mic soon. Looking back, Tommy didn’t hit his stride as an announcer until the mid-’90s after his 100,000th Marlboro Red and his 25,000th scotch and soda.
0:25 – Just noticed that Isiah, Laimbeer, Bird and McHale are playing together right now. Three months later, the Pistons and Celts would be battling it out in the Eastern finals and Laimbeer would get punched by Bird AND Parish. Remember when teams could hate each other in the NBA and it was OK? I miss those days.
0:27 – Jeff Malone enters the game and reminds me of something: If the “Best Damn Sports Show” runs a “Top 50 Greatest Shots” show and Malone’s miracle heave (when he chased the ball down in the corner, planted his feet for a milli-second, and somehow sank the three while careening out of bounds — they used to show it all the time in the “NBA … it’s FANNNNNNtastic!” commercials) doesn’t crack the top five, I’m Fed Ex-ing a Turd Sandwich to their studio with a label that reads, “ATTN: JOHN SALLEY.”
0:28 – Our first Joe Barry Carroll sighting. And you’re not gonna believe this, but he looks like he’d rather be sleeping on his sofa right now. There’s a reason Pete Vecsey once nicknamed him “Joe Barely Cares.”
0:29 – During a 20-second timeout, Dick (it’s always fun to call a grown man “Dick”) talks up the surging ’87 Warriors team and shows us the Pacific Division standings … and, of course, the Clips are riding the bottom with a 7-39 record. That cracked me up for some reason. I’m glad those days are coming back. We need the Clips to stink if only so the world can seem right again.
0:30 – Tommy on Barkley: “I love watching him play. He’s got the ability to become one of the premier players in the history of the league.” All right, we’ll give him a Tommy Point for that one … especially since Barkley is crammed into his All-Star jersey right now like Oprah crammed into an Emmy gown. Not an easy call at the time.
(That reminds me, we’re at Defcon 2 on the Tight Shorts Alert for this game. Chambers looks like he’s playing in white Jockeys right now. Thank God they didn’t have HDTV or the Internet back then — somebody would have started a blog trying to figure out how many players weren’t circumcised.)
0:35 – CBS shows us the coaches: Pat Riley (looking like a dead ringer for Gordon Gekko) and K.C. Jones (one year away from killing the ’88 Celtics season by not playing Reggie Lewis … yes, I’m still bitter about it). Imagine trying to decide on your crunch-time lineups in this game? Yikes.
0:38 – McHale blocks a shot to end the quarter (33-29, East). Yet another intriguing subplot of this game: McHale was on pace for an MVP season (26.1 PPG, 9.9 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 60 percent shooting) before breaking his foot the following month. You see him flying all over the place in this game. And within a few weeks, he’d never be the same. These are the things I think about while the 2007 Celtics endure an 18-game losing streak.
0:41 – NBA TV jumps us ahead to the 41-41 point of the second quarter. Did we ever figure out why NBA TV and ESPN Classic edit every NBA game with a chainsaw? We just missed 4 minutes of the second quarter but had to endure the entire pregame intro (which lasted 11 minutes in all) and all of the sloppy first quarter. Arrrrrrrrrgh. They should teach a class in USC’s journalism school: “How to edit a classic NBA game.” I’ll even be the professor.
0:43 – Hey, did you ever watch Magic in these old games and think, “I wonder how many women he had sex with later that night?” Umm … me neither.
0:46 – On the court right now: Bird, McHale, Parish, Doc and MJ for the East; Magic, Blackman, Hakeem, Kareem, English for the West. That’s nine Hall of Famers, eight of the NBA’s Top 50 and a combined 18 MVP Awards. I think I might pass out.
0:49 – Skipping ahead to later in the second quarter (more chainsaw editing), we see Magic amble over to the East’s bench to tell Isiah something, followed by Isiah over-laughing at Magic’s joke and beating his reaction into the ground for another three seconds after that. When they build the Fake-Laughing Hall of Fame, Isiah, Ed McMahon, Dick Clark, Shannon Sharpe and Jackie the Jokeman Martling are mortal locks for the first ballot.
