As we near tip-off of the 64th annual NBA All-Star Game, it seems a good time to recount the best showings by Celtic players in the mid-season classic, which was first played at the Boston Garden in 1951.
Interestingly, after hosting the event several times over its first 14 outings, Boston has not been the home venue for the annual star classic since 1964.
Personally, I feel the All-Star Game has devolved into a non-competitive playground exhibition over the past 15 years or so, and the awards won and numbers put up in such non-contests are basically meaningless.
One might point to a young Kobe Bryant's celebrated self pass and layup on a two-on-one fast break in the 1998 ASG at New York as the tipping point for the All-Star Game's slide from serious game to one of self-aggrandization. For in the "hit the open man" era of the early 1970's and again in the '80s, passing and serious competition marked the annual classic.
But realistically, the game had been in decline since the early 1990's and the retirement of rivals Larry Bird and Earvin Johnson, two stars who had made passing hip again and wanted badly to beat one another. Bird held a 7-2 edge in head-to-head All-Star games vs. Johnson, by the way.
Merely being named to the squad seems to be the main goal of the All-Star weekend now, as well as an incentive-driven boost to inflated salaries.
Sadly, the ASG has become an endless display of highlight-type style one-upmanship and unnecessarily flashy plays created by a nearly complete lack of defense. It ceased being a truly competitive game years ago, and is more of a fun, low-intensity outing today.
Back when the players made far less money and the cash given to players on each side was a significant boon to salaries (with the winners getting more), the game was competed much more seriously and harder.
Furthermore, up through the 1980's intense rivalries between teams and individuals, contrasting styles of play and better passing made the game more interesting and much better-played.
Changing it to an "America vs. the World" format instead of East vs. West might bring back some intensity, meaning and interest to the tired All-Star Game franchise.
However, the annual classic still provides a backdrop to remember past All-Star Games and reminisce about historic hoop events.
The following are the best of Boston in the All-Star Game.
Ed Macauley (1951 MVP)
The very first All-Star Game took place at Boston Garden in 1951, and the Most Valuable Player Award was won by none other than wiry 6-9 Celtic center Ed Macauley.
Macauley has been largely forgotten because he was traded for superstar big man Bill Russell in 1956. But heady Eddie was the first Celtic star center on some fine teams, and an excellent scorer who made the Hall of Fame - and won that elusive NBA title in 1958 with St. Louis.
Easy Ed scored 20 points on 7-12 field goal shooting and 6-7 accuracy from the foul line in the inaugural All-Star contest. The slender big man also pulled down six rebounds to lead the East to a 111-94 victory.
In 1952, the mid-season classic was again hosted by the Celtics at the Garden. And once more, the East won, this time by a score of 108-91. Macauley scored 15 points and snared seven caroms.
Ft. Wayne, Indiana hosted the 1953 classic won by the West, 79-75. Three Celtics started and combined for 44 of the 75 East points. Macauley tallied 18, Bob Cousy scored 15 and Bill Sharman added 11. Minneapolis Laker center George Mikan was named the MVP.
In 1954 at New York City, Macauley netted 13 points in the 98-93 East overtime triumph.
Bob Cousy (2 time MVP)
Flashy Boston playmaker Bob Cousy was the only man to play in each of the first 13 All-Star Games, 12 of which came as a popular starter.
The Cooz made a triumphant return to his native New York City in 1954 by winning the MVP award as the East won in overtime 98-93.Mikan sank two clutch free throws at the end of regulation, smiling at a jeering pro-East crowd all the while, to force OT.
Cousy scored 20 points, nailed all eight of his foul shots, passed out four assists and most impressively, grabbed 11 rebounds despite being just 6-1.
The next year the ASG was again held at Madison Square Garden, and Cousy posted an impressive line of 20 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
The East won 100-91, but the Houdini of the Hardwood was upstaged by his backcourt partner Bill Sharman, who came off the bench to score 15 points and win MVP honors.
In 1957 at the Boston Garden, hometown favorite Cousy was voted MVP despite ordinary stats of 10 points and seven assists as the East made it six of seven with a 109-97 victory.
In 1958, Cousy registered 20 points and 10 assists as the East won again. Bill Russell made his first ASG showing with 11 points and 11 boards.
But Bob Pettit of the West was named MVP after scoring 28 points and snaring 26 rebounds before the home fans in St. Louis despite falling, 130-118.
