Friday Fives: Sports’ Best All-Star Moments

All-Star Games are a difficult bunch to predict. As a usually midseason exhibition contest that has no impact on standings, players obviously treat them in a much more cavalier fashion, preferring to goof off and have fun, especially in this age of huge money where one wrong move at any time can end a lucrative career. This results in some weird moments, with some being undeniably awesome (see yesterday’s TBT) and some being undeniably awful (see every single Pro Bowl). Here are our favorite moments in All-Star history.




5. Sean Taylor destroys a punter:  The Pro Bowl is not only the worst all-star game in pro sports, it may be the worst sporting event in the world (men’s sports, of course). For one thing, nobody wants to play in it: the players from the best teams don’t compete (i.e. those playing in the following week’s Super Bowl), anybody with even a hint of an injury opts out, and plenty of guys just bail because they don’t want to go. Those who do play don’t try at all, because who wants to pull a hammy in a game that happens after the season? So you have a bunch of second and third choices jogging around at half-speed busting out trick plays, which are entertaining for like the first five minutes, then get old really fast. Not to mention those hideous uniform/helmet combos are enough to drive away even diehards. Enter Sean Taylor. The late, great Redskins safety – one of the hardest hitters of the 21st century – was playing in the 2006 Pro Bowl when Buffalo punter Brian Moorman decided to try to run for a first down instead. Gee whiz, have you ever heard of such a thing? Ha ha! That wacky punter! Yeah, Taylor wasn’t having any of that shit either, and absolutely annihilated Moorman as he snuck up the sideline. Seriously, there are few hits that hard in playoff games, never mind in a game that’s basically two-hand touch. To his credit, Moorman hopped right up to congratulate Taylor and never cried about it being against the unwritten rules, unlike someone further down this list. Taylor was taken from us far too early, but we’ll always have the memory of when he made the Pro Bowl enjoyable for 30 seconds. 5. The 1992 NBA All-Star Game:  This game was monumental for a multitude of reasons. Magic Johnson had retired prior to the season because of his HIV diagnosis. Via a special exception from the NBA, the game was supposed to serve as his last. The game itself was filled with amazing moments, including Magic going one-on-one with the likes of MJ and Isiah Thomas. Magic would eventually seal the deal with a late three-pointer and won MVP honors to boot. Magic had swag throughout his career and never was it more present than on this night. 5. Jason Williams’ off-the-elbow:  This put White Chocolate on the map. In the 2000 Rookie Game, Williams came down the middle of the floor on a fast break with teammates on both sides and only Lamar Odom in his way. He faked an around-the-back pass to Dirk Nowitzki and as the ball was behind his back he hit it with his opposite elbow, landing the ball in the hands of one Raef Lafrentz in stride. Now looking back on it, the ball should have gone to Dirk because Dirk > Raef is as obvious as e=MC2. Nevertheless this play is amazing and is still one I would like to execute just once in my life. But it’s been 13 years and I still can’t do it so I think it’s time to move on.
4. Reggie Jackson blows out the lights:  The 1971 All-Star Game was far inferior to the previous year’s, with one towering exception. With his American League down by three in the third inning, a young Reggie Jackson stepped up to the plate, brimming with raw power. He promptly jacked a pitch over the right field roof of Tiger Stadium for a two-run bomb. The home run kickstarted an AL rally, but it was the moonshot itself that got attention: it crushed a transformer that was 100 feet above the playing field for an estimated distance of 530 feet. Jackson was well-known for his monster shots but this may have been one of his longest. If the game hadn’t taken place during the day, who knows what would have happened to the field’s lights. 4. Shaq & the Jabbawockeez:  First time I tried to spell Jabbawockeez I was way off, not even close. But to the point of the #4 slot, Shaq is just the anti-Dwight. Everything Dwight wishes he could be is what Shaq was/is. One of the best entertainers of all time, Shaq probably sacrificed a few rings for the sake of making raps, producing indie flicks, and of course the occasional group dance. As a basketball history nerd who always wants to know where a player ranks historically, it’s a bit frustrating that he didn’t achieve at his highest level – which may have been astronomical, considering he won four championships with minimum effort towards the sport. But the kid inside me who grew up wanting monster dunk after monster dunk loves the fact that Shaq traded a little bit of winning for the entertainment of millions. By the way, this clip from the intros at the game may have been the last good highlight he ever had. Enjoy. 4. Kobe’s first game:  When you look back at this clip it’s pretty easy to see why Kobe turned out to be one of the best players of all time. As a 19-year-old pro he proved he belonged on one of the game’s biggest stages. Playing at MSG against an unconscious Jordan, Kobe took the challenge of guarding the GOAT, and although MJ completely dominated him, especially in the mid-post, this clip shows why a young Kobe would eventually transform into the Black Mamba. He loved the fact that he was guarding Jordan despite the very clear “No Defense Allowed” signs hanging up in every ASG venue. And while he was playing D you know Kobe was learning the subtleties of MJ’s post game from the defender’s perspective because he was always an astute student. For anyone who has seen Kobe play over the years, you know that his mid-post game and flawless footwork are the keys to his deadly arsenal. And there’s a reason he is so good at it: he copied Jordan. And that is not a knock on Kobe. He is the closest thing to MJ we may ever see. Get well soon.