0:50 – Tommy calls Moses “the premier widebody in the NBA right now.” For you college kids reading, if they ever show this game on TV again, definitely don’t drink every time Tommy says “widebody” or “leaper.” You won’t make it out alive.
0:50 – Worthy abuses ‘Nique with his patented baseline spin move, capped off with a change-hands-in-the-air lay-up. An absolute work of art. (There’s a reason they chose Big Game James for the pivotal 360-degree slow-motion spin move during the sax solo in the watershed Hall and Oates “One on One” NBA commercial.) That’s quickly followed by Magic running a perfect four-on-one, getting Bird to commit, then finding Worthy as the trailer for a dunk. Screw it, I’m cracking open a beer.
0:51 – The West suddenly leads 64-60 thanks to another jump-ahead from NBA TV’s guest editors, Jonathan and Kenneth from “American Idol.” God forbid they extended this telecast to 2½ hours — that would have made too much sense. Anyway, watching this game 20 years later, there are three goofy wrinkles other than the tight shorts and the haircuts: No tattoos, no cornrows and no shaved heads (not even MJ or Kareem). Seeing MJ with hair is like seeing a chubby Nicole Richie. It’s just disorien– whoa! Perfect pick-and-roll with Magic feeding Worthy for a dunk! I can’t keep up.
0:52 – Highlight of the game so far: A random shot of Detlef Schrempf in the stands wearing a black vest with a white dress shirt and a plaid tie … and he has a wispy mustache and one of those comb-it-forward haircuts from the early ’80s. That killed me. He looked like he was on his way to go work as an usher in a movie theater.
0:53 – Football pass from Kareem to Worthy for his patented raise-it-high-in-the-air swooping dunk (forgot how much I enjoyed Big Game James), quickly followed by a double-clutch layup from ‘Nique to end the half (West 70, East 65), then a couple of commercials, then a jump right back into action halfway through the third quarter, with Stockton telling us, “86-84, so the East with a big run …” This is like trying to watch “The Godfather” on Spike TV, only if it was edited into a two-hour time slot with commercials. I’m getting angry.
1:01 – Tommy after Magic gets taken out: “Magic needs a blow.”
1:03 – Just spent two minutes trying to come up with a printable follow-up joke for the previous paragraph. Failed miserably.
1:05 – You have to love any game when Laimbeer is playing with five teammates who either punched him or tried to punch him (Bird, Parish, Isiah, MJ and Barkley). Good guy. I think that’s why Jordan and Bird are non-factors for this one — they look secretly disgusted to play with Laimbeer and Isiah. You can tell their hearts aren’t in it. They have the same look on their faces that Jamie Foxx would have if he was accidentally booked for “Letterman” on the same night as Michael Richards.
1:09 – McHale ends the third quarter with an outrageous fallaway jumper over Kareem. I’m telling you, if you ever doubted the whole McHale thing, watch this game. Anyway, it’s East 107, West 100 after three … a 42-point quarter for the East! We haven’t even remotely gotten going yet.
1:12 – Belated Dick Stockton observation: Ever notice how Dick’s sentences never end? He’ll be announcing the game … AND he’ll just keep talking … AND he just keeps using the word “AND” to start every sentence … AND this could apparently go on even if the game went to infinity … AND I’m probably beating this joke into the ground right now, but I don’t really care … AND …
1:15 – Not only did Barkley just whistle an elbow right past Mark Aguirre’s head, but Tommy referred to the imminent fourth quarter battle between Magic and Isiah as a “mano mano duel.” Things are heating up!
1:22 – Moses (19 points, 13 boards already) eats up Kareem with an upfake to get to the line. Kareem has to be the only all-time great who was legitimately owned by three rivals in his prime (Walton in the mid-’70s, Hakeem in the mid-’80s, Moses for every year in between). That’s why you never hear about him in a “greatest players ever” argument. Well, that and the fact that he was a ninny.
