A Brief History of the NBA All-Star Game

By Fox Doucette
Feb. 17, 2017

by P.D. Parr

The Game

In 1951, an NBA publicist named Haskell Cohen could tell the league was in peril. A point-shaving scandal in college basketball had created vapors of corruption throughout the sport. Fortunately, Cohen had an idea to create a bit of positive energy in the sport—an All-Star Game. At first, just about every owner thought it was a bad idea. The costs! What’s in it for me? I’m broke…

But then-Boston Celtics owner Walter Brown took Cohen’s idea and decided to fund the entire event, something his concerned better half probably thought was financial suicide: “Things were going so badly that even my wife wanted me to get out of the business. But I thought the All-Star Game would be a good thing.”

According to the NBA Encyclopedia, even commissioner Maurice Podoloff assumed the game would be an embarrassment. But, perhaps thanks in large part to a home-court Boston trinity—the game was played at the Boston Garden, backed by the Boston owner and the star player was Boston’s Ed Macauley—the game was good enough to continue as a recurring event.

Here are a few highlights. Check out those two-handed push shots. Good times…

The Contests

The ABA had run the actual first slam dunk contest years before the NBA incorporated it into the fun in 1984. According to then-Denver Nuggets president Carl Scheer, the ABA wanted to stick it to the NBA somehow, since the All-Star Game was in Denver that year. As Scheer put it in a Bleacher Report Oral History, “We were sitting around a room one day, in Virginia I think, asking how we can best represent what we thought were better players than they had in the NBA. But we didn’t have the markets or the television contract or ownership stability. ...The All-Star Game was scheduled to be played in Denver (that year). We just finally concluded that we had to do something unique.” The first and only dunk contest was the ABA’s last year of existence, 1976, when David Thompson put down one of the first 360 dunks on record. It was also when Dr. J jumped from the foul line, causing at least a dozen spectators to spontaneously combust:

In 1984, NBA promotional director Rick Welts re-mentioned the event again to Scheer when the All-Star Game returned to Denver. Welts was, of course, a fan of basketball, but he also wanted to get more companies to invest in the NBA. Welts got a hold of the 1976 Slam Dunk Contest memories, and that was that:

In 1986, the three-point contest was introduced, and as you’ll see from the highlights below, players weren’t yet sure how to go about launching 20 shots in 60 seconds.

Enjoy the weekend, and keep in mind that the All-Star Game all but saved the NBA in its infancy. As for me, I always pay close attention to the 3-point Shootout. One of these days before I kick the bucket, I’d love to buy a bunch of basketballs, a few racks, and just let ‘em fly to see how difficult it actually is.

(Ed.: If Ernie Johnson can do it, we all can:)