Retiring Stern made NBA All-Star game an event

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 17, 2013 at 12:35 pm •  Published: February 17, 2013
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HOUSTON (AP) — For 30 years of options, David Stern's answer came surprisingly quickly.

Asked his favorite All-Star memory as NBA commissioner, he chose the 1992 game, when Magic Johnson returned to win MVP honors after retiring the previous fall because of the HIV virus.

"Giving sweaty Magic Johnson a big hug right after he hit the last 3 and still being able to hug him, because he's alive every time I see him," Stern said. "That is at the top of the list."

Stern could have cited Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins battling in a famed dunk contest, or Larry Bird winning the first 3-point shootout. Maybe it could've been the record crowd for a basketball game when the league staged it in a football stadium.

All those and more helped turn what was once a minor event into a massive celebration.

"It used to be a one-day get together, and it's now not only a weekend, I mean it goes way beyond that, when you look at the host city and all the preparation that takes place," said longtime Phoenix Suns owner and executive Jerry Colangelo.

And with Stern less than a year from retirement, it will be up to Adam Silver to continue to grow All-Star weekend when he takes over on Feb. 1, 2014.

"We've discussed playing internationally All-Star games, I'm not sure if it will work logistically, but it's something we'll continue to study," Silver said. "We've looked at other neutral cities. We've looked at refreshing All-Star Saturday night and other innovative events for the weekend, and I think we'll continue to do that, the same way we have under David's leadership."

The first of Stern's 37 All-Star games with the league was in Philadelphia in 1976, back when the host team was responsible for putting on the game. Colangelo hosted the previous year, hiring Andy Williams and Henry Mancini to perform.

Stern became commissioner on Feb. 1, 1984, and almost immediately oversaw changes that turned a game into an event.

With Denver hosting the '84 game, it wanted to honor its ABA roots with a dunk contest. Not wanting to just squeeze it into halftime of the game, the NBA decided to stage it on Saturday, adding an old-timer's game along with it so there were multiple things to see with one ticket.

That game was soon scrapped for fear of injury — the legends have a brunch now — and the 3-point contest was added in 1986.

"It wasn't like David had a big plan in his drawer, we were figuring it out as we went along," former longtime NBA executive Terry Lyons said. "But he was very focused on, people will define our league as we try to build it back up based a lot on events, and we're competing against the big boys for the sponsorship dollars, for the media attention, for everything. So the event planning became huge, absolutely top of the list, and All-Star started to define it."

Players realized it, with even the biggest stars never declining if asked to compete in Saturday night events. Bird was perhaps basketball's biggest name when he won the inaugural 3-point event in Dallas, and by the time Jordan edged Wilkins on his home floor to win the 1988 dunk contest in Chicago, Lyons said league officials knew the event had turned the corner.



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