1:24 – East 128, West 116, 5:30 to play. Isiah has taken over the game — no-look passes, perfect entry passes, dishes on the break, you name it. He even went coast-to-coast for a patented double-clutch-in-traffic layup (a thing of beauty). Greatest pure point guard of all time. I will argue that to my death. And yes, his profound, once-in-a-lifetime failures as an NBA coach, NBA GM, CBA commissioner and TV announcer are irrelevant to the discussion.
1:30 – With the East leading by seven, here are our crunch-time lineups: Isiah, MJ, ‘Nique, Bird, Moses for the East; Magic, Blackman, Hakeem, Chambers, Worthy for the West. Now THAT’S an All-Star Game. Which leads to …
1:32 – My favorite All-Star sequence ever: Hakeem’s outlet to Blackman for a fastbreak dunk, followed by Isiah pushing it back down and finding Moses for a layup, then Magic racing right back down and finding Chambers in traffic for a layup, then Isiah racing it right back up for a pull-up 20-footer, then Magic tearing back down the court and creating an eventual shooting foul for Chambers .. followed by the crowd spontaneously cheering its approval for everything. Awesome to watch. They should have used a 12-second shot clock for this game.
(Note: All-Star Games are always as good as the point guards. That’s why it’s such a tragedy that Nash and Kidd aren’t playing this weekend — the ceiling of the game has already dropped from an A-minus to a C-plus and we haven’t even played yet.)
1:32 – CBS ruins the momentum by running a “Bird vs. Chambers” graphic for their respective ’86-87 seasons. At the time, Bird was averaging a 27-9-7 and coming off three straight MVPs; Chambers was averaging a 23-7-4 and hadn’t even played in the All-Star Game before. Can I give the CBS graphic guy a retroactive “Settle down, homes”? I think so.
1:35 – Unbelievable! NBA TV just chopped another two minutes and cut ahead to a replay of Worthy’s fastbreak dunk to make it 136-135, East, with 1:35 to play. I’m in shock. I feel like an art critic looking at a mutilated Mona Lisa painting in the Louvre. Unforgivable. How can you work for an all-NBA channel and slice two minutes of crunch-time from the greatest All-Star Game ever???? That’s like working for the Spice Channel and cutting the sex scenes so you can include more dialogue. I’m outraged. I’m outside myself with rage.
1:36 – CBS cuts to a giant banner in the crowd that reads …
(On the Dork Scale, where does making a giant sign catering to a network and bringing it to a sporting event rank? Please tell me it ranks higher than somebody writing a running diary of a 20-year-old All-Star Game.)
1:38 – Hakeem drains two freebies for a one-point lead (44 seconds left), Doctor J sinks a jumper to take the lead back (quite a farewell game for Doc), then Blackman draws a shooting foul on McHale … followed by a fired-up Magic doing the whole “I’m going to run over to you, slap your hand repeatedly and scream things at you with a crazy look on my face” routine. I always enjoyed that one. I hope Magic still breaks that move every time one of his employees for Magic Inc. pitches a great idea in a meeting.
1:39 – Unedited Dick after Blackman’s first free throw: “That ties the game and there are 24 seconds remaining so the East could have the final possession and K.C. Jones calls a timeout and this game is up for grabs!”
1:40 – Blackman misses the second free throw, giving the East the ball with a chance to win. Where do they go? MJ? Bird? Nope, they clear out for Isiah (that’s how good he was), who drives the lane and upfakes Magic … blocked by Hakeem … McHale throws up a frantic fallaway … airball … and Moses tips it in with three seconds left!!!! Heinsohn sums up everyone feelings: “And guess who’s there … Mr. Widebody.”
(Important note: Moses ended up with a 27-19 in this game. That’s relevant information because Philly had decided he was washed up the previous summer and traded him for Jeff Ruland and Cliff Robinson. The entire city of Philadelphia will now light itself on fire.)