Cousy is the only Celtic to win two All-Star MVP awards, although Bird and Cowens came close.
In 13 All-Star Games, the Cooz scored 147 points, second only to Havlicek among Celtics. Cousy doled out 86 All-Star assists. He averaged 11.3 points and 6.6 assists per outing.
Bill Sharman (1955 MVP)
Sharman netted 14 points off the bench in the 1954 ASG, won by the East in overtime 98-93.
The next year, again in New York City at the old MSG, Sharman hit on five of 10 field shots and converted all five of his foul shots for 15 points to win the game MVP award.
Sharman's late-game sniping led the East from a 71-70 deficit to the nine-point victory.
Sharman and rookie teammate Tom Heinsohn each scored 12 points off the pines in the 1957 mid-season classic at Boston Garden, a 109-97 East victory.
But Sharman, a minor league baseball player in the Dodger farm system, stole the show by showing off his throwing arm. As time ran out in the first half, Bullseye Bill attempted to throw a one-handed 75-foot pass to Celtic backcourtmate Bob Cousy.
Bill overthrew Cooz so much that the line-drive bomb went over Bob and directly into the basket for two points, since the three-point shot (which Sharman helped design for the ABL and later the ABA) did not exist in the NBA until 1979.
The quick-witted Sharman reportedly turned to a West player standing next to him and quipped, "you never could play defense."
In 1960 at Philadelphia's old Convention Hall, East reserve Sharman fired in 17 points in just 26 minutes to help the East win again, 125-115. It was the sharpshooting 33-year old guard's final All-Star showing.
Bill Russell (1963 MVP)
In 1961, Russell scored 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds off the bench as the West pummeled the East 153-131. It was the highest-scoring ASG of Bill's 12 showings.
But it wasn't until 1963, when he scored 19 points and snared 24 boards while dishing out five assists in a 115-108 win, that he earned his only All-Star MVP award at the LA Sports Arena. The Celtics would clinch the NBA title that spring on the same floor in Bob Cousy's last game.
Tom Heinsohn scored 15 points in the 1963 ASG as well.Russell enjoyed needling Heinsohn for years afterward about his gunner shooting reputation. As an announcer during two All-Star Game telecasts, Russ joked that Heinsohn once had "enjoyed a great All-Star Game...he went 18 for 21. He touched the ball 21 times and shot 18," followed by his trademark cackle.
Of course, the records show that Heinsohn never shot more than 17 times in a single ASG. But Russ did not want to let the facts get in the way of a good story. In fact, Tommy averaged 13 shots and 10.2 ppg in five mid-season classics. The 15-point showing in 1963, on 6-11 shooting, was his best outing.
Russell pulled down 21 rebounds and scored 13 points in the 1964 All-Star Game. And remember, the NBA did not start keeping track of blocked shots until 1972-73, four years after Russell retired.
In 1965, the East won 124-123. Russell scored 17 and snagged 13 caroms at St. Louis.
In his 12 All-Star Games (seven as a starter), Russell averaged 10 points, 11.6 rebounds and untold blocks per contest.
In his second of five star showings, Jones netted 16 points off the bench in the 1964 classic at Boston Garden, a 111-107 East win.
The underrated Jones was named a starter for the first time in 1965 at St. Louis, a 124-123 East victory. Sam scored a dozen points in 1966, a 43-point East blowout win, in his last All- Star start.
A fan favorite, Hondo played in 13 straight All-Star games from 1966-78 to tie ousy for the most Celtic appearances. In his first mid-season classic, Havlicek scored 18 points to help the East win a 137-94 blowout at Cincinnati in his home state of Ohio.
John's highest-scoring output came in 1968, when he tallied 26 points in just 22 minutes off the bench to aid the East to a 144-124 win at Madison Square Garden.
In 1970 at Philadelphia, Havlicek tallied 17 points as a starter, but New York center Willis Reed scored 21 and was named MVP as the East ran to a 142-135 victory.
At San Diego in 1971, Hondo netted a dozen points in 24 minutes, but the East fell in a 108-107 barnburner.
In 1972, Havlicek played in arguably the greatest All-Star Game ever, a well-played contest that went down to the last second and featured 11 players named to the NBA 50 Greatest list.
