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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Midseason Maestros

This article was originally published in the March 2002 issue of Basketball Digest.

The midseason NBA All-Star Game provides basketball fans a unique chance to see the sport's greatest players compete with and against each other. From Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell in the '60s to Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan today, the All-Star Game makes teammates out of rivals and pits them in competition against the opposing conference's best stars.

The list of players who have led the All-Star Game in points, rebounds or assists includes a mixture of established stars, young players making a name for themselves and one year wonders, but this article will focus on players who led multiple times in one or more categories.

One player who is noticeably absent from the accompanying chart of All-Star Game leaders is George Mikan, the league's first dominant player. This is at least partially due to the fact that the NBA did not stage its first All-Star Game until 1951, midway through Mikan's career. The Hall of Fame center played in only four All-Star Games, leading the game in scoring and rebounding twice each and capturing MVP honors in 1953.

It is easy to make a case for Bob Pettit as the greatest player in NBA All-Star Game history. He won a record four All-Star Game MVPs (three outright and one shared with Elgin Baylor in 1959), led the game in scoring a record six times, led in rebounds four times (tied for second best ever) and even led twice in assists. Pettit still holds the single game record for most rebounds (27 in 1962) and is second in All-Star career rebounds to Wilt Chamberlain (Pettit has the higher rpg average, 16.2 rpg to 15.2 rpg). He is also third in All-Star career ppg average (20.4 ppg), narrowly behind Michael Jordan (21.3 ppg) and Oscar Robertson (20.5 ppg).

Pettit is one of only four players to ever lead an All-Star Game in points, rebounds and assists. He is the only player to lead in all three categories in one game. In the 1956 contest Pettit won MVP honors with a game-high 20 points, 24 rebounds and seven assists (tied with Slater Martin). Remarkably, Pettit accomplished the same feat in 1959, this time with 25 points, 16 rebounds and five assists.

Bob Cousy led the All-Star Game in assists four times and points once. He won two All-Star MVPs and still ranks third in All-Star career assists. His single game record of 13 assists stood from 1952 until 1961 and was not surpassed again until 1983.

Wilt Chamberlain led the All-Star Game in rebounds a record five times, including 25 as a rookie in 1960, winning his first and only All-Star MVP. Chamberlain, who held the league's regular season career scoring record for many years, only led the All-Star Game in scoring once, but he did it in style, setting the single game scoring mark in 1962 with 42 points. Pettit won MVP honors that year on the strength of his aforementioned rebounding record.

Largely because of the performances of Pettit and Chamberlain, Bill Russell only led the All-Star Game in rebounds twice. Russell's game-high 24 rebounds in 1963 earned him his only All-Star MVP and he finished fourth in All-Star career rebounds. He also led the 1968 game with eight assists. Russell's 12 All-Star appearances ties him with several other players behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (18), Chamberlain (13), Cousy (13) and John Havlicek (13).

Oscar Robertson won three All-Star MVPs, held the career All-Star ppg mark for almost two decades and led the All-Star Game in assists five times, second only to Magic Johnson. Robertson's single game record of 14 assists in 1961 lasted until 1983. Robertson led the All-Star Game in scoring three times. He ranks second in All-Star career points and fourth in All-Star career assists.

From 1970 through 1980, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elvin Hayes and Dave Cowens led the All-Star Game in rebounds ten times in eleven years. Cowens led four times, including a decade-best 20 in 1972 and 13 in 1973 when he won his only All-Star MVP. Abdul-Jabbar led in rebounds three times and joined Pettit on the "Three Tool" list by leading once in points and twice in assists. He holds the record for most All-Star career points (251) but he never won an All-Star MVP. Hayes became the third member of the "Three Tool" list, leading three times in rebounds, once in points and once in assists.

Julius Erving played in his first NBA All-Star Game in 1977 after beginning his career in the ABA. He finished with game high totals of 30 points (tied with Bob McAdoo) and 12 rebounds, becoming only the second player from the losing team to win the All-Star MVP (Bob Pettit in 1958 was the first and Magic Johnson became the third in 1990). Erving led the All-Star Game in scoring three more times and in 1979 he became the fourth member of the "Three Tool" list by posting five assists (tied for game high honors with Calvin Murphy and Paul Westphal). He won a second All-Star MVP in 1983.

Erving's four times as leading scorer trails only Pettit and Jordan and his six times as a category leader ties him with Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar and Jordan for fourth best. He is fifth in All-Star career steals and tied for sixth in All-Star career blocked shots, two statistics that have only been recorded since 1973-74. Erving ranks fourth in All-Star career ppg (20.1) and fifth in All-Star career points (221). He also scored 100 points in five ABA All-Star Games, totaling a record 321 points in 16 professional All-Star Games.