1:42 – Now here’s a great moment: Thanks to K.C. Jones’ impeccably bizarre end-of-the-game coaching, Bird ends up in the last three seconds covering Blackman, who easily blows by him and gets fouled at the buzzer by Isiah and MJ. That leads to the most underrated free throws in basketball history — Blackman needing both to tie the game with no time remaining. I’m not saying this was like Doug Collins trying to ice the ’72 Olympics, but you have to admit … there’s SOME pressure here, right?
And the first one … good!
And the second one … good! We’re going to overtime tied at 140! I’m just glad the dude who edited this game remembered to include the game-tying free throws.
1:46 – Coming back from commercial, we see a great replay of Blackman screaming swear words at the second free throw as it swishes through the hoop, as well as another replay from behind Blackman where Magic is trying to cover Isiah’s mouth and preventing him from getting too close. High comedy. Dick sums it up as only he can: “A little high jinks … in a fun game … in which these players are having fun.”
1:48 – Blackman scores the first hoop, followed by Moses missing a gimme and Magic tearing down the court and hitting Worthy with a beautiful no-look. West up by four. Geez, was there anything quite like watching Magic run a fastbreak? How has somebody not made a 10-hour YouTube video of his greatest passes yet?
1:49 – You know what’s stunning about this game? Well, other than the fact that Chambers won the MVP and outscored MJ, ‘Nique, Barkley and Hakeem combined? Down the stretch in OT, the West kept running a pick-and-roll play with Magic and Chambers (34 points) that was completely unstoppable. Now I’m wondering what would have happened if Chambers and Worthy switched teams in 1982 and Chambers spent the next decade playing with Magic. Would he have won the ’88 Finals MVP and made the Hall of Fame and the NBA’s Top 50 instead of Worthy? It’s not inconceivable, right? Instead, we’ll remember Chambers for the MVP award, the one famous dunk when he kneed Mark Jackson in the face, his unstoppable dunk move in the “Lakers vs. Celtics” video game and his defining ’80s hairdo (blondish-brown hair parted in the middle with some girth in the back) that made him look like a cross between Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff and every women’s softball player from 1985 to 1989.
(Worthy’s career stats: 17.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 52% FG, 77% FT, two third-team All-NBAs. Chambers’ career stats: 18.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 47% FG, 81% FT, two second-team All-NBAs. I’m just sayin’.)
1:52 – Classic Kareem moment: West up by two, 2:30 to play, Bird airballs a 3, Moses hauls in the rebound and gets stuffed by Kareem, who grabs the ball and starts throwing cheapshot elbows (par for the course for him), then inadvertently clocks Moses in the stomach with one of them, knocking Moses down … and, of course, they call the foul on Moses. I can’t believe his stomach attacked Kareem’s elbow like that! Kareem could have been seriously injured!
(Really, did anyone in any major team sport ever get protected by the refs more over the years than Kareem? Two decades later and I’m still aggravated about this — the refs got so tired of seeing his whiny face after every call, they decided to call everything his way for the last six years of his career. I’m convinced. And don’t get me started about how he pushed off with his left elbow on every sky hook …)
1:55 – Thanks to K.C. Jones playing MJ and three small forwards (Doc, ‘Nique and Bird) along with Moses down the stretch, the West gets its umpteenth offensive rebound of the OT for a Worthy putback. West by six, one minute to play. This seems like the right time to mention that Barkley averaged 14.6 boards a game that season and spent the entire OT on the bench. I think there’s a decent chance K.C. might be Doc Rivers’ father.
1:57 – Unique sequence near the end: the East fouls Blackman to stop the clock, then the West players celebrate the impending win (154-149 final) by hugging and exchanging high-fives as the crowd stands and cheers. I swear, this seemed like a playoff game. There’s never been another All-Star Game quite like it.
1:59 – Our final image: future Hollywood gossip-show host Pat O’Brien presenting the MVP trophy to Chambers and his pseudo-softball mullet. A perfectly bizarre ending to a perfectly memorable game. And that’s what I’m hoping for this weekend in Vegas — perfectly bizarre, perfectly memorable. Keep your fingers crossed.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His book “Now I Can Die In Peace” is available in paperback.