Ed Macauley, left, and Bob Cousy of the Boston Celtics pose with Celtics owner Walter Brown before the first NBA All-Star Game, played on March 2, 1951, at the Boston Garden. Macauley earned MVP honors as the Eastern Division stars beat their Western Division counterparts, 111-94. (Getty Images photo)
It was March 2, 1951, at Boston Garden when the tradition began. The first NBA All-Star Game was played before 10,094 in Boston that Friday night.
Ed Macauley of the hometown Celtics was named the first All-Star Game Most Valuable Player, scoring 20 points for the Eastern Division All-Star in a 111-94 over a Western Division All-Star squad that included Hall of Famer George Mikan and was led in scoring by Alex Groza of the Indianapolis Olympians—one of the so-called “Fabulous Five” that won the NCAA title at Kentucky in 1948 who was later banned for life for his involvement in a point-shaving scandal in a 1949 game at Kentucky.
Since then, it’s been an annual tradition—with the exception of the 1999 All-Star Game scheduled for Philadelphia which was cancelled due to the lockout that shortened the 1998-99 season to just 50 games.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played in 18 NBA All-Star Games, the most ever. (Getty Images photo)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played in the most All-Star Games with 18. Kobe Bryant will break the record he had shared with Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan when he makes his 14th All-Star start in Houston on Feb. 17, a year after he broke Jordan’s mark in last year’s All-Star Game by running his career total to 271 points.
Kobe Bryant, right, will make his record 14th All-Star Game start on Feb. 17 in Houston. He is shown driving past LeBron James during the 2012 All-Star Game in Orlando, Fla. His 271 points are also the most in the game’s history. (Getty Images photo)
Not surprisingly, all-time 3-point leader Ray Allen has the most long-range bombs in All-Star history with 22. Wilt Chamberlain has more rebounds in All-Star play than anyone with 197 and Magic Johnson’s 127 assists are far and away the most ever.
So with all that talent and all those teams assembled through the years, which ones are the best? There were a number of potential methodologies that could have been used—the teams with the most Hall of Famers (although that would have naturally excluded any of the more recent All-Star teams) or perhaps the teams with the most cumulative All-Star appearances.
Wilt Chamberlain, shown in his first All-Star Game in 1960, has more rebounds than anyone in the game’s history with 197. (Photo: Charlie Hoff/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
For the purposes of this list, the player efficiency rates (PER) for each player on each All-Star team, for the season the game was played, were added together and averaged to compute a per-player PER. While many analysts point to the 1980s and 1990s as the halcyon days for the NBA, the numbers say the league has never been deeper than it has been in the last decade. And that whole “West is stronger than the East” thing? That question is answered emphatically on this list.
Magic Johnson’s 127 assists in All-Star Game play are the most all-time. (Getty Images photo)
Ray Allen takes a 3-pointer over Chris Paul during the 2008 All-Star Game in New Orleans. Allen, the most prolific 3-point shooter in NBA history, has also taken and made more 3s in All-Star play than anyone else, making 22 of his 71 attempts. (Getty Images photo)
Eight of the teams that will be listed below are from the 21st century and a ninth was from the final year of the previous one.
Oh, yes, there was one other important caveat in the creation of this list—the team had to have actually won the game for which it was selected. Seriously, a team can’t be considered one of the best All-Star teams ever assembled if it couldn’t even win the game, right?
That requirement actually eliminated the top two All-Star teams in terms of average PER. The 2006 West All-Stars had the highest average PER per player at 24.38, but lost. So did the second team on the list, the 2005 West squad which came in at 23.63.
A few other considerations:
1. Again, the player efficiency rating (PER) used for each player was from the season the All-Star Game was played, rather than a career number. That is in keeping with the All-Star Game being an honor for those having the best individual seasons rather than as a career achievement award.
2. The only exception to No. 1 above was in the unique case of Magic Johnson, who did not play in the 1991-92 season, but started for the Western Conference All-Stars in 1992. In Johnson’s case, his career average PER from 1979-80 through 1990-91 was used.
3. Players who were selected but replaced due to injury were not included. Rather, the players who were actually in uniform for the game itself were the only ones considered for the purposes of this list. And with that, the 10 best NBA All-Star teams of all time, beginning with some honorable mentions for the best All-Star teams from the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s that did not make the final top 10.