John passed out five assists and tallied 14 points on 6-10 shooting, but he uncharacteristically missed three of his five free throw attempts in the game at the Forum.
Havlicek scored a game-high 15 points and led a late East rally with three consecutive field goals. But they came up just short after a last-second 20-footer by Mr. Clutch, Jerry West. The superstar guard who wore West on the front and back of his jersey was the MVP with 13 points and six steals.
In 1973 at Chicago, Havlicek scored 14 points and doled out a game-high five assists, but missed three of five free throw tries.
In 1974 at Seattle, Havlicek and Cowens started on the East squad for the third year in a row. Dave scored 11 points and snagged a dozen rebounds while Hondo tallied 10 points.
Teammate JoJo White, in the midst of seven straight All-Star Game reserve showings (he never started once) came off the bench to tally 13 points, grab six rebounds and pass out four assists in just 22 minutes.
In the 1975 mid-season classic at Phoenix, the East won 108-102. Havlicek was again voted in as a starter and scored 16 points with six caroms.
In 1978, an aging Havlicek announced he was retiring. Doug Collins was voted in as an East starter at guard. But since Hondo was retiring, Collins gave up the starting spot to his idol growing up, Havlicek.
Nearing 38, John was older than recently-retired East head coach Billy Cunningham. He hit three early baskets but ended up watching much of the second half as he scored 10 points on five of eight shooting. The East rallied from a big deficit to win, 133-125.
After the game on the Omni floor, Hondo posed for a handshake photo-op with former 76er foe and friend Cunningham. Keenly aware of being the oldest player in the game by far, in typical self-deprecating fashion John joked, "the old and the new" as the cameras rolled.
With 179 points, Havlicek scored the most All-Star Game points of any Celtic, an average of 13.8 ppg.
Dave Cowens (1973 MVP)
After being named NBA Co-Rookie of the Year in 1971, the fast-improving Cowens made his first All-Star showing in 1972 at Los Angeles. Dave scored 14 points and pulled down a whopping 20 rebounds, nine more than anyone else in the game.
In addition, his clutch right side 14-footer tied the game 110-110 in the final seconds. But Laker great Jerry West won it 112-110 with a jumper from the top of the key over Walt Frazier with a second to go.
The intense redheaded southpaw roared back and led the East to a convincing 104-84 win at Chicago Stadium in 1973. Cowens topped the balanced victors with 15 points on 7-of-15 shooting, and once again the consummate hustler grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds.
On one of the best plays of the night, teammate Havlicek led the fast break down the left side. He then slipped a pass across the lane to the speedy Dave, who came from out of nowhere streaking down the right lane of the break.
Cowens grabbed the slick pass in stride and slammed it home with the right hand. The resounding stuff rattled the rim and elicited ooh's and ah's from the crowd.
In 1974, Havlicek and Cowens started for the East again for the third year in a row. Dave scored 11 points and snagged a dozen rebounds. But the West won 134-123 at Seattle.
In the 1975 mid-season classic at Phoenix, the East won 108-102 as Walt Frazier scored 30 to earn MVP honors. Cowens came off the bench for Washington coach and ex-Celtic K.C. Jones, and tallied six points with six boards and three assists in just 15 minutes.
In 1976 at the Philadelphia Spectrum, Cowens came off the bench to score 16 points and grab a game-high 16 rebounds in just 23 minutes. But East teammate Dave Bing was deservedly named MVP.
In 1978 at the Omni in Atlanta, Cowens and Havlicek returned to the starting lineup together for the final time. Matched up against another redhead in West starting center Bill Walton, Cowens fired in seven of nine shots for 14 points. He also pulled down a game-high 14 caroms, dealt five assists and made two steals.
Behind MVP Randy Smith, who buried two long shots at the quarter buzzers, the East rallied for a 133-125 victory.
The year 1979 marked the first time that no Celtic played in the All-Star Game.
The always-hustling Cowens never failed to put on a good showing at the All-Star Game. He scored 76 points (12.7 ppg) and grabbed a club-best 81 rebounds (13.5 rpg) in six classics. He shot a fine 50 percent from the field (33-66).
Larry Bird (1982 MVP) & the Hall of Fame frontline with Robert Parish and Kevin McHale
Rookie reserve Bird did not have a great star game in 1980, but he did have a great overtime that carried the East to a 144-136 shootout win at the Capital Centre in Maryland.
