A trio of legendary nights with Dwyane Wade as he says good-bye to the NBA Milwaukee, Madison Square Garden, Miami — one of the greatest ever comes to the end of the road

Live in the moment. It’s a motto that many preach and few actually practice. But Dwyane Wade isn’t most people. His season-long #OneLastDance is proof: a case study, actually, in gratitude and the importance of being present. Tuesday night, the icon who took his talents to Miami in 2003, where he has played with the Heat for all but 1½ seasons — takes to the court for his final regular-season home game.

There are two ways to view Wade’s career. One is via the sheer audacity of his accomplishments.

He will have scored more than 23,000 points.

He is a 13-time All Star, and the 2010 All-Star Game MVP.

Wade is a 2008 Olympic Gold medalist and eight-time All-NBA selection.

That he is a three-time All-Defensive selection could have something to do with the fact that, in terms of guards, Wade is the NBA’s all-time leader in blocks.

The Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade talks to the media while holding the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy after defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena on June 21.

Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty Images

All of which provides context for him being a three-time NBA champion and the 2006 Finals MVP. Wade is quite simply the greatest shooting guard of all time — not named Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant.

The second way to appreciate Wade is through the prism of the cultural impact he’s had on professional basketball, and on the world around him. There’s his very public journey of fatherhood — including his recent extended paternity leave. Wade as wielding his voice and platform in this new golden era of player social activism. Married to actor, author, and philanthropist Gabrielle Union he is one-half of a power couple with global influence. Wade’s fashion risks and fashion firsts are indelible. And, of course, there is Wade’s critical role in forming and preserving the 2010-14 Miami Heat — the team that unequivocally changed the look, the feel, the style and bravado of NBA basketball ever after.

But now, after 16 campaigns, it’s over. Wade’s farewell has been the NBA’s finest storyline of the 2018-19 season. “This year has allowed me just to play and be free and not really care,” Wade told me in February. “If I score 22, if I score two — I’m enjoying the process … this journey, that I’m ending … It really allows me to live in the moment and just enjoy it all. Normally as an athlete you don’t get to.”

I joined Wade at three of his last NBA games. On March 22, Miami was at Milwaukee, near where he played college ball. As a player, he stepped on court at New York City’s Madison Square Garden for the last time on March 30. And then there was his last game at American Airlines Arena on April 9 against Philadelphia. One last ride.


CHAPTER ONE: THE WARM-UP

Marquette head coach Tom Crean talks with Dwyane Wade during the closing minutes of their game with East Carolina, Monday, Dec 30, 2002, at Minges Coliseum in Greenville, N.C.

AP Photo/ Karl DeBlaker

MILWAUKEE — Now head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs, former Marquette Golden Eagles coach Tom Crean has witnessed the legend of Dwyane Wade several times. There was the 2001 31-point explosion against Tennessee in The Great Alaska Shootout. Then there was the victory two nights later against Indiana. But the moment? The one that put an entire country on notice? That’s Feb. 27, 2003, when Wade, Crean and No. 10 Marquette, on the road, defeated No. 11 Louisville.

“[Dwyane] makes a move in front of our bench,” says Crean. “He starts out on a drive so it’s on the left wing, behind the 3-point line. … He gets a dribble out in front of him, he lifts the guy, does a spin dribble, OK?” Excitement rises in Crean’s voice. “[Wade] spin dribbles, shot fakes, lifts the guy and shoots it off the backboard … basically beat three people to the rim.”

Sportscaster Dick Vitale, per usual, couldn’t contain himself. This was the same year high school phenom LeBron James was a one-man sports news cycle. The year Carmelo Anthony’s freshman season at Syracuse was the college hoops storyline. But now a new name was tossed to the hysteria and into one of the best draft classes in NBA history.

“Everybody knows he’s a great player, but he’s also a great human being. That’s the sad part about seeing him hanging up his sneakers.”

And the Miami Heat were anxious to find its next star. “[Everyone in the Heat organization] ended up watching … all of his tournament games to prepare for the draft,” says Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, sitting on the scorers table after shootaround last month. Miami was set to play Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Bucks that night. In 2003, Spoelstra was a Heat coaching assistant. “They were super well-coached,” Spoelstra says. “And Dwyane made you watch that team.”

Marquette alumni Dwyane Wade, center, is honored with Dwyane Wade Day during halftime as Marquette takes on Providence for an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Milwaukee.

