Yesterday I turned 28 years old, and I can’t help but feel like a grandpa. (Although as my Dad makes sure to point out, “They said 50 is the new 30. Nah. Fiddy if FIDDY!”) This means I’ve legally been a grown man for 10 years. I graduated high school 10 years ago. And 10 years ago, the NBA All-Star Game was a magical fantasy land — far from something I thought I’d ever attend, write about, and call it “work.”
Do you realize that of the 24 players who appeared in the 2000 ASG, half of them aren’t even in the League anymore? Even looking at the survivors makes me feel old: Not only were Shaq and Vince Carter not All-Stars this year, they weren’t even seriously in the discussion. KG limps into All-Star on more of a “lifetime achievement” vibe, Jerry Stackhouse and Mike Finley are barely in the NBA, and now Kobe and Allen Iverson have been scratched.
On one hand, I look forward to the reality that Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, LeBron, ‘Melo and the rest of the younger cats are taking over. On the other hand, it makes me nostalgic for the “old days.”
So with that, here are Dime’s Top-10 All-Star moments of the last decade:
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#10: Jason Richardson delivers a facial
WHEN: 2003 Rookie/Sophomore Challenge, Atlanta
WHY: Next to the rookie game, the actual All-Star Game looks serious and conservative. In the ultimate display of “This doesn’t count, right?” playground-style ball, J-Rich pulled one of the park’s most disrespectful moves, whipping the ball off Carlos Boozer’s forehead before dropping a three on him. J-Rich went on to win the dunk contest that same weekend — surely to zero applause from Boozer.
#9: Yao Ming’s dance party
WHEN: 2006 All-Star Game, Houston
WHY: This was the first year we saw the choreographed team dances that are now standard. The West was already at an, um, rhythmic disadvantage with Steve Nash and the TimDuncanTron, but they had a decent little snake move going (skip to 2:44) … until Yao got involved. Let’s just say Yao probably won’t be guest-judging on “America’s Best Dance Crew” anytime soon.
#8: LeBron’s game-winning dunk
WHEN: 2008 All-Star Game, New Orleans
WHY: Who needs free throws when you can just smash on a 7-footer’s head? After the East had blown a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter, LeBron put them back on top by going coast-to-coast and catching Dirk Nowitzki before he had a chance to jump. It was the punctuation on LeBron’s second All-Star Game MVP, for which he posted 27 points, eight rebounds and nine assists.
#7: The Shaqawockeez
WHEN: 2009 All-Star Game, Phoenix
WHY: All-Star Weekend just doesn’t feel official without Shaq, and here’s another reason why. The ’09 game was something of a farewell for the big fella, as it was held in Phoenix while he was playing for the Suns, and was honestly the last season where he played like a legit All-Star. During the pre-game intros, Shaq donned a white mask and danced with the Jabbawockeez crew, and somehow didn’t look silly doing it.
#6: T-Mac goes off-glass to himself
WHEN: 2002 All-Star Game, Philadelphia
WHY: Often imitated but never really duplicated, Tracy McGrady’s version of the self alley-oop made its ASG debut in ’02. Watching it live, everybody in the crowd and on the court figured T-Mac was throwing a lob for somebody else — after the dunk it took a second for them to realize what had just happened.
#5: Steve Francis’ silver medal
WHEN: 2000 Slam Dunk Contest, Oakland
WHY: Any other year, any other dunk contest, Stevie Franchise’s performance would have easily been enough to win. Just not this year. Francis would do something spectacular, and then Vince Carter would follow it up with something ungodly that made Francis’ previous dunk obsolete.
#4: Dwight Howard’s “Superman” dunk
WHEN: 2008 Slam Dunk Contest, New Orleans
WHY: How high were the stakes for Dwight with this one? If he makes it, he’s got an easily marketable nickname and one of the top dunk-contest memories of all-time. If he misses, he’s known as the Carrot Top of the dunk contest. He made it.
#3: Jordan’s shoulda-been game-winner
WHEN: 2003 All-Star Game, Atlanta
WHY: Some guys just don’t appreciate a storybook ending. In the last All-Star appearance of Michael Jordan’s career, the G.O.A.T. capped what had actually been a bad game for him by sticking a vintage baseline fadeaway with four seconds left to put the East up by two. That should have been the game-winner, but Jermaine O’Neal fouled Kobe Bryant just before the buzzer, and Kobe’s free throws sent the game to overtime, where the East lost. This narrowly edged out Mariah Carey’s halftime stroke show as the game’s enduring image.
#2: Iverson and Starbury lead the East comeback
WHEN: 2001 All-Star Game, D.C.
WHY: Non-competitive blowouts are something of an All-Star tradition, but in ’01 it was different. The East was down by as many as 21 in the fourth quarter, but led by Stephon Marbury and eventual League/All-Star MVP Allen Iverson, came back to make it a ballgame. Marbury’s three with 28 seconds left proved to be the game-winner in the best All-Star Game we’ve seen since the Rolando Blackman Confidence Bowl.
#1: Vince Carter
WHEN: 2000 Slam Dunk Contest, Oakland
WHY: Even from the upper reaches of the Golden State Warriors’ arena where some of the Dime crew was seated, the buzz throughout Vince Carter’s breakout moment is still unmatched by any NBA event outside of a playoffs or Finals game. As it was happening, you knew Vince was setting the bar for how every other dunk contest would forever be judged. Vince never did an All-Star dunk contest again. He didn’t have to.