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Friday, February 12, 2010
Bird: You play to win

By Jeff Caplan

Here's how Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird viewed the NBA All-Star Game: "You play the first half and guys get some dunks and this and that, but you get into the second half you play to win. We always said, 'We’re here, we might as well win the game.'"

Times change. We all know the luster of the All-Star Game today isn't nearly what it was in the glorious 1980s. Back then we didn't get to see our favorite players and teams go at it almost nightly on multiple cable channels. Now we take for granted that all 82 regular-season games of our local team are on TV. The All-Star Game was a spectacle, a chance to see the game's great players perform, a made-for-TV event. It was it all about the game.

Today? Well, let Mavericks owner Mark Cuban tell you what he thinks.

"This isn’t about the game," Cuban said, before giving an example of what the NBA's All-Star Weekend is all about. "Last year toward the end of the season, when there was this big thing about me and Shaq meeting, it was about All-Star parties."

And maybe that's not such a horrible thing, at least from the players' perspective. The face of the All-Star Game changed in 1984 when the NBA expanded it to Saturday, bringing in the dunk contest and an old-timer's game. Two years later, All-Star Weekend landed in Dallas at Reunion Arena. Spud Webb outdueled Atlanta Hawks teammate Dominique Wilkins for the dunking crown and Larry Bird lived up to his boast of "Who's coming in second?" when he won the inaugural 3-Point Shootout.

That year in Dallas is when Bird said the evolution of All-Star Weekend kicked in.

"It’s come a long, long way," Bird said. "I can remember going to different places [for the All-Star Game] and they have a banquet where you had to sit up on the dais and all the players and people gave speeches, there were bright lights and you just sit there for three hours. In ’86, I saw a major change. They had the dunk contest before, but had the 3-Point Shootout, and there was sort of a change into hip-hop. The music was different, the atmosphere was different and it was a big change from then on."