The NBA instituted the Legends Classic at the 1984 All-Star Weekend, a collection of retired greats battling for bragging rights ahead of Saturday afternoon’s dunk and three-point shooting contests.
This changed in 1985. With the game in Indianapolis, the league decided to run the Legends Classic in between rounds of the Slam Dunk contest. Could you imagine sitting through an old-timer’s game while waiting for the next round of the dunk contest?
Each performance — a group of graying forty and fiftysomethings missing floored hooks, Michael Jordan and Dr. J and Dominique Wilkins cramming dunks (look at them warm up!) — was given equal billing.
That’s kinda where the NBA was in 1985, at least in Indianapolis.
There were other enjoyable moments in these old-timer’s games.
JAMAAL WILKES WAS 34
The coercive strains of competition were at the heart of this, somehow, little represents this better than Jamaal “Silk” Wilkes’ decision to agree to appear in the 1988 Legends Classic.
Wilkes was 34 years old at the time, still a few months from turning 35. This is young.
For comparative purposes, Jamaal was basically Nick Young’s current age at the time he lined up next to Oscar Robertson and Satch Sanders, two players who had retired by the time Wilkes debuted as an NBA forward. For Nick Young’s purposes, the similar age difference would be akin to Swag suiting up against Robert Horry, or the 1993 Heisman Trophy Winner.
The Lakers waived their legend before the 1985-86 season due to Silk’s ongoing knee issues, the team would remain on the hook for the rest of his three-year, $2.4 million contract. Though a chunk of Wilkes’ money was deferred to payments scheduled for the 1990s, this still meant the Lakers were paying Jamaal while he worked in the Legends game.
Though Wilkes hooked up with the L.A. Clippers for 13 contests in 1985-86, he retired before 1986, mostly because he hated playing for the Clippers. According to Jamaal, his Clippers were the “‘62 Chevy” to the defending champion Lakers’ “Rolls Royce.”
Don Chaney, the Clippers’ coach at the time, was not stunned:
“I’m sure it bothered Jamaal not playing much for the Clippers.
“He’s a proud guy. Like all great players, he wanted to retire gracefully. Fans should remember him as a great player, not a guy playing a few minutes off the bench.
“I’m sure he was uncomfortable that Rory White was playing ahead of him.”
Who the fuck is Rory White.
STEVE ‘SNAPPER’ JONES CALLED THE GAMES
“Normally you can hear the ball pounding, but all I hear is breathing.”
He just railed on players his own age the entire time, it was great, I miss him.
BAILEY HOWELL, NICE MAN
LEGENDS FELL HARD
We’ve been told that the NBA cut out the old-timer’s game because the old timers kept getting hurt. This is kinda true, David Thompson (age 37, ruptured left patella tendon) and Norm Nixon (age 36, ruptured right quad) both went down during the 1992 Legends Classic.
Three caveats beyond this.
Calamitous injuries weren’t a February routine, scads of old geezers shuffled up and down the court without significant tear for years between 1984-92, often returning the next All-Star weekend to line up all over again. The idea that every year some Hall of Famer’s grandkids had to help grandpa off the court after he blew out both Achilles, that’s a bit off.
Worse for Thompson and Nixon is the knowledge that neither of these injuries stood as each players’ most ignominious.
During the throes of his addiction, David Thompson tore his ACL while scuffling in and outside Studio 54.
If the 1970s ever had a declarative moment, it was when NBA star David “Skywalker” Thompson tore up his knee after partying too heartily at Studio 54.
And if the 1980s ever enjoyed a moment as Hollywood-spun as Thompson’s tumble, it would be the time Norm Nixon tore up his Achilles tendon in a softball game while understandably in the impress of girlfriend and teammate Debbie Allen.
All Nixon and Thompson do is novelty injuries, warning whoops toward future generations. Their gift to the 1990s? Forewarning the NBA and its veterans association from relying too heavily on the athletes they once crammed into coach seats.
The healthiest part of this whole story?
The NBA still ran a Legends Classic in 1993, the year after Nixon and Thompson went down:
They’d learned nothing!
THERE WAS NO DUNKING
I said no dunking.
DOUG COLLINS WORE MORE CHAINS THAN MOST
Do you have to take jewelry off before you go underneath the permanent wave machine?
THERE WERE GAME-WINNERS
Not only did the Legends Classic come down to the wire a couple of times, but its overtime was sudden death.
This meant as long as no player from either team died suddenly, the overtime period would run until the first goal was made.
The 1988 Classic featured an overtime run, with Dave Cowens hitting the game-winner (after maybe pushing off).
Next year’s contest was even more exciting in the clutch, with hunky dads Bobby Jones and Mike Newlin spilling all over the floor in the final seconds, and Calvin Murphy’s Mustache winning the contest with a three-pointer at the buzzer.
PISTOL PETE WAS THERE
He also scored 18 points in the inaugural Legends Classic.
THE NBA SHOULD BRING IT BACK
The old-timers game.
Get a Big Pharma sponsor while you can, let Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz work the halftime show while Brandy and Monica duet the national anthems.
Rasheed Wallace and Brent Barry call the game.
The captains are obvious.
Stephen Jackson — first overall pick.
Jason Terry — he’ll want to be the first two-time MVP before the first game even starts.
Brad Miller — the worse shape he’s in, the better. Let him wear a baseball cap.
Al Harrington — will spin his way toward double-figure points before ensuring the locker room stays free of kidney-sapping, liver-husking anti-inflammatory drugs.
Birdman Andersen — “I’m 41 now, so, actually, just ‘Chris’ is fine. Plus that movie came out and it just became annoying. Yes, I’ll sign it ‘Birdman.’”
Darius Miles — Make it happen.
Rashard Lewis — taller than Jason Terry, will probably win that MVP.
Andres Nocioni — yes, the international talent pool will be available
Ronnie Fields — each team gets to bring a guy in, and KG chose the right guy.
Wally Szczerbiak — chosen last. After Garnett attempted to pass.
Quentin Richardson — chosen first, cash considerations were involved.
Eddie House — this is a 40-minute game, and Allen Iverson is going to have to sit for two of those minutes.
Kenyon Martin — on the lookout for the sorts of beefs that can last a lifetime.
Mehmet Okur — in the role he was born to play.
Metta World Peace — whole stadium, clapping at once.
David West — probably best suited in the other locker room, talking some prudent financial sense into the three-point shooters.
Andrei Kirilenko — yes I want to see what haircut he has now.
Matt Bonner — should we do an old-timer’s three-point contest? Or is that just the Rockets.
God Shammgod — AI’s pick.
Shane Battier — chosen after Iverson realized it was either Shane or Wally Szczerbiak.
DON’T GIVE IT UP
Larry wears basically what I wear now. It’s very comfortable.
I chose this because TBS played the tune during a Johnny ‘Red’ Kerr highlight.
Snapper Jones image courtesy twitter.com/trailblazers.
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(More to come.)