In OT, Bird buried a long deuce from the left corner. On the next possession, he drained a high-arching trifecta from almost the same spot to give the East the lead for good.
Moments later, he pulled off arguably the greatest pass in All-Star Game history. After yanking down a defensive rebound, he out-letted a long chest pass and fundamentally trailed the play just in case he was needed. And was he ever.
When Moses Malone missed inside, the rebound ricocheted out toward the foul line unpredictably off two players. The improvisational Bird leaped into the air, reached behind himself and redirected the loose sphere by slapping a blind LEFTY pass over the stunned Jack Sikma and Earvin Johnson of the West directly to teammate George Gervin for a reverse layin.
"I DON'T BELIEVE he saw Gervin," exclaimed CBS broadcaster Brent Musburger.
In 1981, somehow league MVP runner-up Bird was still not voted in as a starter, but he replaced the injured Dan Roundfield in the lineup at one forward for the East. Larry was slowed by an injured leg.
Teammate Nate Archibald stole the show with nine assists, three big steals and nine points to win the MVP award, leading the East to a tight 123-120 win at Cleveland. Celtic center Robert Parish collected 16 points and 10 rebounds off the bench in the first of his nine ASG appearances.
In Bird's third All-Star game of 1982 - but amazingly the first he was actually voted in as a starter - Larry Legend showed off his splendid all-around skills which gave Boston back-to-back ASG MVP winners.
In 28 minutes at the then-new Brendan Byrne Arena in the New Jersey Meadowlands, Bird connected on seven of 12 shots, including a pair of sparkling driving shots and a left-hander.
Larry scored 19 points and yanked down a game-best 12 rebounds while adding five assists, a steal and a block of an Earvin Johnson drive to earn the MVP award.
Parish again fared well with a team-high 21 points and seven rebounds in just 20 minutes off the bench.
And to cap the victory, Larry's nemesis Johnson missed a short driving shot just before the buzzer to preserve a 120-118 win, making Bird and the East 3-0 vs. Johnson and the West.
"It helped to have my coach (Bill Fitch) on the bench calling my play, and to have two of my teammates out there too," Bird said humbly when he received the MVP award. Bird even said to CBS announcer Dick Stockton "thank you, sir" upon the conclusion of the post-game ceremony and interview.
In 1983 at the LA Forum, Bird and the East improved to a perfect 4-0 in All-Star Games with a 132-123 victory. Bird scored 14 points and pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds, while also leading the East with seven assists.
Parish added 13 points in 18 minutes, but 76er star Julius Erving was voted MVP.
In 1984 at Denver, the East made it five in a row with a 154-145 overtime victory in the mile high city. Bird recorded a 16-7-3 line, while Kevin McHale made his first star game appearance with 10 points, five boards and two blocked shots in just 11 minutes.
Parish made his only All-Star start and grabbed 15 rebounds to lead all players, while also scoring a dozen points.
In 1985 at the HoosierDome in Indianapolis, Bird returned to his home state to score 21 points and grab eight rebounds before a record throng of 43,146.
But when Bird went to the sidelines in the second half after an elbow from driving Adrian Dantley bloodied his nose and mouth, the West made a run and went on to a 140-129 win as Ralph Sampson was named MVP.
Bird admitted to having "butterflies" before the game back home in Indiana, but as usual he didn't disappoint. Larry wowed the huge crowd with a spectacular reverse, left-handed three-point layup to cap a fast break.
In 1986 at Dallas, Bird enjoyed a great all-around game and nearly took home his second MVP award before losing out to Piston guard Isiah Thomas.
Larry Legend scored 23 points, grabbed eight rebounds, made a whopping seven steals and dished out five assists to help the East win, 139-132. He also canned two of four triple tries to follow up on his victory in the inaugural three-point shootout competition the day before.
Bird hit 11 treys in a row in the final round of the shootout to blow out Craig Hodges. "That check has had my name on it all week," an ecstatic Bird crowed after the win. "But really, I got lucky," he added, quickly regaining his composure.
"When I heard Larry could win $10,000 in one afternoon just for shooting three-pointers, I knew it was over," joked McHale, knowing well Bird's frugal ways - and his penchant for making big shots.
In 1987, another overtime classic took place at Seattle's Kingdome before over 34,000 fans. Bird tallied 18 points with six rebounds and two assists. McHale posted 16 points, seven rebounds and four blocks in 30 minutes off the bench.