3. The entire 1988 NBA All-Star Weekend:  This game alone could have easily made the list, but it’s the entire weekend that pushes it over the top. First, you had the third 3-Point Contest, the first two of which Larry Bird had won handily. Prior to this year’s, Bird walked into the locker room and asked, “Who’s finishing second?” The notoriously cocky Bird made good on his boast in classic fashion: needing to sink his last shot for the win, he heaved up the money ball and as soon as it left his hands, turned to the crowd with his finger raised. The ball hit home behind him. Game, blouses. Then MJ and Dominique Wilkins staged the greatest Dunk Contest in history, throwing down windmills, off-the-glass jams, under-the-rim reverses, and Mike’s legendary free throw dunk. Jordan took it home (amid some controversy), but the competition between the two didn’t stop there. In the All-Star Game itself, overflowing with Hall of Famers, ‘Nique poured in an astounding 29 points…and was completely dominated by MJ. Check out this stat line: 40 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks, 4 steals. I know it’s crazy, the best players in the Game also competed in the Dunk Contest! Who woulda thunk it! 3. The Big Unit vs. Kruk:  This is what baseball and the All-Star Game are all about. Baseball is such a relaxed sport and when you can visibly notice the players having fun, it makes the watching experience that much more entertaining. Clearly Kruky and his insane rattail were a little shook going up against 100 mph stinky cheese from the Big Unit. Maybe the easiest K the Unit ever had in his career. One pitch over the fat man’s head, three pitches in the righty batter’s box, and it sounds like we have ourselves a John Kruk All-Star Game blooper for the ages. Baseball needs to get back to its roots and needs to find new energy and charisma from its players. Let’s hope this next generation has that. 3. MJ’s last game:  This is without watching the clip: Jordan was a 40-year-old superstar playing well past his prime, but he could still be the best player on the floor at any given moment. There really was no chance that that Wizards team was going anywhere so his motivation was never too high, but when he did find himself with MJ-blood flowing through his veins it was still something special to behold. So when Jordan laced up his legendary shoes for his final All-Star Game, you knew you were about to get a show. The best part about this game was that Jordan was chosen as a reserve, but Vince Carter gave up his starting spot for the GOAT because that’s just what you do. (BTW, I doubt anyone would give Kobe that honor). Jordan started slow, missing his first seven shots, but finished with 20 points (his average for the season at age 43), and hit a classic baseline fadeaway that won the game. Oh wait, Jermaine O’Neal committed the silliest foul ever, dampening what should have been the perfect bookend to the most illustrious career in NBA history.
2. Pete Rose yokes up a catcher for the walkoff win:  The 1970 All-Star Game was an all-time classic. It featured twenty future Hall of Famers, including five of the top 20 home run hitters in history, and not even including  the career hits leader himself (who absolutely should be in Cooperstown, but that’s another column). After the likes of Jim Palmer and Tom Seaver helped their teams spin five shutout innings, the American League struck first, and took a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth with the immortal Catfish Hunter coming on to save the game. The NL scratched back to send the game into extras, and in the bottom of the twelfth Pete Rose stood on second base. A bloop single into center field might not have scored most other players, especially in a meaningless contest (this was before Bud Selig stepped in and made everybody hate him), but this is Charlie Hustle we’re talking about. As the throw reached home, Rose steamrolled catcher Ray Fosse, who was obstructing the plate, and the National League walked off with the win. Fosse was still bitching about the play as late as last year. Okay, I get that you got a separated shoulder that derailed your career after your first full season. But again, this is Pete Rose we’re talking about! Don’t block the plate without the ball! It’s part of the game! Another unfortunate accident, but another gem in the storied career of Rose. 2. The Tie:  The 2002 MLB All-Star Game is more memorable for the mark it left rather than anything significant that happened that evening. Sure, the game ended in a tie when both teams ran out of pitchers after the 11th inning. It was an anomaly that without a doubt would draw headlines the next day. But that’s all it had to be. Baseball history is chock full of oddities that only nerds like Olney and Kurkjian could ever remember. Make this another footnote and move on. That’s all Bud had to do. Instead, he did one of the stupidest things imaginable: je made it count. Winning league gets home field advantage in the World Series. So technically a team from the AL could finish with a record 15 games better than their NL opponent in the World Series and have to lose home field advantage because some scrub from the Astros bullpen couldn’t hold a lead in an exhibition game that he was only playing in because rules mandate a player from each team must be chosen. Wait, what am I saying? That seems totally fair. Smooth move Bud. Change it back ya goober. 2. Torii Hunter robs Barry Bonds:  There was a time before the Mitchell Report when fans didn’t care about steroids. We were just happy to see baseball players with oversized heads and undersized testicles smashing homers at a Crush Davis-like rate. And no one had a bigger head or smaller testicles than Barry Bonds. He took on the aura of a superhero where absolutely no one wanted to pitch to him and even fewer people wanted to talk to him. He was absolutely terrifying. So when he fisted this dinger out to centerfield in the 2002 All-Star Game, everyone expected the ball to land outside the playing boundaries. BUT NOOO! Torii Hunter came out of absolutely nowhere to do what Torii Hunter did better than anyone except maybe Jim Edmonds. He robbed Bonds of the home run, ultimately risking his life in the process. When Bonds ran onto the field and scooped up Hunter like most adults pick up a finicky midget, you know Torii was just hoping Barry was lucid and not on one of his infamous ‘roid rages. Luckily for everyone involved Barry remembered where he was as Torii was on his shoulder and playfully placed him back on the ground. Here’s a clip of Torii Hunter doing this a lot.
