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The NBA has attempted to make All-Star games more competitive but in doing so they’ve lost organic moments like the great 2001 NBA All-Star Game.
The NBA All-Star Game gets a bad rap and in most cases, that reputation is well deserved.
In recent decades, the NBA All-Star Game is filled with pomp and circumstance, boisterous player introductions, concerts, a full weekend showcase of events and stars. Once the ball tips though and the games start, they are usually uninspired, uncompetitive misrepresentations of what the actual NBA game looks like. Games quickly devolve into defense-less fast-break passing and dunk exhibitions or simply, they become uncompetitive and boring. The NBA has looked for ways to avoid this by breaking tradition on the East vs. West format, having stars draft teams to create rivalry not from which conference you play but instead with friendships.
The NBA even adopted the Elam Ending as a method of adding intense competitiveness to the game, albeit only for the final few minutes of the game.
These methods have worked to varying degrees. Some would argue though, all of it is no naught. Let the NBA All-Star Game be what it’s going to be. Let the stars go out for a weekend, have fun, do some dunks, shoot some threes and when the game rolls around on Sunday, maybe it’s a sideshow… or maybe, you get lucky and you get an all-time great game like the 2001 NBA All-Star Game.
For one year at least, the NBA All-Star Game delivered on drama and excitement
21 years ago, NBA fans were treated to one of, if not the best NBA All-Star Game of all time. It also just so happened to be the 50th anniversary of the very first All-Star Game. A game in which the Eastern Conference team stormed back from a 21-point deficit in under 10 minutes winning the game 111-110 — the first time the All-Star game was decided by a single point since 1977.
The lineups for the 2001 NBA All-Star Game don’t exactly inspire a ton of confidence in this game. Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat big men Antonio Davis and Anthony Mason were in the starting lineup for the East. Sure, they were injury replacements but, seriously, Antonio Davis?
The East team, in fact, was filled top-to-bottom with relatively new All-Stars. Tracy McGrady made the first of his seven All-Star, Stephon Marbury (New Jersey Nets) was in his first game, Theo Ratliff made the team for the first time ever but was unable to participate. Leading vote-getter Vince Carter was in only his second game, he joined Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Allan Houston, Jerry Stackhouse and Glenn Robinson as second-time All-Stars. Dikembe Mutombo, an injury replacement, was the East’s most veteran All-Star—this being his seventh game. Grant Hill and Alonzo Mourning—both unable to play due to injury—were in their sixth games.
There was no doubt the NBA was in a new era after the retirement and wind-down of the 80s and 90s stars.
The West saw only Antonio McDyess and long-time veteran Vlade Divac making their debuts, still, the new NBA was still evident with their roster. Starters Jason Kidd, Kobe Bryant, Chris Webber and Tim Duncan were in their fourth or third All-Star Games. The last starter, Shaquille O’Neal (unable to compete due to injury), was in his eight-game. Reserves Karl Malone (13th) and David Robinson (10th) were far and away the oldest and most experienced competitors in the game.
The youth, inexperience and excitement of the All-Star Game was most likely a reason for the game to be as good as it was.
The West jumped out to a huge 30-17 lead in the first quarter. The East clawed back to win the second quarter 33-31 but were still down 61-50 going into the half. After a third-quarter that saw the West pull away to an 89-70 lead most figured the game was over.
It’s an exhibition game. There was no need to risk injury trying to win. Who cares? There’s nothing at stake like in the MLB All-Star Game. Bragging rights for your respective conference? What is this 1981? Nobody cares! Boy, we were wrong.
The Eastern Conference led by Iverson and Marbury went on a tear in the fourth quarter. Iverson — the game’s MVP — scored 15 of his 25 points in the final quarter. Marbury hit two key 3-pointers.
The East was clinging to a one-point lead with seconds left on the clock. The NBA’s leading scorer, Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, had the ball in his hands. The clock ticked down then, to the surprise of literally every single human being watching the game… Bryant passed up the shot, instead opting to give Tim Duncan the opportunity. Duncan missed. Game over. The East had come back from the brink of death to win the game.
“I’ve been in the All-Star game the last seven years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Dikembe Mutombo in a post-game interview.
The perpetually slighted Iverson was blunter in his assessment of the game, “Everybody was saying we couldn’t win because of our size. It’s not about size. It’s about the size of your heart. Coming into the fourth quarter, we were all sitting on the sidelines saying ‘Why not us? Why can’t we be the ones to come back from a 19-point deficit (after three quarters) in an All-Star game?”
For Iverson, it was the next step in his ascension — for better or worse depending on who you ask — as the NBA’s poster child and next megastar.
Not every NBA All-Star Game is good, in fact, most are pretty bad. The NBA is wise to try and figure out ways to make the game more interesting and exciting.
However, in attempting to manufacture intrigue and force the games into competitiveness, you lose organic moments and games like the 2001 All-Star Game.
If you’ve never seen the 2001 NBA All-Star Game and are interesting in checking it out… you’re in luck!
I host the Over & Back Classic NBA Podcast here on FanSided and myself, Over & Back co-host Jason Mann, myself and special guests Dr. Curtis Harris and Micah Wimmer are doing a watch along! You can either catch us live Tuesday, February 1 at 7:30 p.m. EST or watch the replay at the link below: