Why you should care
The 2014 NBA All-Star game lineup comes out today — so it’s time to look back at some greats and ahead to this year’s possible roster.
Hard to believe but the midway point of the 2013-14 NBA season is fast approaching — and along with it our cherished tradition of identifying All-Stars.
Each year’s crop features the association’s perennial “No-Doubt-About-It” ballers: See Chris Paul, LeBron James and young guns like Stephen Curry and Paul George for the 2014 edition. And then there are the veterans who toil, passed over season upon season, until they finally get their moment in the sun — the chance to join the upper echelons of NBA stardom. It would be too easy to label them one-hit wonders: At OZY we call them stars worth saluting.
Lest your memory fail you, here is a starting lineup of unique All-Stars — players who reached that pinnacle once and somehow couldn’t make their way back to that epic court.
1. “I was a one-man band.”
Then: Shareef “Reef” Abdur-Rahim (Forward), 2001-02 All-Star. “Reef” – 6’9” and 225 pounds of brain and brawn — was the quintessential star on a team going nowhere. Fresh off his freshman year at Cal (where his 3.5 GPA might have been more impressive than his All-PAC 10 accolades), the rangy Abdur-Rahim was drafted third overall by the Vancouver Grizzlies. With a combination of finesse, footwork and fearlessness, he made a living in the paint, spinning to the basket more than was reasonable. But it wasn’t until Shareef, the second of seven siblings, returned to his native Atlanta Hawks in 2001-02 that he broke through to All-Star status, notching a 50-point game against Detroit en route to a season in which he averaged a career-high 21 points a game. This one-time All-Star now makes his home in the front office of the Sacramento Kings.
New-and-improved 2014 Edition: LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland Trailblazers)
2. “White men can jump.”
Then: Tom “Googs” Gugliotta (Forward), 1996-97 All-Star. From the ”big white guys who were more skilled than they got credit for” department, we present Tom Gugliotta. Refusing to be limited, like Woody Harrelson’s archetype in White Men Can’t Jump, Gugliotta did his fair share of work with two feet in the air, even if he was the understated sidekick to high school phenom Kevin Garnett (playing the role of Wesley Snipes). An Italian by way of New York, and the last North Carolina State grad to be anointed an All-Star, Googs was a deceptively slick passer in traffic and a nifty finisher around the cup. In his 1997 All-Star campaign with the Minnesota Timberwolves, he averaged over 20 points, nearly 9 boards and more than 4 assists a game. Gugliotta’s most romantic claim to fame, however, may be his wedding-band tattoo — a tribute to his wife, who once saved his life after he suffered a medication-induced seizure.
New-and-improved 2014 Edition: Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves)
3. “Michael Jordan was surrounded by All-Stars.”
Then: Horace “The General” Grant (Forward), 1993-94 All-Star. 1994 was a coming-out party of sorts for Michael Jordan’s henchmen. After helping His Airness to his first 3-peat in 1993, Horace “the General” Grant, along with teammates Scottie Pippen and B.J. Armstrong, unexpectedly took center stage after Jordan’s retirement. Grant, with his trademark goggles and automatic free-throw line jumper, got dealt a better hand than his twin brother, Harvey, who he grew up sparring with and who also played in the NBA. (And, as it happens, Harvey’s son Jerai followed in Uncle Horace’s footsteps at Clemson University.) Alas, Grant’s 15-point, 11-rebound All-Star season in 1993-94 was as high as he would climb up the Sears Tower. He returned to the Finals with Orlando in 1995 in a losing effort, and managed to tack on another title with the Lakers in 2001, but nothing approached the individual excellence of that special season.
New-and-improved 2014 Edition: David West (Indiana Pacers)
4. “I’m such a famous coach, they forgot I was an All-Star player.”
Then: Glenn “Doc” Rivers (Guard), 1987-88 All-Star. There are those who wonder if Doc Rivers’ “I’ve got an animal in my throat” voice was as much a hallmark of his playing days as it has been during his broadcast and coaching tenure. You’d have to ask around Proviso East High School in Chicago, where Rivers was a McDonald’s All-American — or at Marquette University, where his assistant coach, the late Rick Majerus, first nicknamed him “Doc” for wearing a Dr. J T-shirt — or check in with Dominque Wilkins in Atlanta who scored many of the 3,866 baskets that Rivers assisted on as the Hawks all-time leader. The lean and long-legged Rivers had a stride that allowed him to transform a routine rebound into a fast-break bucket with aplomb. His 9.3 assists to just 2.6 turnovers earned him All-Star recognition in 1988; he returned to the All-Star game twice more, in 2008 and 2011 — as a coach.4. “I’m such a famous coach, they forgot I was an All-Star player.”
New-and-improved 2014 Edition: John Wall (Washington Wizards)
5. “They programmed me to never miss a shot in NBA Jam.”
Then: Jeff “Horny” Hornacek (Guard), 1991-92 All-Star. It comes down to the numbers: 67 straight made free throws, 8 consecutive triples in a game, a then NBA-record. Over his career, he could freaking make shots: 50 percent from the field and 88 percent from the free-throw line. Hornacek was a shooter’s shooter — the superhero in his class. And to think he wouldn’t have played real minutes at Lyons Township High School in La Grange, Ill., were it not for a teammate’s car accident, which opened up a spot. The Iowa State walk on turned legend had a silky jumper and knew how to get to his spots on the court. From Phoenix, where he earned his one All-Star berth in 1992, to Philly and finally to Utah, battling his hometown Bulls, Hornacek excelled as the 2-Guard. And he’s come full circle, coaching a young and resurgent Suns squad in 2014.
New-and-improved 2014 Edition: Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors)
When the blaze of glory subsides, these guys got one shot at the history books. But one is more than most people get — and one great idea can be all it takes. Just ask the Baha Men. Or Harper Lee. So who are we, after all, to thumb our noses? We wish we were ballers.