1. Gordie Howe’s homecoming:  The NHL All-Star Game is kind of goofy and has gone through a ton of facelifts, from the defending Stanley Cup champs vs. a team of all-stars (which actually sounds pretty awesome) to North America vs. The World (again, AWESOME) to its current form of a “fantasy draft” (kind of cool in theory, but actually pretty lame). But in 1980 none of this mattered. Nine years after his retirement from the NHL, Gordie Howe was returning home. Howe had spent several successful years in the upstart World Hockey Association following his retirement, but when the WHA folded in 1979, his team joined the NHL. At the age of 51 years old, Howe stayed for one final season and helped bring the Whalers to the playoffs, making his last All-Star team in the process. The site of this game? Detroit, where Howe had spent 25 seasons setting every record imaginable. The ovation he got, as you can imagine, was the loudest thing heard in Detroit until the crushing implosion of its economy (…too soon?). And guess who he shared the ice with that night? A 19-year-old rookie named Wayne Gretzky, who would eventually go on to break just about all of Howe’s records. There might not be a better example of passing the torch in all of sports: possibly the two best players in the history of their game playing at the same time, 32 years of age separating them, one playing his first of 18 All-Star Games, the other playing his last of 23. This truly was the Game to end them all. 1. Cal Ripken’s farewell:  I’m a sucker for the drama of sports. A hopeless romantic if you will. It’s rare that a career gets the chance to end properly and in a fitting manner. For some, freak injuries (Bo Jackson) ruin that chance and for others, drugs and the want to hold on for a bit longer than they should (Sosa, Bonds). For Cal, he got the chance to end things his way. His final All-Star Game went about as perfectly as one could’ve scripted. First, you have the best player in the game giving up his position to you so that you can play your final ASG at the position it began. At the time, who knew how much foreshadowing A-Rod’s gesture to play third would ring true? As if that moment wasn’t enough, in Cal’s last at-bat, on the first pitch he saw, he sent a ball flying over the left field fence for a home run – the oldest to ever accomplish that feat. Of course he won the MVP trophy and after the season rode off into retirement. Like I said, I’m a helpless romantic. 1. Kane’s first Bad Blood appearance:  Okay so I am 100% cheating and just want to put this clip here because I was talking about it the other day and it remains my favorite moment in WWF history. I was going to put my favorite Royal Rumble, but I kind of love them all (though I haven’t watched one in a few years), so I figured I’d go with this. First of all, the match between Undertaker and Shawn Michaels is one of the greatest matches of all time. Both wrestlers beat the living doo out of each other (see Shawn Michaels’ face) in this “Hell in a Cell” match (the best gimmick match in wrestling) and it would have been fine with everyone in the world if Undertaker tombstoned Michaels, pressed two hands over his opponents barely beating heart, flicked his eyes back into his head, and pinned The Sexy Boy for the victory. Then it happened. Here is the transcript from the moment the lights go out and Kane’s music begins: “What’s that? Oh my god! Wait a minute…it’s Paul Bearer! It’s Paul Bearer! And that’s, that’s gotta be – that’s gotta be Kane! That’s gotta be Kane!” Enthralling. I remember watching this as a little kid and I went nuts jumping up and down wondering what in the world I was witnessing. Then it got crazier. Dude ripped the door from its hinges, nearly killed the referee, entered the ring over the top rope, set the turnbuckles aflame with unforeseen magical prowess, tombstoned his older brother, and strutted out of the arena as Shawn Michaels crawled over to pin the Undertaker. Talk about an All-Star performance.
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