The Step Back: All-Star State

Take a look through the ‘This Date in the NBA’ archive and you’ll find no end of memorable moments from the league’s remarkable past. In this series, Sean Guest revisits key events from NBA history, evaluating their impact on the players and teams involved, as well as the league and the sport more broadly.

Remember 2010? It was the year that Apple launched the iPad; Kanye West released My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy; and Christopher Nolan’s Inception hit cinemas.

At the time, the NBA’s regular season headlines were dominated by the impending free agency of LeBron James, the impressive rookie campaigns of the Milwaukee Bucks’ Brandon Jennings and the Sacramento Kings’ Tyreke Evans, plus, a battle for Western Conference supremacy that would see eight teams go on to win 50+ games, with just seven wins separating seeds one through eight come the end of the campaign.

It was also the year that the NBA All-Star Game went interstellar. And, on this day in 2010, Dirk Nowitzki welcomed a staggering 108,713 fans – the largest crowd ever to watch a basketball game – to Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, for the 59th annual East-West hoedown.

To no one’s great surprise, the game’s brightest stars, James and Kobe Bryant, topped the fan vote and were set to lead their respective conferences into battle when Bryant sustained an ankle injury. Thankfully, it was only a mild one and while he missed the All-Star game itself, he did participate in other activities over the weekend, before returning to action shortly after the break. His season would end on a far happier note too, as despite battling other injuries to his knee and right index finger, he went on to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to a second straight title that year, claiming what would turn out to be his fifth and final ring in the process.

James and Bryant were followed closely on the ballot by Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony (proof if any were needed of just how much the game has changed in the past decade). Meanwhile, the number of votes garnered by Allen Iverson and Tracy McGrady, who had made just 21 regular season appearances between them to that point, caused many to question the effectiveness of a selection process, influenced as much by popularity as it was by regular season performance.

Thankfully, the game itself transcended the controversy, as the two teams put on a show beneath the giant video screens at Cowboys Stadium.

Defense aside, it had a little bit of everything and even went down to the wire, as what turned out to be a surprisingly close-fought battle saw the Eastern Conference carry a 118-109 lead into the final quarter, before a late surge from the West left the score tied at 137 with just over a minute left on the clock.

In dramatic fashion, Dwyane Wade made two free throws to put the East back in front, before hometown hero Nowitzki made a pair of his own to level the score again. Next, it was Chris Bosh’s turn to go to the line. He made both but left a full five seconds on the clock, giving the West one last chance to secure the win. They succeeded in inbounding the ball to Anthony, who, in the face of good defense from Wade, missed the go-ahead three pointer, handing the East a 141-139 victory.

It was fitting that Wade made the game-winning play, as on the night he was the star that shone brightest. His 28-point, six-assist, 11-rebound, five-steal statline was good enough for MVP honours. And, his sublime off-the-backboard dunk, which left Steve Nash flat on the hardwood, was easily the most spectacular play in a game brimming over with spectacular plays.

It still meant something too (just look at the players’ reactions at the final buzzer) and by playing the game in that arena, in front of that crowd, the NBA had somehow succeeded in creating the impression that it still had a trick or two up its sleeve for its showpiece event.

The only thing missing was a fit and healthy Kobe Bryant. But his best was yet to come on this particular stage, as we’ll see next time out…