AP Photo/Darren Hauck

Walk into the Al McGuire Center on Marquette’s campus and the first face you see is Wade’s. A large portrait commemorating the school’s Final Four run, with Wade as its centerpiece, sits beside Marquette legends such as Bo Ellis, Jim Boykin, Maurice Lucas and Dean Meminger. The 3,700-seat arena is quiet in late March, as both the men’s and women’s teams are at the NCAA tournament. Wade’s presence, though, is everywhere.

There is “M Club” Hall of Fame induction in 2009. His place on the Walk of Champions. A large banner pays him homage in the actual gym. Wade courses through the veins of Marquette. Some students walk across campus in his college jersey. There’s excitement in the air. Wade and the Heat are coming to town — it’s his last time playing in the city that still claims him as its own.


Dwyane Wade signs autographs after his final game at TD Garden April 01, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeat the Heat 110-105.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

There’s an upbeat vibe at Fiserv Forum the morning of March 22. The Heat are holding a shootaround as The Four Tops’ “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” and “It’s the Same Old Song” bleed into Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” Maybe it’s a Pat Riley call. He is a child of Motown, after all.

Some players are getting up shots. But Wade’s knees are already iced as he sits courtside behind the basket. Almost directly above him hangs his No. 3 Marquette jersey. He’s having fun talking to the media, and he smiles when the Ja Morant comparisons come up. A day earlier, Morant dropped a triple-double (as Wade did in ’03, and as only eight others have done in the NCAA tournament) in Murray State’s first-round win over, poetically, Marquette. “He’s special for real,” Wade said. “[He] definitely gave me flashbacks.”

“He is one of the greatest guards that has ever played this game.” — New York Knicks head coach David Fizdale

Wade’s eyes glisten when I mention the name Gaulien “Gee” Smith. He’s owner of Gee’s Clippers Barber and Beauty Salon on Milwaukee’s Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, where Wade got his hair cut while in college. Gee, who has cut the hair of more than 200 NBA players, including Kobe Bryant and Ray Allen, recalls Wade as a soft-spoken, respectful guy whom he held out as special. “I told him [at Skybox Sports Bar across the street],” Gee says, “ ‘Man, I knew you would be great. But I’ma be honest with you, I had no idea you would be who you are today.’ ” Wade beams at the memory.

Udonis Haslem, who entered the NBA in 2003 with Wade, returns to the court and looks over at Wade, whom he considers more than a brother. “This is … the happiest I’ve ever seen him,” says Haslem. “I’m living through him and his happiness. I’m enjoying all this as a friend. Real friends enjoy seeing their friends happy.”


Dwyane Wade acknowledges the crowd while being honored in the first quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at the Fiserv Forum on March 22, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Heat fans have piled into the Bucks’ home arena to watch the Eastern Conference’s top squad play the Heat. The past 20 years of Wade’s basketball life are on people’s chests and backs: Marquette jerseys, Olympic jerseys, Chicago Bulls jerseys, even a Cleveland Cavaliers jersey. But overwhelmingly it’s about that Heat No. 3 jersey in all of its hues.

Fans Felix and Linda have made the 80-mile trek from the capital city of Madison, Wisconsin, to Milwaukee for the moment. “This is his home! Even though he’s in Miami for now,” Linda says, not even trying to hide her sarcasm. “He’ll always be welcome here.”

“It means a lot to see him in his last game here,” says Felix. “The things he does in the community off the court outweighs what he does on the court. Everybody knows he’s a great player, but he’s also a great human being. That’s the sad part about seeing him hanging up his sneakers.”

It’s a common sentiment at Fiserv all night. Midway through the first quarter, during a timeout, highlights of Wade’s March Madness run splash across the JumboTron and elicit a standing ovation. “This,” a man yells from the stands, “made me a basketball fan.”

When Wade checks in with 4:41 left in the first, an even louder ovation erupts. Wade’s 12 points, though, do little to prevent the inevitable: The Heat — in a royal rumble with Orlando, Brooklyn and Detroit for three of the East’s final three seeds — lose 116-87. But the moment was bigger than the game. Both Milwaukee All-Stars, Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, swapped jerseys with Wade after the game. His who’s who of jersey swappers this year includes LeBron James, Donovan Mitchell, Chris Paul, Dirk Nowitzki and others.

“He is definitely a mentor, somebody I watch from afar,” Middleton said after the game. “[He’s] one of my favorite players growing up. Still one of my favorite players to this day.”

