LAS VEGAS — Memories, memories. This town’s NBA roots don’t run very deep, but they have sprouted some noteworthy branches.
Paul Westphal’s 19.4 average in five All Star games ranks seventh all time.
In fact, my last visit here in my professional capacity it was to cover one of the signature moments in the annals of professional basketball.
It was back in 1984, when, for reasons I don’t remember (unlike most people my age my problem is that my memory IS what it used to be) the Jazz scheduled 10 of their home games for this desert gambling oasis. And as it happens, one of 10 was against the Lakers.
And what made this moment so “signature” was a play that in itself was as routine as they come. How mean, how many times had we seen Magic feed the ball to Kareem on the right side of the lane and watched Kareem methodically score on one of his patented sky hooks?
But this particular sky hook broke Wilt Chamberlain’s all-time career scoring record of 31,419 points. And what followed was one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen as the floor was suddenly filled with photographers, press people, and just plain people. And mind you, this was with the game still technically in progress.
Order was eventually restored, of course. And for the record the Lakers went on to win, 129-115.
One that sky hook brought back for me was one Kareem made in his very first NBA game after Magic joined the Lakers. It was a buzzer-beater in San Diego that won the game. And what I’ll never forget is Magic leaping into an astonished Kareem’s arms and hugging him.
Right now you’re probably thinking this isn’t all THAT memorable. But you have to remember that making sky hooks was almost as routine for Kareem as brushing his teeth, and just about as exciting. And this was just the FIRST game of the season for crying out loud.
But of course, Magic was all about exuberance, and eventually some of that, okay, a tiny tad of it, would rub off on The Big Fella.
Earlier that year in a game here Adrian Dantley tied Wilt’s record for most free throws made by sinking 28 in only 29 attempts.
Moving right along down memory lane, the Blazers beat the Lakers 102-76 in Game Four of the first round of a playoff series in 1992, the game having been moved out of Los Angeles because of the Watts riots.
Memories, memories. This time strictly All Star.
You probably remember the 1975 All Star Game was played in the Madhouse on McDowell in Phoenix (assuming you are old enough to remember either 1975 or the Madhouse). The East beat the West, Walt Frazier was the MVP, and Kareem had 22 points and 15 rebounds.
And I KNOW you haven’t forgotten the 1995 game at America West Arena (surely you remember America West Arena). Paul Westphal of the Suns was the coach of the winning West team, and Mitch Richmond was the MVP.
There was also sort of a Phoenix angle in the 1987 game in Seattle. Tom Chambers, who would go on to fame and fortune as a Sun, was a Sonic back then, and was supposed to be a spectator at the game. But Chambers was added to the team after Houston’s Ralph Sampson suffered a knee injury and went on to score 34 points and win MVP honors in the West’s overtime victory.
More Phoenix stuff:
Westphal’s 19.4 average in five All Star games ranks seventh all time, and Chambers’ 19.3 in four ranks eighths. FYI, the all time leader is Oscar Robertson at 20.5 over 12 games. Michael Jordan? He’s number three at 20.2 over 13 games.
And on another Phoenix note, former Sun’s favorite Larry Nance is tied with Randy Smith for the best all-time shooting percentage at .714.
On a final Suns note, it was at the 1976 game in Philadelphia that Jerry Colangelo engineered the trade that brought Garfield Heard to Phoenix and propelled the team from the depths of their division all the way to the NBA Finals and that unforgettable Game Five in Boston.
So okay. So these weren’t ALL exactly memories. Some of the stuff I admit I had to look up.
But one thing I DO remember is that, from a strictly basketball viewpoint All Star games used to be more fun. Of course this was probably because way back when that’s all there was to an All Star Game was basketball, basketball, and more basketball. Basketball people, basketball talk, basketball trades. It was all hoop and nothing but the hoop.
Owners, players, coaches, general managers, and writers (We weren’t called media back then, or even press. Just writers) all stayed in the same hotel and mingled at the same functions.
Of curse, I must admit that only basketball people watched the game. Now it’s an MTV-type extravaganza which draws as much coverage from Entertainment Weekly as ESPN. And while basketball talk is not strictly prohibited it’s hard to get a hoop word in edgewise amidst all the corporate sponsors and glitterati.
I’m not saying this is all bad. Heck, maybe it’s even good. I’m just saying All Star games are not as much fun as it used to be for the basketball junkie.
That’s all I’m saying.