I have loved basketball most of my life. As I mentioned before, my father got me hooked as a young child. I didn't really get what was going on until I was around 10...which made the year 1988 (jeez). I mostly cheered for the North Carolina Tarheels, but I was aware of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and the Lakers. But the guy who really got my attention was of course.....Michael Jordan. I will skip describing him and what he meant to me in those days because you can probably guess that he was my (and still is) favorite player of all time. Everyone was talking about how good the NBA All Star Saturday night was going to be in '88. The activities and game was in Chicago and Jordan had jumped 'from the free throw line' the year before'. It was going to be Jordan vs the other highlight dunker in the league....Dominique Wilkins. As a 10 year old bandwagon Chicago Bulls fan, you couldn't tell me nothing about MJ. He was the best and I thought that no one would be able to hang with him. I was wrong! Nique pulled out some unheard of power windmills and while he was getting respect from the judges, you could tell that maybe the NBA was in on the whole 'well....since the game is in Chicago...eh...let's go ahead and give this to MJ' because let's be honest....Wilkins should have won that contest. Sort of like Aaron Gordon should have won the Slam Dunk Contest last year against Zach LaVine.
In my opinion, the NBA All Star festivities on Saturday night use to add to guys legacies around the league. You see (here comes an old guy rant!) back in my day......kidding (sort of)....as I was saying...back in my day, you couldn't just pull up dunk contests from the past or any dunk in history online, so unless you recorded the contest on VHS, you had to live in the moment. That definitely added to the magic of the slam dunk. While the slam dunk contest was the highlight of the night, I love the three point contest also. Real talk....there were a few years that the dunk contest got dull and even Kenny Smith, Magic Johnson and crew couldn't save it with their continuous 'The dunk competition is back ladies and gentlemen!' exclamations. But, the three point contest has been a constant source of entertainment. A few of the standout performances for me throughout the years has been Larry Bird, Craig Hodges, and Tim Legler (mainly because I got to see him play in Omaha the season before for the Omaha Racers at Aksarben....my Omaha friends know all about Aksarben!). As a matter of fact, up until maybe last year's epic dunk contest, the three point competition was more 'Must See TV' than the dunk competition and many wondered if they should do that as the last event rather than the dunk contest.
I feel like the NBA All Star Saturday activities are a favorite thing for fans because you get to see guys actually take their guard down and enjoy watching each other perform superhuman feats. During the season, someone pulling off a 360 in a game doesn't get a response from the players....but let a player do it during the dunk competition and the players on the sidelines lose their minds! Its actually more entertaining to see who is in the crowd overreacting than to see who's dunking or shooting in the three point contest.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was lucky enough to work an All Star game back in 2006 and let me tell you.....the stuff on Saturday night and Sunday night are only a very small part of what is going down in an All Star city. As soon as you get to the airport, you feel a buzz in the air and guys that look vaguely familiar if you're a basketball fan. You would be surprised to see how many players fly in themselves just to be in the city and around everything. There are a bunch of cool conferences and lunches all weekend long. I really feel like the NBA All Star weekend is the best event out of all of the major sports. It was also cool that I got to talk with a lot of the players. Even though most put on the 'I'm too cool for school' act and are mostly aloof acting....sometimes you can catch them in an unguarded moment. I was riding back from the airport with.....an NBA All Star (maybe I will name him some other time) and we passed a yellow like building that looked like something where me and my Fayetteville Statue classmates used to go and get.....um...adult beverages after hours on a street called Murchinson Road or the 'Murch' and we called it 'the Hot Box' I said as a throw away reference and he was like 'the Hot Box? What's that?' So I told him and was telling him some of my FSU war stories and he was loving it! Sometimes I think we forget that these NBA players have been destined to be NBA players most of their lives so they didn't really have a chance to just be a 'regular' person. Anyway, when we got to the hotel and saw all of the press and cameras, he immediately went back into the 'superstar' mode and even his voice got colder.
So, this year....I'm most looking forward to the Skills Challenge because my guy John Wall is in it and should win! Here are my other predictions:
Skills Challenge winner: John Wall (c'mon Chris....he's the fastest dude in the NBA dribbling the ball coast to coast...he should win easily unless he tries to be too cool or can't hit the jumpshot...both are possible)
Three point contest: I'm a little mad at this because my guys Bradley Beal and Otto Porter should have been in this, but I will go with the defending champ...Klay Thompson
Dunk Contest: As I mentioned, Aaron Gordon got robbed last year but he is back! I've been watching some YouTube clips of a young cat from Phoenix name Derrick Jones and whoa....he has CRAZY hops. He hasn't been on the big of a stage though, so I think maybe Gordon wins it, DeAndre Jordan may have something special planned....we'll see!