“Dwyane made you watch that team.” — Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra

In the locker room, Wade sits on a chair with his shirt off and a gold chain around his neck with a throng of reporters around him. “I have no regrets,” he says of his farewell tour. Those who came out to see him don’t have regrets either. Pride is mixed with sorrow. Honor is in bed with sadness.

“I just know,” Linda says, “I’ma miss him.”

Crean, Wade’s coach at Marquette, has a theory about why the star’s connection to the area runs so deep. It’s not about the highlights, or the notoriety both men brought to Marquette in the early 2000s. It’s not even about what they did in the spring of 2003. It’s about the soul of a man.

“He never, ever stopped caring about Marquette or Milwaukee even after [we] left,” Crean says. “It never stopped being his home. It never stopped being his school. … He’s incredibly loyal to his friends, his family, his community. … He gets it.”

PART TWO: DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY

Dwyane Wade shoots the winning basket over Trevor Ariza of the New York Knicks on March 15, 2005 at Madison Square Garden. The Heat defeated the Knicks 98-96.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

NEW YORK — It didn’t take long for Wade to have his first Madison Square Garden moment. Or, in other words, rip the hearts out of New York Knicks fans. The date was March 15, 2005, and with less than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter, Wade, Shaquille O’Neal and the 49-16 Heat were tied at 96 with the 26-35 Knicks.

Dwyane Wade went full Dwyane Wade one last time.

Double-teamed by Stephon Marbury and Kurt Thomas, Wade (then known as “Flash” in his second NBA season) turned the ball over, giving the Knicks a chance at pulling off the upset. Thomas missed a baseline jumper, allowing Wade to pull down his third and final rebound of the game — thus setting him up for the final shot. Moments later, Wade called for iso far beyond the top of the key. A hard drive left. A vicious step-back jumper. Nothing but the bottom of the net. Heat win 98-96.

“That boy is the truth!” yelled former Knicks guard Greg Anthony after the game. Fair assessment. And, in light of Paul Pierce claiming his superiority over Wade as a player, a funny one too.


The Heat’s shootaround takes place at NYC’s Basketball City. It sits on the East River with a clear view of the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges and the Statue of Liberty. Some players are getting shots up. Others have side conversations with coaches. The energy is calm and inviting as media types surround Wade. He’s wearing a black Heat sweatsuit — and what appear to be Uggs.

Wade courses through the veins of Marquette. Some students walk across campus in his college jersey.

“Besides playing at home, [Madison Square Garden] is my favorite place to play,” Wade says. “It’s a lot of great arenas in the NBA, but there’s something about MSG that’s … special. … Heat Nation is strong here, so we always have a home crowd kinda feel. It’s the lights. It’s the way the floor is lit. It’s everything.”

Wade is balancing reflection and being in the moment. The night is largely about him — he’s the third-leading active non-Knick scorer at MSG, behind LeBron James and Vince Carter. Yet, for Wade, the night is more about the playoff push. The Heat at the time were still clawing for their postseason lives — and, at press time, still are. Wade is as mild-mannered as they come in the NBA, but it’s clear that questions about Knicks coach and close friend Dave Fizdale’s ability to lead his team out of a perpetual state of rebuilding begins to annoy him. Wade’s professional career began in the Garden at the 2003 NBA draft, but in March 2019 at MSG, he had not retired yet.

Much like in Milwaukee, and at other stops this season, droves of fans arrive in Wade-associated paraphernalia. One such Heat fan, sporting the statement pink Wade jersey, walks around a concourse in full Braveheart mode, high-fiving and hugging any other Heat fan he sees. “Let’s go Heat!” he belts out. “Let’s go Wade!”

Other fans couldn’t let Wade leave New York without saying goodbye.

“I’ve only seen him once,” says New Jersey native and die-hard Wade fan Ahmed Doumani. “I can’t have him retire without seeing him again.”

Celebrities also pile up at MSG for Wade. Tennis great John McEnroe, actor John Turturro, New York Jets Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams and Kansas City Chiefs MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes are all in attendance. The most important courtside seat though, as it relates to Wade, is that of his wife, Gabrielle Union.

Wade walks to the scorers table to check in. The groundswell of energy, anticipation and gratitude at MSG is gargantuan.

“It’s so nice to see him appreciate [this final season],” Union said during an in-game interview. “They say give people their flowers while they can still appreciate it, and the NBA has just done a tremendous job [of that].”

