The 20th Anniversary Of The NBA All-Star Game That Never Was

The city of Philadelphia was super-hyped about the All-Star game, then the NBA lockout happened.

The NBA All-Star Weekend that wasn’t occurred in 1999. The event was cancelled as the result of a broiling stalemate between the league and the NBA Players Association. What was supposed to have been the 53rd rendition of the the league’s marquee mid-season showcase was slated to be celebration of epic proportions in the basketball crazy city of Philadelphia, and a chance for Philly favorite Allen Iverson to show out in front of the home crowd.

The gist of the blowup had everything to do with the NBPA’s opposition to the owners’ plans, which included reopening the collective bargaining agreement and placing a cap on individual player salaries. The NBPA demanded that the league’s minimum salary be increased.  The owners dug in their heels and the lockout began.  Though there was a considerable amount of concern that the entire season would be altogether cancelled, the league and the NBPA came to an agreement on January 18th.

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The NBA would rev back up on February 5th with a severely shortened regular season. While it was the opinion of many that the players did what was best for them and their interests, at the time fans in and around the city of Philadelphia weren’t really feeling how the game was dangled in front of them and snatched away.

During what was supposed to be the NBA off-season, fans and media talking heads alike wondered aloud whether fans in and around the Delaware Valley would be gifted with one of the greatest sports spectacles in American professional sports after the lockout began in July 1998.

The answer would ultimately be “Nah!”

“The All-Star Game is the latest casualty of the NBA lockout. The only thing left to save is the season itself. Ending a 47-year-old tradition of bringing its top talent together for a special showcase, the NBA on Tuesday canceled the All-Star Game, which had been set for Feb. 14 in Philadelphia.

“This is just a result of the inexorable march of the calendar,” commissioner David Stern said. There just isn’t enough time left to have a season with an All-Star Game. “We apologize to the city of Philadelphia, but we promise to bring the All-Star Weekend back as soon as possible.” Stern called Mayor Edward Rendell to break the news, but it really didn’t come as a surprise.  The cancellation meant Philadelphia would lose an estimated $35 million in business associated with the game.

– Associated Press,  December 9, 1998 –

Due to the late agreement between the NBA and the NBPA, there was not enough time left for the NBA All-Star Weekend. The All-Star event returned to Philadelphia in 2002.

When it was all said and done, each team’s schedule was chopped to 50 games, with the squads with the eight best records in each conference qualifying to participate in the playoffs.

It was a bittersweet season for me, to be certain.  As someone who grew up only a 40-minute drive from Center City, I knew just how excited the city was when it was initially announced that Philly would get the All-Star game.

But brothers had to do what brothers had to do to get what was rightfully theirs.

The usual suspects were in their prime around that time, but the several from the 1999 rookie class may have been robbed of their chance to start in the NBA All-Star game as a result of the grinding gears of capitalism.

 

 

Elton Brand, Steve “The Franchise” Francis, Richard Hamilton and Baron Davis were robbed of their chance to play in the rookie game.  That’s the reason why the All-Star game added the Rookie Challenge the following year.  This gave the new crop of rookies the chance to play against the league’s top sophomores.

Of the rookies, Brand had a serious chance to play in the “Big Boy” All-Star game after averaging a double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds per game.

 

“The Franchise” averaged 18 points his rookie year. Perhaps we’re used to these Unicorn type kids these days, by Francis was being projected as the most explosive point guard in league history. He was all that.

The San Antonio Spurs beat the New York Knicks 4-1 in the NBA finals that year, becoming champions for the first time in club history.

The “what ifs” can’t be overlooked by rabid basketball fans and it’s a matter of record at this point.

It’s yet another instance in which demanding fair play and a leveled playing field often results in unintended consequences to the broader society.