Magic Johnson led the All-Star Game in assists a record seven times. He won two All-Star MVPs (1990 and 1992), leading the game in scoring both times. His nine times as a category leader trails only Pettit. He is the All-Star career assists leader by a wide margin over Isiah Thomas (127-97) and also holds the single game record (22 in 1984). Johnson is also tenth in All-Star career points, fourth in All-Star career steals and first in All-Star career three point field goals made (the NBA began using the three point shot in 1979-80).

Michael Jordan has led the All-Star Game in scoring five times and assists once. He has won three All-Star MVPs, is the All-Star career ppg leader and needs only 18 points in the 2002 game to pass Abdul-Jabbar for the All-Star career points title. Jordan is also ninth in All-Star career assists and first in All-Star career steals. Jordan posted the only triple double in All-Star history with 14 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in 1997.

Allen Iverson (2000 and 2001) is the only player other than Jordan and Magic to lead in scoring more than once since 1985. During that period Moses Malone has led three times in rebounds and Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Shawn Kemp and Tim Duncan have done so two times apiece. Other than Magic, the only repeat assists leaders since 1982 are John Stockton (three times), Gary Payton (twice) and Jason Kidd (twice).

Two other players deserve mention for their great All-Star performances. Elgin Baylor is fifth in All-Star career ppg (19.8), sixth in All-Star career points, seventh in All-Star career rebounds and just out of the top ten in All-Star career assists. His career overlapped Pettit's, Chamberlain's and Robertson's, so despite his consistently good All-Star numbers he only finished as a category leader twice (both times in assists) and he shared his only All-Star MVP with Pettit in 1959.

Isiah Thomas is second in All-Star career assists, second in All-Star career steals and eighth in All-Star career points. He won two All-Star MVPs (1984 and 1986) but only finished as a category leader twice (30 points in 1986 and nine assists in 1990). He had four games of 10 or more assists, only to be outdone three times by Magic and once by Stockton. His 21 point outburst in the second half and overtime of the 1984 game is one of the best stretches of play in All-Star Game history.

Several standout performers from ABA All-Star Games deserve recognition as well. The ABA existed for only nine years, so obviously there was much less of an opportunity for players to lead categories multiple times. In fact, only three ABA players achieved this distinction: Mel Daniels in points (twice), Artis Gilmore in rebounds (twice) and Mack Calvin in assists (three times). Gilmore went on to play in six NBA All-Star Games and ranks eighth in NBA All-Star history with a .621 field goal percentage. Unfortunately, Daniels' and Calvin's best years were behind them by the time the leagues merged and neither played in an NBA All-Star Game.

There were no multiple ABA All-Star MVP winners but there were plenty of talented ABA All-Stars—so many in fact that Hall of Famers Rick Barry and Julius Erving, two of the most prominent players in ABA history, never won an ABA All-Star MVP. Erving averaged exactly 20 ppg in his five ABA All-Star Games but never led a single game in points, rebounds or assists. Barry, who scored 38 points en route to winning the 1967 NBA All-Star MVP, never scored more than 16 points in his four ABA All-Star Game appearances.

NBA All-Star Game Single Game Leaders (prior to the 2002 All-Star Game)

"Three Tool" Players


Player Points Reb. Assists
Bob Pettit 6 4 2
Kareem Abdul Jabbar 1 3 2
Julius Erving 4 1 1
Elvin Hayes 1 3 1

Note: List includes all players who led or tied for the lead at least once in all three categories.

Overall Category Leaders


Player Points Reb. Assists Total
Bob Pettit 6 4 2 12
Magic Johnson 2 0 7 9
Oscar Robertson 3 0 5 8
Wilt Chamberlain 1 5 0 6
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 1 3 2 6
Julius Erving 4 1 1 6
Michael Jordan 5 0 1 6

Note: List includes all players who led or tied for the lead
at least six times in any combination of categories.

Category Leaders


Player Points
Bob Pettit 6
Michael Jordan 5
Julius Erving 4
Oscar Robertson 3

Player Rebounds
Wilt Chamberlain 5
Bob Pettit 4
Dave Cowens 4
Elvin Hayes 3
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 3
Moses Malone 3

Player Assists
Magic Johnson 7
Oscar Robertson 5
Bob Cousy 4
Dick McGuire 3
Nate Archibald 3
John Stockton 3

Note: The final three lists include all players who led or tied
for the lead at least three times in each respective category.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:55 AM

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