Midway through the first, Wade walks to the scorers table to check in. The groundswell of energy, anticipation and gratitude is gargantuan. Hairs rise on the back of necks. Goose bumps have nothing to do with the air conditioning. Fizdale, who spent eight seasons as an assistant and associate head coach in Miami, paid homage to his former player from the Jumbotron and had more to say after the game.

“I’ve learned more from him than he has from me, for sure,” Fizdale said. “When he says he’s your friend, he’s going to be there for you. He’s been there for me every step of the way. He is one of the greatest guards that has ever played this game.”

Every time Wade touched the ball at MSG, the crowd cheered. He received “MVP” chants when he went to the free throw line — perhaps the lone accomplishment not on his career portfolio. The Knicks offense stalled in the second, allowing Miami to push ahead for good. This allowed Knicks fans to focus on what’s really important.

Dwyane Wade touches center court of Madison Square Garden one final time after the game against the New York Knicks on March 30, 2019.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images

“Thank you, D-Wade, for whooping our a– one more time!” one fan behind press row yelled. “We’re one step closer to Zion [Williamson]!”

Wade finished with 16 points and seven assists in a 100-92 victory — although the crowd would’ve much rather preferred for it to be 18 points. A called offensive foul on Wade in a missed alley-oop drew the biggest boos of the night — from Heat and Knicks fans. After the game, hundreds of fans stuck around to take in Wade’s final moments in the Garden. New York has never had an issue with telling opponents off. It’s an unforgiving fan base. But if the city respects you, they’ll love you forever.

“Gotta pay respect,” a Knicks fan says, patting his young son on the head, “to one of the GOATs.”

“This,” a man yells from the stands, “made me a basketball fan.”

Chants of “One more year!” ride shotgun with “D-Wade!” And as a shoeless Wade finally runs off the court, he’s showered with one last ovation. Inside the locker room, Wade, in a pink “Play Make Her” hoodie (a fund launched by the Entertainment Industry Foundation to empower women in the sports industry) is looking forward to summing up the night.

“I’ll be here, I’m sure, a few other times in my life. But as a player … it’s your last time, you just enjoy it,” he says. “The fans staying around after was so cool. You expect that at home, but on the road you don’t expect it.”

As the locker room clears, Wade is smiling. It’s almost over. He taps me on my shoulder. He’s seen me at many of these stops. “See you in the next city, bro.” He takes pictures with two kids — one in a Heat jersey and another in a Knicks jersey. Then he’s off into the New York night, hand in hand with Union, as hundreds of fans wait near the team bus hoping for one last glimpse of a legend.

PART THREE: VICTORY LAP

MIAMI — “Feed him the rock,” the man says, a grin overtaking the real estate of his face. Decked in a white Wade jersey and Miami Heat hat, he takes a couple of pulls from his cigarette and carries on with another guy doing the same. “He can beat Kobe’s 60.Why not? It’s his last home game. It’s what everybody’s here for right?”

Miami knew this day would come. Erik Spoelstra made a vow to Wade (and to himself) at Wade’s home last summer when he learned this would be the superstar’s final run. “I just wanted to enjoy all these moments and be present. Not think about when it’s over, or next year,” the Heat head coach said. “I wanted to [do] everything we could to make sure it was as he imagined.”

Dwyane Wade looks on during the playing of the national anthem prior to the game between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on April 09, 2019 in Miami.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Dwyane Wade’s final home game was the topic around the city all day Tuesday. Miami is fiercely protective of Wade, and for a certain generation of south Florida sports fans, Wade is not just one of the greats. He’s the greatest.

“For really anyone 40 and under, he’s the symbol of sports excellence in Miami,” says columnist and 5ReasonsSports.com podcast host Alphonse Sidney. “We’re too young for the 1972 Dolphins. We were in elementary school or not alive even when [Dan] Marino was elite. We’ve seen two Marlins championships, but we never really had a chance to fawn over those teams because as soon as we won the championship they were gone.” He pauses momentarily. “When it comes to elite athleticism, elite players, superstars who are a symbol of a team and a community, it’s Dwyane Wade and really no one else.”

“Dwyane Wade represents us Miamians in a way no other South Florida sports figure has,” says Maria Cabré, head of operations at J Wakefield Brewing. “He [just] gets it — a balance of humility and ego and forward thinking yet rooted in tradition. [Miami] will always be his home.”