The 1954 Eastern Division All-Star squad was the best All-Star team of the 1950s. They beat the Western Division stars in overtime, 98-93, at Madison Square Garden in New York. The team included, from left, Dick McGuire, Paul Seymour, Bill Sharman, Bob Cousy, Carl Braun, Harry Gallatin, coach Joe Lapchick, Neil Johnston, Ed Macauley, Ray Felix and Dolph Schayes. (Madison Square Garden photo via Facebook)
Best of the 1950s: 1954 Eastern Division (average PER 21.01)
Result: Beat Western Division All-Stars 98-93 (OT) at Madison Square Garden, New York.
MVP: Bob Cousy—20 points, 11 rebounds, four assists in 34 minutes.
Bob Pettit (9) of the host St. Louis Hawks was the Most Valuable Player of the 1962 All-Star Game at Kiel Auditorium. The 1962 Western Division squad was the best All-Star team of the 1960s. (Sports Illustrated photo)
Best of the 1960s: 1962 Western Division (average PER 20.60)
Result: Beat Eastern Division All-Stars 150-130 at Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis.
MVP: Bob Pettit—25 points, 27 rebounds in 37 minutes.
The 1979 Western Conference All-Stars pose for a team photo at the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich. Team members included, front row from left, George McGinnis, Jack Sikma, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, coach Lenny Wilkens, Artis Gilmore, Maurice Lucas, Marques Johnson; back row from left, trainer Bill Jones, Otis Birdsong, Walter Davis, Dennis Johnson, David Thompson, Paul Westphal and assistant coach Les Habegger. The 1979 West squad was the best All-Star team of the 1970s. (Getty Images photo)
Best of the 1970s: 1979 Western Conference (average PER 20.54)
Result: Beat Eastern Conference All-Stars 134-129 at the Pontiac Silverdome, Pontiac, Mich.
MVP: David Thompson—25 points, five rebounds in 34 minutes.
Michael Jordan soars past Western Conference defenders James Worthy (42) and James Donaldson (40) for two of his game-high 40 points in the 1988 All-Star Game at Chicago Stadium. The 1988 Eastern Conference All-Star team was the best of the 1980s. (Getty Images photo)
Best of the 1980s: 1988 Eastern Conference (average PER 22.03)
Result: Beat Western Conference 138-133 at Chicago Stadium, Chicago.
MVP: Michael Jordan—40 points, eight rebounds, four steals, four blocked shots in 29 minutes.
And now, the top 10 All-Star teams ever:
Charles Barkley took home MVP honors at the 1991 All-Star Game in Charlotte, N.C. The 1991 Eastern Conference team was No. 10 on the list of the best All-Star teams. (Photo: Dale E. Tait/The Sporting News)
10. 1991 Eastern Conference (average PER 22.13)
Michael Jordan fired up the Charlotte Coliseum crowd as their home-state hero led the East All-Stars to a 116-114 win over the West with 26 points. East teammate Charles Barkley took home MVP honors with 22 points and 17 rebounds. Also notable was the return of Washington Bullets forward Bernard King to All-Star competition six years after a horrific knee injury threatened his career.
As highly rated as this team was, it might have gone higher on the list. But Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas missed the game due to injury. While Thomas wasn’t replaced on the roster, Bird was replaced by Philadelphia 76ers guard Hersey Hawkins.
The team was coached by Chris Ford of the Boston Celtics and its roster appears below, with stats from the 1990-91 season:
Kobe Bryant (8) works between Eastern defenders Dikembe Mutombo (55), Jermaine O’Neal (7) and Tracy McGrady (1) during the 2002 All-Star Game in Philadelphia. Bryant was the MVP for the ninth-best All-Star team of all-time, the 2002 Western Conference squad. (Getty Images photo)
9. 2002 Western Conference (average PER 22.29)
Kobe Bryant had 31 points and won his first All-Star Game MVP honor in his hometown of Philadelphia, leading the West to a 135-120 win over the East. Despite Bryant’s homecoming, the fans at the First Union Center were not kind, booing Bryant throughout thanks in large part to his Los Angeles Lakers spanking the 76ers in a five-game NBA Finals the previous summer.
The game marked the All-Star debuts for a pair of future league Most Valuable Players, as Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash of the Dallas Mavericks were both on this squad. This is another team that could have been much higher on the charts, but Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz and Shaquille O’Neal of the Lakers both missed the game due to injuries. Malone was not replaced while Elton Brand of the Los Angeles Clippers stepped in for O’Neal.
The team was coached by Don Nelson of the Mavericks and its roster appears below, with stats from the 2001-02 season:
Shaquille O’Neal dunks behind Eastern Conference defender Jason Kidd during the 2004 All-Star Game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. O’Neal was MVP for the No. 8 team on our list, the 2004 Western Conference All-Stars. (Getty Images photo).
