The All-Star break is the ideal time look back in the past and wonder: What was the best NBA All-Star game of all time? With the plethora of athletes and legends that have performed, that’s not an easy question to answer.
Also, what are the criteria? Are we talking about the most entertaining NBA All-Star Game? Are we talking about the highest-scoring affair? Or maybe we want to discuss the deeper meaning and impact that any of those performances had in basketball history.
Whatever’s the case, we’re fortunate to have plenty of games to choose from. The All-Star Game is often a reminder of why the NBA is, indeed, where amazing happens. And yes, even to this day, we can still be surprised.
Best NBA All-Star game
It was a nearly impossible task but we got there in the end. In the following paragraphs, we’re going to let you know about some of the top NBA All-Star moments, digging deep into the top 10 best NBA All-Star games of all time. Hopefully, this year’s edition will join this list as well.
This may not be the owners’ favorite game but it sure made a huge impact for years to come. The players had agreed to sit out the game and go on strike unless franchise owners agreed to acknowledge the players’ union. This was supposed to be the first All-Star Game to be televised and not having it would’ve had massive financial implications for the NBA.
The league didn’t have a national TV contract at the time and they couldn’t afford this embarrassment. Eventually, and despite threats of banning players from basketball, players and owners reached an agreement. Then, Oscar Robertson stole the show with 26 points, 14 rebounds, and eight dimes to lead the East to a 111-107 win.
NBA history is often divided into two: The pre-merger era and the modern era. As such, the 1977 NBA All-Star Game was iconic, as it was the first game that featured stars from the defunct ABA, such as Julius Erving, Larry Kenon, Dan Issel, George Gervin, David Thompson, and George McGinnis. It was also the first time that the game was on primetime television on Sunday night.
ABA players made sure to make a statement in his first participation, getting 8 spots and helping the Western Conference record a 125-124 win. Unsurprisingly, Julius Erving won MVP honors with a 30-point, 12-rebound, 3-assist performance. Buffalo Braves star Bob McAdoo also had a 30-piece.
The 1972 NBA All-Star Game had one of the all-time top NBA All-Star moments, starred by the logo himself. Jerry West, who made a living out of thriving in the clutch and dominating when it mattered the most, took over with the game on the line.
Mr. Clutch— as he was known before eventually becoming the league’s logo— nailed a 20-foot pull-up buzzer-beater to lead the Western Conference to a 112-110 win. Notably, he hit that shot over Walt Frazier of the New York Knicks, the very same player he went against next year to win his first and only NBA championship. West earned All-Star MVP honors despite scoring just 13 points.
The NBA had set its mind on making the 1997 game the greatest NBA All-Star Game of all time, and even though it was a tough task, they nearly pulled it off. It was the 50th-anniversary season and were set to unveil the 50 greatest players of all time. 47 of those 50 were in attendance, with Pete Maravich (passed away), Jerry West (surgery), and Shaquille O’Neal (illness) as the only three players not in attendance.
Besides an electric half-time show, this was perhaps top-3 when it comes to the most entertaining NBA All-Star Game. Michael Jordan, of all people, recorded the first triple-double in All-Star Game history and led the Eastern Conference to a 132-120 win. He finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists.
2003 is a special year in the NBA. It gave us one of the greatest Drafts of all time with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade. But it also gave us one of the top NBA All-Star moments: Michael Jordan’s farewell.
Jordan wanted to take MVP honors that year and nearly pulled it off, hitting a fadeaway with just five seconds left to win the game for the East. Then, some up-and-coming guy called Kobe Bryant showed his competitive spirit by trying to beat the GOAT. Kobe attempted a three for the win, was fouled and took the game to overtime. Eventually, Kevin Garnett‘s 37 points led the West to a win and Jordan said goodbye after an emotional halftime tribute.
If we talk about emotional games, then the 1992 NBA All-Star Game should be at the top of that list. Magic Johnson was back on the court just months after announcing his retirement from the NBA due to being HIV positive. And even though there were some doubts and even protests, the Lakers legend suited up and played.
Magic, who was no longer in the prime of his career, had a throwback performance. He pulled the strings of the offense and led the West to a 153-113 win with 25 points. Then, at the buzzer, both Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas embraced an emotional Magic, sending one of the strongest messages in support of HIV and AIDS patients at the time.
The 1968 edition might awell have been the most entertaining NBA All-Star Game ever. Or at least, that’s what one could think judging by the plethora of future Hall of Famers it featured. Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, Lenny Wilkens, Willis Reed, John Havlicek, Sam Jones, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, and Dave Bing took the hardwood by storm that night.
Wilt Chamberlain was back in the Eastern Conference after years of face-offs with Bill Russell, with the East always ending up on top. That year, however, it was John Havlicek, not Chamberlain, who stole all the headlines with his offensive performance; shining with 26 points at Madison Square Garden.
Not many duos have been as iconic and dominant as Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. But their different personalities, egos, and a failed title run in 2004 eventually put an end to their dynasty. For years, there was a feud between the two legendary hoopers. That, until they finally buried the hatchet in the 2009 NBA All-Star Game.
Shaq and Kobe gave the fans a bit of a throwback performance and one of the best NBA All-Star games. Bryant scored 27 points with four steals and Shaq dominated off the bench with 17 points, five boards, and three assists in just 11 minutes. The West won 146-119 and the Lakers’ legendary duo shared MVP honors.
Some people claim that the 2020 edition was the greatest NBA All-Star game of all time and it would be hard to argue. It was quite emotional as it happened on the heels of Kobe Bryant’s tragic passing and the league was poised to make a tribute to the late legend.
Besides naming the All-Star MVP award in honor of Kobe, the NBA paid tribute to the Black Mamba’s competitive spirit by twisting the rules a little. The game clock was off in the fourth quarter and the team that was leading after three quarters only needed to score 24 more points to win. That motivated the other team to play defense like we hadn’t seen in decades in the All-Star Game.
And last but not least, we have the legendary 1988 NBA All-Star Game. This was one of those moments when Michael Jordan completely took over and proved the world that he was not only the best player on Earth, but also the best to ever lace them up.
Jordan was leading the league in points per game (35), steals (3.2), and minutes (40.4). He ran away with MVP and Defensive Player of the Year honors.
On top of that, Jordan had one of the best Slam Dunk Contest performances of all time one night before leading the East to a win. He scored 40 points, grabbed eight boards, handed out three assists, and had four steals and four blocks, earning All-Star Game MVP honors to cap off one of the greatest seasons in major sports history. And that was only the beginning.