But the West forced OT when Dallas guard Rolando Blackman canned two clutch foul shots with no time left at 140-140. Sonic hometown star Tom Chambers, who started only because Rocket Sampson was out injured, scored 34 points in a storybook finish to lead the West to a comeback 154-149 victory.
Bird won his second consecutive three-point shootout, this time vs. Detlef Schrempf, who missed a potential tying shot on the last ball. The next year at the old Chicago Stadium, Larry Legend made it three in a row with a thrilling comeback win in the finals over Dale Ellis.
Bird had to make his last three shots to win. Making the first two, he was tied with Ellis as he lined up the last money ball. Larry let fly from the left corner and as he walked toward the winner's circle, his gnarled right index finger was pointed aloft in a number one pose while the red, white and blue two-point ball was still spinning through the air.
And then it grazed the back rim and nestled softly into the basket for the winner. "LARRY BIRD!" enthused TBS play-by-play man Bob Neal as the crowd gave him a near standing ovation.
Celtic guard Danny Ainge actually outscored Bird and McHale in the 1988 All-Star Game with 12 points in just 19 minutes. It was Ainge's long ASG appearance.
In his comeback season of 1990 from double achilles surgery, Bird scored eight points and grabbed eight caroms in 23 minutes at Miami.
McHale shot 6-11, snared eight rebounds and tallied 13 points in just 20 minutes. Parish shot 7-11 and netted 14 points in 21 minutes as the East won 130-113. It was the last All-Star Game the Big Three would play in together.
In 1991, all three were chosen again but only the Chief and Big Mac played, albeit briefly. It was the last ASG for Parish, and the finale of seven such appearances for McHale.
Larry Legend scored 134 ASG points in 10 games, third among Celtics. His points per game average (13.4) is a close second to Havlicek. Bird also pulled down 7.9 rebounds per All-Star Game. Unfortunately, he missed the 1989, 1991 and 1992 star games due to heel and back injuries.
No-look Celtic slam dunk champ
In 1991 at recent expansion franchise Charlotte, slender 6-1 Celtic rookie guard Dee Brown won the slam dunk contest by out-dueling 6-10 Seattle stuffmaster Shawn Kemp in the finals.
Brown pumped up his Reebok shoes before he won the crown with his wicked "No See Dee", head buried in the crook of his elbow, left-handed slam. He is the only Boston player to win the competition.
Ironically, jumping jack Brown later said that perennial All-Stars McHale and Bird, not known as dunkers, were the Celtic teammates who helped him prepare best for the contest.
Paul Pierce & the new Big 3
Long-time Celtic Paul Pierce's best scoring All-Star Game came in his very first selection in 2002 at Philadelphia, where he tallied 19 points on 9-19 shooting. "The Truth" added seven rebounds with three assists.
In 2008 at New Orleans, new Celtic Ray Allen scored 28 points on the strength of five trifectas and 10-14 sharpshooting off the bench for the East, who won 134-128. Allen's total is the highest ever by a Celtic in the mid-season classic.
Pierce added 10 points off the pines in 2008. First-year Celtic Kevin Garnett was the leading vote-getter but did not play due to injury.
At Phoenix in 2009, Pierce scored 18 points for the East, who got blown out 146-119. KG tallied 12 points.
In 2011, four Celtics were named as All-Star reserves for the game in Los Angeles. The West won a shootout 148-143. Allen (12), Pierce (6), Rajon Rondo (6) and Garnett (4) combined for 28 points.
Interestingly, it was the fourth All-Star game played at LA (1972, 1983, 2004, 2012) since Boston last hosted the event in 1964.
In 10 All-Star showings as a Celtic between 2002-12, Pierce scored 96 total points. Overall, Pierce made 41 of 90 shots in All-Star competition (46 percent), but hit only six of 32 three-pointers.
In 2010, Pierce won the three-point shootout. He nosed out Warrior long distance marksman Stephen Curry 20-17 in the final round to capture the crown.
In so doing, Pierce became the first Celtic to win the three-point shootout since Bird turned the trick from 1986-88. Fittingly, his 2010 title also took place in Dallas, 24 years after Bird won the first shootout at Big D in 1986.
To contact the author directly, you can email Cort Reynolds at firstname.lastname@example.org.