8. 2004 Western Conference (average PER 22.76)
Shaquille O’Neal scored 24 points and had 11 rebounds to lead the West to a 136-132 win over the East in front of the hometown crowd at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
It was O’Neal’s first All-Star Game MVP award despite not starting. Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets won the fan voting, but the Laker star played 24 minutes to just 18 for Yao.
The West squad had a pair of players who made their first and only All-Star appearances in this game in Sam Cassell of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Andrei Kirilenko of the Utah Jazz.
The team was coached by Flip Saunders of the Minnesota Timberwolves and its roster appears below, with stats from the 2003-04 season:
Kobe Bryant scored his fourth All-Star Game MVP honor while leading the 2011 Western Conference All-Stars to a win at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The 2011 West team is No. 7 on our list of greatest all-star teams ever. (Getty Images photo)
7. 2011 Western Conference (average PER 22.84)
Another All-Star Game at the Staples Center, another MVP award for a Los Angeles Laker. This time, it was Kobe Bryant winning another All-Star Game MVP honor with 37 points—including 21 in the first half—to go with 14 rebounds. The West held off a late charge from the East to win 148-143.
Bryant got the hardware, but it was his Laker teammate, Pau Gasol, who got the most important basket, tipping in a Bryant miss with 53 seconds left to help secure the victory for the West.
Rookie Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers scored only eight points in the game, but that didn’t stop him from having a monster All-Star Weekend in his home arena. He helped lead the Rookies past the Sophomores in the Rookie Challenge and then took home the Slam Dunk Contest title.
The team was coached by Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs and its roster appears below, with stats from the 2010-11 season:
Starters Age G MP FG% 3P% FT% TRB AST STL BLK PTS PERF Kevin Durant, Thunder 22 78 38.9 .462 .350 .880 6.8 2.7 1.1 1.0 27.7 23.6F Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets* 26 77 35.7 .455 .378 .838 7.3 2.9 0.9 0.6 25.6 21.7C Tim Duncan, Spurs 34 76 28.4 .500 .000 .716 8.9 2.7 0.7 1.6 13.4 21.9G Kobe Bryant, Lakers 32 82 33.9 .451 .323 .828 5.1 4.7 1.2 0.1 25.3 23.9G Chris Paul, Hornets 25 80 36.0 .463 .388 .878 4.1 9.8 2.4 0.1 15.9 23.7ReservesC Pau Gasol, Lakers 30 82 37.0 .529 .333 .823 10.2 3.3 0.6 1.6 18.8 23.3G Manu Ginobili, Spurs 33 80 30.3 .433 .349 .871 3.7 4.9 1.5 0.4 17.4 21.7G Deron Williams, Jazz** 26 65 37.9 .439 .331 .845 4.0 10.3 1.2 0.2 20.1 21.1F Blake Griffin, Clippers 21 82 38.0 .506 .292 .642 12.1 3.8 0.8 0.5 22.5 21.9F Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks 32 73 34.3 .517 .393 .892 7.0 2.6 0.5 0.6 23.0 23.4G Russell Westbrook, Thunder 22 82 34.7 .442 .330 .842 4.6 8.2 1.9 0.4 21.9 23.6F Kevin Love, Timberwolves 22 73 35.8 .470 .417 .850 15.2 2.5 0.6 0.4 20.2 24.3DNP-InjuryC Yao Ming, Rockets (replaced by Kevin Love)*-Anthony was traded to the New York Knicks on Feb. 22, two days after this game.**-Williams was traded to the New Jersey Nets on Feb. 23.
Kobe Bryant drives around Caron Butler during the 2007 All-Star Game in Las Vegas. Bryant won his second All-Star MVP award while leading the No. 6 team on this list, the 2007 Western Conference All-Stars. (Getty Images photo)
6. 2007 Western Conference (average PER 22.85)
Kobe Bryant earned MVP honors in this game, a 153-132 rout by the West over the East at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. Bryant scored 17 of his 31 points in the first half.
But he was far from the lone standout as Amare Stoudemire had 29 points and nine rebounds, Shawn Marion chipped in with 18 points, eight boards and four assists and Carmelo Anthony tossed in 20 points.
The game was notable as Kevin Garnett’s last All-Star appearance as a member of the Western Conference; he was traded to the Boston Celtics in the East after the 2006-07 season. The Seattle SuperSonics also had their last All-Star in this game. Ray Allen represented Seattle, which did not have an All-Star in the 2007-08 season and moved to Oklahoma City before the 2008-09 campaign.
