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1988 NBA All-Star Game: Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas vs. Magic Johnson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Karl Malone

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1988 NBA All-Star Game: Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas vs. Magic Johnson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Karl Malone

The NBA All-Star Game is one of the most exciting moments of a season because we get to see the best players in the world compete against each other in front of a sold-out crowd. After all, All-Stars are the cream of the crop in terms of the talent in the NBA. That is why the All-Star Weekend is arguably the highlight of the regular season. But looking back on all the iconic All-Star Games in NBA history, one sticks to mind, and that is the iconic 1988 NBA All-Star Game.

This was the final moment of an iconic All-Star Weekend that saw the GOAT, Michael Jordan, completely take over and solidify himself as the single greatest talent we have ever witnessed. Along with Jordan, some other superstar players played at an elite level during the 1988 All-Star Game to compete with the Chicago Bulls star on both sides of the floor. It is time to revisit arguably the best All-Star Game in NBA history by first introducing the esteemed All-Star lineups.

Eastern Conference Starters

Isiah Thomas, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Dominique Wilkins, Moses Malone

In arguably the most competitive backcourt in NBA history, superstars Isiah Thomas (7th appearance) and Michael Jordan (4th appearance) make up the Eastern guards. It is funny to imagine Isiah and Jordan sharing a backcourt, especially because they hold great disdain towards each other. Thomas and the Pistons would also defeat Jordan and the Bulls in the second round of the playoffs in the same season, quite fittingly.

In the frontcourt, Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins complete a fan-favorite duo. Bird was selected to his 9th straight All-Star Game to represent the Boston Celtics and ended up finishing the season with a 29.9 PPG average. Dominique took part in an all-time great Dunk Contest against Michael Jordan before the All-Star Game, finishing second. Dominique also made his 3rd All-Star selection.

Finally, superstar center Moses Malone was selected for his 11th All-Star appearance as a representative of the Washington Bullets. The big man was putting up his usual numbers before his selection and would finish the season by averaging 20.3 PPG and 11.2 RPG. The head coach for the East would be Mike Fratello of the Atlanta Hawks.

Western Conference Starters

Magic Johnson, Fat Lever, Alex English, Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon

For the Western Conference, some stalwarts would appear yet again in the All-Star starting lineup. Legendary point guard Magic Johnson would make his 8th selection for the Los Angeles Lakers, with Denver Nuggets star Fat Lever starting alongside him. The 6’3” guard made his first All-Star selection, and what an All-Star Game for him to make his debut in, considering the excitement of the game.

Another Denver Nugget, Alex English, would join Karl Malone in the frontcourt. English would make his 7th All-Star appearance, and Malone would make his 1st All-Star selection as a member of the Utah Jazz at 24 years old. The West would have a few debut All-Stars for their side, even though The Mailman would finish the season averaging veteran numbers (27.7 PPG and 12.0 RPG).

To compete with Moses Malone, the West’s starting center is iconic Rockets star Hakeem (Akeem) Olajuwon. The powerful Nigerian-born big man would have his 4th All-Star selection to represent the Houston Rockets, taking his low-post talents to complete an unbelievably talented starting lineup. The head coach for the West would be legendary coach Pat Riley of the Los Angeles Lakers.


Eastern Conference Bench

Danny Ainge, Doc Rivers, Maurice Cheeks, Charles Barkley, Kevin McHale, Patrick Ewing, Brad Daugherty

The Eastern Conference All-Stars had a stacked bench, led by a selection of elite two-way guards and some superstar big men. There are two more Boston Celtics stars in the East, Danny Ainge, and Kevin McHale. Joining Larry Bird, Aine and McHale make up a trio of Celtics in the All-Star Game. Ainge would make his first All-Star Team, while McHale would make his 4th.

Doc Rivers, a defensive guard with playmaking skills, joined Brad Daugherty as other first-time All-Stars. Rivers was the starting point guard for the Hawks, while Daugherty was the only player on the team representing the Cleveland Cavaliers. Maurice Cheeks would make his 4th All-Star selection as a member of the 76ers as a playmaking guard who was adept at getting steals.

