- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
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The NBA's All-Star Weekend is upon us again. The event always interests die-hard fans of the game, but it often has a difficult time living up to the expectations that come with the talent of the players who take part. I can remember a lot of games (I played in 19 of them!) that could not achieve any type of flow because the teams didn't get the chance to develop any type of cohesion. It's very difficult to get 12 players on the same page for a meaningful group effort when you're only together for a day or two.
It isn't that the players aren't willing to come together and try to play as a unit, but that type of group effort takes time to develop. Time is a very precious commodity during the hectic two days of All-Star activities.
Every so often, the game is able to overcome the problems that can keep it from being as enjoyable as it should be. For me, one of the most memorable All-Star games was Magic Johnson's MVP performance in Orlando in '92. Magic had not played for a while because of concerns about his HIV status. But he got the OK to participate, and he was brilliant. His stats (25 points, nine assists and five rebounds in 29 minutes) were world-class. The entertainment quality of his performance was almost beyond description.
The All-Star Game usually is dominated by guards because they are the ones responsible for initiating the offense. The big guys aren't the ones who handle the ball and dictate how things play out. This situation is also the result of the inability of the teams to have more than one practice together.
I can remember playing in the game in Washington, D.C., in 1980, but I wasn't able to get to Washington until late on Saturday afternoon because the Lakers played a Friday night game in L.A. That game ended too late for me to get a red-eye flight to Washington. I arrived in D.C. in time to attend the All-Star banquet on Saturday night, but not in time to take part in the practice for the West All-Star team. The game the next day reflected the lack of preparation of both teams.
Today, the players are given more time to arrive and practice, which makes for a much better game.
Sometimes, the weekend can be noteworthy for something other than what happens on the court. The 1983 All-Star Game in Los Angeles, for example, featured Marvin Gaye singing the national anthem. It was a one-of-a-kind memorable performance that is still talked about all the more because of Marvin's untimely death.
One consequence of that game became a problem for the Lakers. One of the All-Star guards, George Gervin, was given a minimum of playing time by the West's coach, the Lakers' Pat Riley. George did not appreciate being slighted in this manner, but he kept his cool ... until the first regular-season game he played after All-Star Weekend, which happened to be in L.A. against the Lakers. Gervin gave a 40-point performance in a winning effort, and it left Coach Riley a permanent reminder of how to delegate playing time at the All-Star Game.
I was very disappointed with the press at one of my All-Star Games. It was my second year in the league, if I remember correctly, and the game was being held in San Diego. The first half of the game was dominated by the West team. Most notably, the play of Lenny Wilkens was outstanding. But in the second half, the East team came back and made a game of it. In the last few minutes, Jerry West and I led the West team in a rally that put us ahead for good. Jerry's play opened up opportunities for me and I delivered in the paint. I thought one of us would surely get to be the MVP, but then the announcement was made: Lenny Wilkens was chosen as MVP.
It was hard for me to accept, and there were a number of questions asked of the writers who had made the pick. Their explanation was that they had held the vote at halftime and saw no need to reconsider. As it turned out, this was really my only chance to be the MVP of the All-Star Game; and even with all of the time that has passed, I haven't forgotten the way I was disregarded.
In the following years, the writers made a point of saying they had waited to vote until the game was over. Better late than never, I suppose.
In the end, the fans are the ones who need to be considered when the All-Star Game is played. I think that will continue to be the focus, and rightly so. I'm anxious to see what special treat this year's game has in store for us fans.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA's all-time leading scorer and the author of several New York Times best-selling books, is an ESPN.com columnist. Recently, he was appointed as a U.S. global cultural ambassador by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. His official website is www.kareemabduljabbar.com, and you can follow him @KAJ33 on Twitter and at Facebook.com/KAJ.
The All-Star Game doesn't always live up to expectations. But when it does, it's memorable. Take it from the man who holds the record for All-Star appearances.