NBA ALL-STAR GAME: A BRIEF HISTORY
In a local bar, two men exchange hushed asides; one attempting to keep the matter at hand under wraps, the other following his lead, feigning intrigue as the unfamiliar touch of a wire lightly taps his skin upon each exhale. As the two men leave the bar, one possesses the evidence that would kick-start the widest and most infamous betting scandal in basketball history.
The City College of New York, or CCNY, point-shaving scandal came to light when center for Manhattan College's basketball team, Junius Kellogg refused a $1000 bribe to shave points in an upcoming game. After reporting this interaction to his coach, Ken Norton, Kellogg was told to acquire evidence via a wire that was hidden in his shirt the next time he was approached. This evidence would lead to the revelation of a major scandal, beginning with the arrest of seven men in 1951, who were charged with conspiring to fix games.
The scandal consisted of 32 players from seven different colleges admitting to taking bribes to fix 86 games in 17 states and was the biggest scandal in the history of basketball. During this time, all eyes were on the NCAA and college basketball: an undeniable - and unavoidable - issue for publicity director of the NBA, Haskell Cohen.
In a meeting with the NBA President, Maurice Podoloff and owner of the Boston Celtics, Walter A. Brown, Cohen suggested the idea behind what we now know to be the NBA All-Star Game. The event would be an exhibition game that featured the league's best players à la the Major League Baseball's All-Star Game and Cohen hoped, would bring public attention back to the NBA. Though many were reluctant to execute Cohen's idea, including the NBA President, Walter A. Brown was enthusiastic.
The first All-Star Game was played in March of 1951 and was such a success that the attendance for the game was higher than the average of that entire season. From that point on, the game would become an annual fan-favorite.
The game is surely a fan-favorite because the best players in the league play against each other, making for an undeniably exciting match, but the fan participation factor likely also has something to do with its popularity. The starting five players (three frontcourt players and two guards) from the Eastern and Western conferences that make up the league, were determined solely by fan vote up until 2017 when the NBA changed the process to allow fan votes to count for half of the final decision, while player and media votes make up the other half. Along with the new voting system came a new game format in which two captains draft their team from the pool of players determined by votes and are no longer required to take into account the players' conference affiliation. The remaining players, or reserves, are selected by NBA coaches; however, the coaches cannot select players from their own team.
The game operates under regular NBA rules, though it typically exceeds the average number of points earned in a regular game. Although the event is an exhibition game and therefore, doesn't count toward rankings in the season, the competitive nature of the sport prevails with the incentive of playing for charity. Donations are used to support local efforts, with the winning team choosing which charity will receive donations. Players also use the playful and liberating nature of the All-Star Game to make bold moves, often attempting slam dunks and alley-oops.
In the 2018 Game, star players LeBron James and Stephen Curry became the first players to participate in the new game format and choose their own teams from the voted pool of players. On February 17, 2019, we'll see the elected All-Star captains lead teams of the league's best players into the 68th edition of the widely acclaimed NBA All-Star Game.