It is 2011 and basketball is different. Players dunk with their toes completely behind the foul line, and they bag All-Star triple doubles with 29 points instead of 14, and they collect 37 points and 14 boards
at age 32. That last line belongs to the great Kobe Bryant, who
produced a brilliant turn-back-the-clock performance in last Sunday's
All-Star Game, an avalanche of attacking dunks and up-and-unders and
fall-away gems that was just enough to bury the East.
But the 29-point triple-double belonged to
Miami's LeBron James, who, in the fourth quarter, resembled a high school
senior whooping 13-year-olds. Had the East stolen the game, James
would undoubtedly have won his third ASG MVP. Instead, the trophy
belonged to the venerable Bryant.
James's ASG triple-dub predecessor Jordan
was also denied MVP honors. This got the wheels turning. I said to
myself, "Self, what were the greatest All-Star Game performances that
did not win MVP?" And then, to keep the proceedings sane and timely, I
decided to frame my sample between 1997 and 2011, the first ASG
triple-double, and now the second.
My favorite six, in chronological order:
Kobe Bryant, 1998: 18 points on 7 of 16 shooting, with six rebounds.
We start with Bryant, the youngest player voted a starter in the game's history, and while still a sixth man on his own team
no less. Even from television, the electricity and fervor at Madison
Square Garden for any big basketball game is unmistakable; this one
featured Michael Jordan in his presumed final season, Reggie Miller at
the height of his New York powers, reigning league MVP Karl Malone, and
the rookie Tim Duncan.
Jordan won the game's MVP, but nobody stirred the soup quite like the
19-year-old Bryant. The second-year Los Angeles Laker caught and threw
oops with fellow youngin' Kevin Garnett, turned announcer Isiah Thomas
into a babbling mess, and led the Western Conference in scoring with 18
points. A fine start to a great ASG career.
Kevin Garnett, Minnesota, 2000: 24 points and 10 rebounds on 10-19 shooting
The first All-Star Game after the lockout
was won by the bruising West, whose frontcourt featured (probably) five
future All-Stars. Leading the way were co-MVPs Tim Duncan (24 points, 14
rebounds) and Shaquille O'Neal (22 points, 9 rebounds). But wait! The
West's other starting forward, Garnett, dropped a 24-10. Why not a
triple MVP? Or why not KG instead of Shaq? Mrrrrrr...
Dikembe Mutombo, Atlanta, 2001: 22 rebounds, 3 blocks
The Greatest All-Star Game I Ever Did See
was MVP'd by a well-deserving Allen Iverson, whose 25 points, 4 steals,
and daring leadership comprised arguably his greatest night of
professional basketball. But his Eastern Conference All-Stars could not
have overcome a 21-point West lead without the de-fence and rebounding
of Dikembe Mutombo.
In 2001 the West was the conference of
forwards and centers: Duncan, Garnett, Webber, Wallace, Robinson,
McDyess, Malone, and the injured Shaquille O'Neal. But in this game,
none played bigger than the East's Mutombo, who was so dominant inside
that the East was able to play Iverson, Carter, McGrady, Marbury, and
Ray Allen big minutes to counter the West's size.
Tracy McGrady, Orlando, 2002: 24 points, and a remarkable off-the-backboard self-oop dunk
This was the game in Philly when Kobe
scored 31, won the MVP, and was promptly booed by the home fans. I
didn't think much of his 31 at the time, mostly because I held the opinion that Bryant was "overrated."
But we're here to talk about Tracy McGrady, who led the East in scoring
with 24 points off the bench, and more importantly, unleashed the first
in-game off-the-backboard self-ally oop dunk I have ever seen. Watch as
the two young Mavericks Nowitzki and Nash pirouette in hopes of seeing
the recipient of McGrady's toss...
Michael Jordan, Washington, 2003: 20 points on a repugnant 9 of 27 shooting
This was Jordan's actual final All-Star Game, with Mariah
Carey's Wizards dress and Vince Carter vacating his starting spot, both
in honor of His Airness's actual retirement. The game went double
overtime, Garnett won the MVP with 37 points, and Iverson & McGrady
led the East with 35 and 29, respectively. For his part, Jordan scored
20, and had it not been for a bailout foul of Kobe Bryant by Jermaine
O'Neal with three seconds left in the first overtime, Jordan's
impossible fadeaway over Phoenix's Shawn Marion would have been the
Ray Allen, Boston, 2008: game-high 28 points on 10 of 14 shooting, 5 of 9 from three
LeBron's near triple double (27-8-9) earned him MVP, but it was Allen
(an injury replacement for Caron Butler) who led the East to the six
point win. In his first ASG as a member of the Celtics, Allen stroked three straight threes in the game's final three minutes, ultimately scoring 14 of the East's final 18 points to secure the victory.