NBA All-Star Game Back on Jordan’s Turf
WHO: LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis, Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Kemba Walker, Pascal Siakam, et al.
WHAT: NBA All-Star Game
WHERE: United Center, Chicago
WHEN: Feb. 16, 2020
The ads told us to Be Like Mike.
Oh, how we tried. In pickup games on chain-netted city park courts, in drably lit Catholic school gymnasiums. We downed gallons of ungodly-green Gatorade. We donned bootlegged ‘23’ jerseys and, of course, begged Mom for the latest Air Jordan release at Foot Locker. We even mimicked the signature tongue-tuck he’d flash when driving to the hoop.
But no matter how earnest the effort, we could never come close to that once-in-a-generation athleticism, that top-of-the-key swagger possessed by the former Tar Heel and six-time NBA champion/NBA Finals MVP, who would lead the league in scoring a record 10 times.
Not everyone can defy gravity the way Michael Jordan did throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. That iconic Sports Illustrated photo from the Slam Dunk Contest in ’88, the last time the NBA All-Star Game came to Jordan’s turf of Chicago, still drops jaws. It depicts MJ suspended in mid-air like some rim-bound aeronaut; arm cocked, ball palmed, laser focused. His direct free-throw-line-to-basket flight plan was something to behold. We’d never seen that kind of hang time before. Dr. J, Magic, Clyde Frazier, The Big O, Iceman, Wilt — they never soared like that, did they?
Evel Knievel came up short at Snake River Canyon in his X-1 rocket. His Airness might have leapt it unaided.
Jordan was named to 14 All-Star teams spanning two retirements and one ill-fated detour into professional baseball. With the ASG returning to the home of the Chicago Bulls for the first time in more than three decades, we’re reminded of his fast-break feats, his full-confidence fadeaways and his clutch, game-winning jumpers (like the one he hit against the Jazz in Game 6 of the ’98 NBA Finals), all of which helped elevate the sport worldwide. Because of him, NBA talent began popping up far and wide, in the Balkans, across Europe and Africa. We’re reliving those epic Dunk Wars, too, when Jordan and Dominique Wilkins, The Human Highlight Reel, went head-to-head and left us whooping in disbelief with each and every highlight-reel throwdown.
Today, the Hall of Famer’s number hangs skyward in the United Center and he’s moved on to the business side of things. There’s another No. 23 occupying the spotlight now, a guy to which he’s so often compared: LeBron James. But Michael Jeffrey Jordan remains the court criterion to which all players in the National Basketball Association are measured. He remains, in many minds, the greatest of all time.
Be Like Mike? If only we could.
Live by StubHub looks back on Jordan’s 14 All-Star appearances, from his 1985 debut to his last, with the Washington Wizards, in 2003.
1985 | Hoosier Dome, Indianapolis | West def. East, 140-129
• Headed for Rookie of the Year honors, a 21-year-old Michael Jordan makes his All-Star debut in Indy. Fellow starters Isiah Thomas, Julius Erving, Larry Bird and Moses Malone, perhaps irked by their young teammate’s spotlight-grabbing presence, rarely dish the ball his way and Jordan is limited to a quiet seven points on the night. He makes more of a splash in the Slam Dunk Contest, though he falls just short against Dominique Wilkins in the final round.
1986 | Reunion Arena, Dallas | East def. West, 139-132
• Despite breaking his foot in the third game of the 1985-86 campaign, Jordan is named to the Eastern Conference All-Star roster. Unfortunately, the injury keeps him on the sidelines.
1987 | Kingdome, Seattle | West def. East, 154-149
• En route to the first 3,000-point season since Wilt Chamberlain eclipsed that number in 1962-63, Jordan contributes 11 points and four assists. He also wins the first of two consecutive Slam Dunk Contests on All-Star Weekend.
1988 | Chicago Stadium | East def. West, 138-133
• Chicagoans are in hoops heaven as the All-Star Game rolls into the Madhouse on Madison. Jordan makes the most of the occasion, scoring a game-high 40 points and leading the East to a thrilling 138-133 victory. (“I’m not losing in this building,” Jordan reportedly tells his teammates.) Fittingly, he is named MVP.
1989 | Astrodome, Houston | West def. East, 143-134
• Jordan leads his teammates with 28 points, but it’s not enough for East to overcome West in a 143-134 loss. His 1,003,062 tally again makes him the All-Star Game’s top vote-getter.
1990 | Miami Arena | East def. West, 130-113
• Seven Eastern Conference All-Stars, including Jordan, are in double digits in the winning effort.
1991 | Charlotte Coliseum | East def. West, 116-114
• Returning to his home state of North Carolina, Jordan is once again the game’s high scorer (26 points). However, the MVP nod goes to his East teammate Charles Barkley in his final All-Star appearance as a Sixer.
1992 | Orlando Arena | West def. East, 153-113
• The ’92 NBA All-Star Game will long be remembered for the triumphant return of Magic Johnson, who only months earlier announced his retirement upon learning that he had contracted HIV. The MVP’s playful one-on-one matchups with Jordan in the closing minutes of the lopsided victory are among the highlights.
1993 | Delta Center, Salt Lake City, Utah | West def. East, 135-132 (OT)
• Before (temporarily) leaving the sport for a shot at Major League Baseball, Jordan puts up an All-Star Game-high 30 points. But the night belongs to hometowners/Jazz teammates Karl Malone and John Stockton, who earn co-MVP honors in leading the West to a dramatic overtime win.
1996 | Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas | East def. West, 129-118
• In front of 36,037 fans at the Alamodome, MJ makes his ASG return following a two-year absence. There is no rust to shake. The MVP (20 pts.) pairs with Shaquille O’Neal to lead the East to the first of three straight victories.
1997 | Gund Arena, Cleveland | East def. West, 132-120
• His Airness becomes the first player in All-Star Game history to notch a triple-double, finishing with 14 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. Rookie guard Kobe Bryant wins the Slam Dunk Contest — at 18 its youngest-ever champion — in his All-Star Weekend debut.
1998 | Madison Square Garden, New York | East def. West, 135-114
• The future Hall of Famer’s third and final All-Star Game MVP award comes on a 23-point night.
2002 | First Union Center, Philadelphia | West def. East, 135-120
• For the second time in his illustrious career, Jordan comes out of retirement to start for the East, this time as a member of the Washington Wizards. He notches eight points on 4-for-13 shooting but misses a breakaway dunk and is overshadowed by Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who becomes the first player since Jordan himself (1993) to score 30 points in the All-Star Game.
2003 | Philips Arena, Atlanta | West def. East, 155-145 (2OT)
• In a selfless gesture, Vince Carter vacates his starting spot for reserve Michael Jordan, who is appearing in the 14th and final All-Star Game of his career. The Philips Arena crowd pays tribute to Jordan during an emotional halftime show during which the hoops legend receives a standing ovation from both the East and West All-Stars. Jordan is slow out of the blocks, missing his first seven shots on the night, but finishes with 20 points and nails a key jumper to send the game into double-OT. He walks away as the event’s all-time leader in points (262), field goals (110), field goal attempts (233) and steals (37).