The team was coached by Mike D’Antoni of the Phoenix Suns and its roster appears below, with stats from the 2006-07 season:
Playing as teammates for the first time since their bitter breakup in Los Angeles after the 2003-04 season, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal shared MVP honors in O’Neal’s new home arena in Phoenix, leading the West to a 146-119 win over the East. O’Neal stole the show early with his performance with Jabbawockeez during pre-game introductions (shown in the video above).
Bryant scored 27 points and had four steals as a starter, while O’Neal came off the West bench to score 17 points in 11 minutes on 8-of-9 shooting.
Chauncey Billups made his Western Conference All-Star debut, representing the Denver Nuggets after several years as an East All-Star from the Detroit Pistons. The game also marked O’Neal’s final All-Star appearance.
The team was coached by Mike D’Antoni of the Phoenix Suns and its roster appears below, with stats from the 2008-09 season:
Kevin Durant soared to MVP honors while leading the No. 4 team on the list, the 2012 Western Conference squad, to a win at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla. (Getty Images photo)
4. 2012 Western Conference (average PER 22.90)
Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder took home the MVP honors, scoring 36 points and leading the West to a nail-biting 152-149 win at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., outdueling LeBron James and the East. James would get his revenge in June by leading the Miami Heat past Durant’s Thunder in the NBA Finals.
Kobe Bryant tied the all-time record in this game by making his 13th All-Star start, while Andrew Bynum of the Los Angeles Lakers made his first appearance in the game, as a starter. Also debuting for the West were Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies and LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers.
The team was coached by Scott Brooks of the Thunder and its roster appears below, with stats from the 2011-12 season:
LeBron James, shown driving past Steve Nash, became the youngest All-Star Game MVP in history in the 2006 game in Houston. James, only 21 at the time, led the No. 3 team on the list, the 2006 Eastern Conference All-Stars, (Getty Images photo)
3. 2006 Eastern Conference (average PER 22.91)
Led by MVP LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the East came back from 21 points down to beat the West 122-120 at the Toyota Center in Houston. James scored 29 points to become the youngest MVP in All-Star Game history. This is the recent Eastern Conference’s only appearance on this list, as this team brought together an emerging superstar in James, another young star getting ready to lead a team to a title in Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat, a still-effective Shaquille O’Neal, in his first year with Miami, and four members of Larry Brown’s old “play the right way” Detroit Pistons.
This is also the team that took down a West squad that ranked No. 1 in terms of average PER in All-Star Game annals at 24.38. It was the first All-Star appearance for Chauncey Billups of the Pistons and the third member of Miami’s future Big Three, Toronto Raptors forward Chris Bosh.
The team was coached by Flip Saunders of the Pistons and its roster appears below, with stats from the 2005-06 season:
Tim Duncan (21) dunks between Eastern defenders Jerry Stackhouse (left) and Ray Allen (34) on his way to co-MVP honors with Shaquille O’Neal at the 2000 All-Star Game in Oakland, Calif. The 2000 Western Conference All-Stars are No. 2 on the list. (Getty Images photo)
2. 2000 Western Conference (average PER 23.13)
At the end of the 20th century, a debate was raging over which big man was better—Shaquille O’Neal of the Los Angeles Lakers or Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs. The 2000 All-Star Game at the Oakland Arena didn’t decide the issue.
Duncan had 24 points on 12-of-14 shooting and grabbed 14 rebounds. O’Neal scored 22 points, nine rebounds and a highlight-reel 360-degree breakaway slam dunk. The two shared MVP honors in a 137-126 West victory.
John Stockton of the Utah Jazz made his final All-Star appearance in this game.
The team was coached by Phil Jackson of the Lakers and its roster appears below, with stats from the 1999-2000 season:
Kevin Garnett soars over Jermaine O’Neal (7) and Michael Jordan (23) on his way to MVP honors at the 2003 All-Star Game in Atlanta. The 2003 Western Conference All-Star team is the best ever assembled. (Getty Images photo)
1. 2003 Western Conference (23.38 PER)
The greatest All-Star team in history was this bunch, which got 37 points—including the first seven in the second overtime period—from MVP Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves en route to a 155-145 victory at Phillips Arena in Atlanta.
The West set a couple of All-Star records with its 46 defensive rebounds and 155 points. It proved to be the final All-Star Game for Seattle SuperSonics point guard Gary Payton, while the game marked the All-Star debut for Houston Rockets center Yao Ming.
Again, this team was selected as the best because it had the highest average PER of any All-Star team that actually won the game for which it was selected.
The team was coached by Rick Adelman of the Sacramento Kings and its roster appears below, with stats from the 2002-03 season:
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