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Celtics coach Doc Rivers at work during the 1988 All-Star game.Kevin Garnett is headed to his 15th All-Star game; Rajon Rondo will make his fourth straight appearance. But while those players have certified their All-Star statuses with multiple appearances, some players are fortunate to get a mere taste of the league's annual midseason showcase.
Someone like Celtics coach Doc Rivers, a one-time All-Star who earned a reserve spot during the 1987-88 season. Rivers took a trip down memory lane on Thursday when asked what he remembered most from that All-Star appearance, which happened to take place in his native Chicago. Rivers lamented the weather, teammate Dominique Wilkins getting robbed in the Slam Dunk contest, and his own missed free throws. At least he was on the winning team as the East topped the West 138-133 that weekend.
"It was really cold in Chicago, it was a cold weekend," recalled Rivers. "I remember Dominique getting ripped off in the dunk contest with them gifting [Michael] Jordan a [perfect 50 on his final attempt] for the same [free-throw line] dunk that he did three rounds earlier. I remember it being a hard-played game. If you remember that game, we picked up full court. Someone was just talking about that and said, 'Man, you turned a guy four times in the backcourt.
"And I remember Michael at halftime basically giving us a speech, saying, 'We are not losing in my building. Whoever doesn’t want to play, don’t play. But this is not an exhibition, we are going out and playing.'"
Rivers played 16 minutes for the East, registering nine points on 2-of-4 shooting, but missed six of a game-high 11 free throw attempts (no one else had more than six throws at the charity stripe). Rivers a 78.4 percent free-throw shooter for his career, lamented his misses while going even further down memory lane to note how he improved his free-throw shooting after finishing a mere 60.8 percent at the stripe one season early in his career.
"Practice, really there’s nothing else," said Rivers. "My wife, I wish she was here, that one summer [of 1986], I had to make 25 in a row. After I took 100, then I had to make 25 in a row and my wife would just sit there and rebound and rebound. Some days it was 25 shots; some days it took two hours."
Rivers shot 82.8 percent at the line the next season.
"I figured, the fans, no matter how much they yelled at me, it was better than my wife staring at me when I missed the free throw and had to start over," joked Rivers. "There was no pressure any more."
Steering back to his All-Star appearance, Rivers riffed on the idea that an invite "validates" a player.
"[Today's players] may look for [All-Star spots as validation] and we did, too, I’m sure," said Rivers. "I wanted to make the All-Star team, it was really important to make it. But if I got anything out of it, it's that the next day I was at practice and guys treated me the same."