Of course, superstar bigs Charles Barkley (2nd appearance) and Patrick Ewing (2nd appearance) would also fortify the depth chart in the paint. With a solid selection of defensive players and efficient scorers, the Eastern Conference bench was stacked with talent.

Western Conference Bench

Alvin Robertson, Clyde Drexler, James Worthy, Mark Aguirre, Xavier McDaniel, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Donaldson

Similar to the Eastern Conference All-Stars having 3 Boston Celtics, the West had 3 Los Angeles Lakers, with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy coming off the bench. Kareem would make his 18th and second-to-last All-Star appearance while Worthy would make his 3rd selection. There would also be two Dallas Mavericks representatives, James Donaldson and Mark Aguirre.

Donaldson would make his first All-Star selection as the injury replacement for Steve Johnson of the Portland Trail Blazers. Aguirre would make his 3rd All-Star appearance, and he certainly deserved it by finishing the season with a 25.1 PPG average. Xavier McDaniel, 6’7” forward, would also make his first All-Star appearance for the Seattle Supersonics.

Arguably the best defensive guard in the league, Alvin Robertson represented the San Antonio Spurs for his 3rd All-Star selection. The guard would be coming off two straight seasons leading the league in steals and deserved his spot. Finally, superstar Clyde Drexler, the man who was considered Michael Jordan’s main competitor at the shooting guard, rounded out an incredible bench with his 2nd All-Star appearance.

Game Summary

This was a competitive game from the start. The first quarter ended 32-27 in favor of the Western Conference, but the East would fight back to take a 60-54 lead at the end of the half. The East would build on their lead, heading into the 4th quarter with a 10-point lead. It took some clutch performances by Michael Jordan to fight off a rampant Western Conference Team, who would score 44 points in the quarter. In the end, the East would win the game 138-133 in a spectacular contest.

As the winner of the contest and the most spectacular standout performer, Michael Jordan captured All-Star Game MVP after totaling 40 points, eight rebounds, four steals, and four blocks while dominating the game in the clutch. The legendary Chicago Bulls guard dropped 16 of his points in the final 5:30 of the game as the East pulled away from the West. His 40 points were two points shy of the (then) All-Star Game’s record for most points set by Wilt Chamberlain (42 points). The record has since been broken by Anthony Davis (52 points).

There is no doubt that Michael Jordan stole the show because he had to fight off some incredible performances by some Western Stars. One of them came in the play of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who scored 10 points in 14 minutes to give him 247 career All-Star Game points and the title as the game’s No. 1 all-time scorer at the time. Of course, Kareem’s record has since been broken by Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James. James is the current leading scorer in All-Star Game history with 413 points.

Credit should also go towards New York Knicks big man Patrick Ewing, who made his All-Star debut in this game for the East, scoring nine points off the bench in 16 minutes. While Ewing and some other stars made their All-Star Game debut, Sixers guard Maurice Cheeks played in his fourth and final All-Star Game.

As great as the performances of all the stars were during the 1988 All-Star Game, Jordan stole the show. In fact, he stole the entire weekend by adding his All-Star Game MVP to his second-straight Dunk Contest award after he beat out Dominique Wilkins. Larry Bird would also not only be a starter in the Eastern Conference team that won the All-Star Game, but he would also claim his third 3-Point Contest title.

We have not seen a more exciting All-Star Game since 1988, because we saw the cream of the crop dominant at the highest level. Jordan would not only take on Dominique Wilkins in an all-time great Dunk Contest, but take over the All-Star Game by force and will. We also saw the excitement of welcoming 7 first-time All-Stars who made statements to the world, although they were simply living in Michael Jordan’s world.

Key Performers:

Eastern Conference

Michael Jordan: 40 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals, 4 blocks, 73.9% FG

Dominique Wilkins: 29 points, 5 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 steals, 1 block, 54.5% FG

Isiah Thomas: 8 points, 2 rebounds, 15 assists, 1 steal, 0 blocks, 40.0% FG

Western Conference

Magic Johnson: 17 points, 6 rebounds, 19 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks, 26.7% FG

Karl Malone: 22 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 0 blocks, 47.4% FG

Hakeem Olajuwon: 21 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks, 61.5% FG

All-Star Game MVP: Michael Jordan


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