SALT LAKE CITY — At the time it was the biggest sporting event to come to Utah since the Final Four was played on the University of Utah campus. Or perhaps the 1993 NBA All-Star Game was the biggest thing ever as nearly 1,000 media folks from all over the world descended on the Beehive State — twice as many as for the Final Four — to cover the best players in the world in the sport of basketball.
Fifteen of the 24 players in that All-Star Game became Basketball Hall of Fame players. Nine of the 12 members of the 1992 Olympic “Dream Team” were present for the game (only Christian Laettner and retired Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were not there).
By 1993, All-Star Weekend had evolved into the three-day extravaganza it is today with a slam-dunk contest, a 3-point shooting contest, as well as a Legends Game, featuring many stars of yesteryear, along with off-the-court activities such as the first-ever NBA Jam Session with music stars at the Salt Palace.
The weekend was capped off by the Sunday game, 25 years ago today, which couldn’t have gone any better as the home team (West) won in overtime and local stars John Stockton and Karl Malone were named co-MVPs.
Bid goes to Utah
Only 12 years after the Utah Jazz had moved to Salt Lake from New Orleans, the franchise made a bid to host the All-Star Game. The impetus was the building of the new arena, called the Delta Center at the time, and on Dec. 9, 1991, the NBA made it official.
"We're very pleased to be bringing the 1993 NBA All-Star Weekend to Salt Lake City, where basketball fans have been extremely enthusiastic and supportive for the Jazz over the years," NBA Commissioner David Stern said at the time. "With a great new arena, the Delta Center, the showcase events, the weekend should be one of our best ever."
Jazz owner Larry Miller was thrilled about being selected and said, "On behalf of the Jazz organization, the city of Salt Lake and the state of Utah, we welcome the opportunity to extending a special kind of hospitality to the NBA family and the world's greatest athletes in 1993.”
Michael prefers golf
Players began arriving Friday, Feb. 19, and were interviewed by the media in a hotel ballroom in advance of the big game. The likes of Charles Barkley, Isiah Thomas, Shaquille O’Neal and David Robinson were subjects of features in the local papers.
One notable exception was Michael Jordan, the No. 1 player in the league at the time. Jordan caused a stir among the locals when he said he preferred to have the All-Star Game in warmer surroundings so he could pursue his passion for golfing during the midseason break. He also said the best thing about Salt Lake was that it was a “hop, skip and a jump from Las Vegas.”
Jordan insisted he wasn’t disparaging Utah, simply that he just wanted to get some golf in during the break. Still that didn’t keep Jazz fans from heartily booing him in an early February game at the Delta Center and producing signs that said things like “Take a Hike, Mike.”
Jordan arrived on Saturday evening, in time for the game on Sunday after playing golf for a couple of days in the sun of Las Vegas.
Dunks, 3-pointers and legends
Saturday of All-Star weekend was filled with an array of activities that was spoiled only by a blizzard that flew in that afternoon.
The dunk competition featured seven players, including Utah forward David Benoit and current TNT analyst Kenny Smith, but none of the big names such as Jordan or Dominique Wilkins. One writer called it the “Slam-Dud” competition after favorite Shawn Kemp withdrew at the last minute and defending champion Cedric Ceballos missed his first attempt.
The eventual winner was Miami’s Harold Miner, aka Baby Jordan, whose final left-handed tomahawk after a 360-degree turn on his way to the basket was the best of the competition. It was hardly special and would have easily been beaten by Donovan Mitchell’s dunks this year.
The Long Distance Shootout (3-point shooting contest) featured eight players, including three-time defending champion Craig Hodges, who wasn’t even in the league at the time, as well as Reggie Miller and Terry Porter.
Hodges, shooting while wearing a generic NBA jersey, couldn’t make it past the semifinals as Cleveland’s Mark Price and Portland’s Porter advanced to the finals.
Price, who had won the first two rounds with 19 and 21 points, respectively, put 18 on the board in the finals. Porter went second and looked well on his way to winning, getting to 17 points with five balls still remaining. However, he didn’t make another shot and Price took home the trophy.
The Legends Game featured the likes of George Gervin, Calvin Murphy, Dave Cowens and Connie Hawkins as well as local favorites Zelmo Beaty, Ron Boone and Hot Rod Hundley. Before the game, coach Frank Layden had told the players, “have fun” and “don’t get injured.” No one did get hurt, but it turned out to be the last Legends Game, which was replaced by the Rookie Game in 1994.
Also, Utah Jazz guard Jeff Malone won the “Baby Ruth Shooting Stars Showdown,” a modified game of H-O-R-S-E, over Clyde Drexler and Tim Hardaway.
Even back in 1993, the All-Star Game wasn’t totally serious, but much more than recent years such as last year’s mockery when nearly 400 points were scored as players didn’t even pretend to play any defense.
"I just have fun,” Charles Barkley said before the game. “Oh, I might be serious the last couple of minutes, if it's close. If not, I'm on spring break."
As a crowd of 19,459 watched, Stockton had five assists in the first four minutes alone as well as a 3-pointer as the West took a 27-26 lead after one quarter. The West increased the lead to five at halftime, but went into the final period up just 86-84.
That’s when things started to get more serious. The West led by as many as 10 and was up 109-104 with 4½ minutes left when Jordan got busy and scored 10 of his game-high 30 points. The game went into overtime after Patrick Ewing’s basket tied it at 119-119.
In the overtime, Stockton hit a 3-pointer and a 20-footer to stake the West to a 131-125 lead and the West held on for a 135-132 victory.
Malone finished with 28 points on 11-of-17 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Stockton finished with 15 assists, more than twice as many as any other player, to go with nine points. It was fitting when the two longtime teammates were named as co-MVPs.
Jordan would have probably won MVP honors had the East won, but a new ballot among a panel of 11 media members was taken after overtime. According to an NBA spokesman, the shared MVP honor was legit, as four voted for Malone, four for Stockton and the other three split their ballots.
“These guys are good. They would have won the MVP even if the game wasn’t played here,” said West coach Paul Westphal.
"I guess if you were writing a storybook, this is just about how you'd write it," said Malone.
Although NBA officials had nothing but high praise for how well Salt Lake pulled off the All-Star Weekend and said they’d be happy to come back soon, there hasn’t been a peep about the All-Star Game returning here over the past 2½ decades.
Until last month.
That’s when news came out that the Jazz were planning to submit a proposal to host the 2022 or 2023 All-Star Game, which would be the 30th anniversary of the 1993 game.
The Jazz just completed a $125 million renovation of Vivint Arena and are ready to host another one, according to Jazz President Steve Starks.
“We feel like we’re in a great position to be able to be awarded that All-Star Game,” Starks said of the 2023 game. “There’s a story to tell about Salt Lake and the Jazz and what we have to offer that will be unique.”
The next three All-Star games will be at Charlotte (2019), Chicago (2020) and Indianapolis (2021) and a two-year bidding process for the next two years is upcoming.
But if things go right, we may be seeing another All-Star Game back in town four or five years from now.