Inside American Airlines Arena is a celebration fit for a king. “L3GACY” shirts are placed on every seat in the arena — which is filled long before tip off. Dwyane Wade highlights run in an unapologetic loop on any and every screen. The entire arena chants for some 10 minutes before tipoff.

We want Wade!

We want Wade!

We want Wade!

There are clips and voiceovers from Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James, and Gabrielle Union. A deafening roar erupts when Pat Riley declares, “This will be Wade County forever!”

Wade’s wearing black Heat sweatsuit — and what appear to be Uggs.

On a night defined by emotions and immortalized by beauty, Wade’s oldest son Zaire introduced his father in a moment best described as surreal. “That one almost got me,” Wade quipped in a hallway after the game.

Following roughly 20 minutes of pre-game Wade-themed nostalgia, and a speech from the man of the hour, an actual basketball game took place. Though it was more like glorified scrimmage with the Philadelphia 76ers seemingly content with having the best seat in the house for Wade’s final Florida farewell. Spoelstra said following the game the decision to start Wade was a “no brainer.”

And, fittingly, with Chris and Adrienne Bosh, John Legend and Chrissy Teigen, Tim Hardaway and more courtside and nearby, the first bucket of the game was a dunk from No. 3. Everything Wade did Tuesday night — scoring, assists, rebounds, waves to the crowd — elicited thundering ovations. Everyone was soaking up the moment, even those in press row.

During timeouts, the video tributes continued. Derek Jeter’s was booed. NBA commissioner Adam Silver saluted Wade, telling him Springfield, Massachusetts was his next stop. As did his mother (Jolinda), father (Dwyane Sr.), sister (Tragil) and nephew (Dahveon). “You’ve given me the biggest gift you could ever give any of your fans,” Gabrielle Union says in hers. “Your heart.” Zaire returned on screen to thank his father for giving him a blueprint for how to live life both on and away from the court. His youngest son Zion, who participated in the Miami Beach Pride march on Sunday, had but one request for his dad. “Don’t lose your last home!” The biggest ovation was reserved for President Barack Obama. Via video he saluted Wade for a career well-played.

“Now, I know what you’re going through because saying goodbye to a career that you love is never easy. I’ve been there,” Obama said. “In my case though, I didn’t really have a choice. My knees were shot so I had to give up basketball forever.”

“He can beat Kobe’s 60. Why not? It’s his last home game. It’s what everybody’s here for right?”

News about Magic Johnson stepping away from the Los Angeles Lakers couldn’t derail what was instantly one of the most special nights in South Florida history, and the Detroit Pistons’ comeback victory over Memphis, officially eliminating the Heat from the playoffs, didn’t dampen a parade 16 seasons in the making. A truly special sequence in the fourth quarter soon ignites. The game was already decided. The crowd had already erupted into another “We want Wade!” chant. Then Wade and fellow Miami favorite Udonis Haslem checked into the game together.

Dwyane Wade went full Dwyane Wade one last time. A turnaround fadeaway from nine feet. Then a three pointer that turned the arena on its collective head in euphoria. Then another three pointer. Then a 23-foot step back jumper that prompted his wife Gabrielle Union to slap him on the butt as he ran by. And then three minutes later, another three.

All in all, Dwyane Wade closed out his career with 30 points, including 14 in the final frame. And the 20,153 in attendance managed to squeeze in “Paul Pierce sucks” chant for good measure.

The Miami Heat, led by Dwyane Wade, huddle up prior to the game against the Philadelphia 76ers on April 9, 2019 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida.

Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images

As the clock ran to triple zeros, the moment had finally set in. An era was over. Wade saved his most personal jersey exchanges for last. He swapped jerseys with his entire team. Then Zaire. The most personal swap was with No. 11 Heat jersey with “Hank” on the back. This was a homage to Henry Thomas, D-Wade’s late agent who became far more than just that over the course of his career. Wade credited Thomas, who passed away from neuromuscular disease in 2018, for molding him into the man he became after leaving Marquette.

“Wade County,” Dwyane said to the hundreds of fans who stayed long after the final whistle blew, “I love you.”

Following the final press conference of his career in Miami, Wade, in a red suit and sneakers, holding his daughter, left the building — no shirt under the blazer. Friends and family members follow him as he shows his daughter pictures of himself on the wall. Union soon joins them. This is how Wade wanted it to end. On his own terms celebrating with those he loves most.

It feels like just yesterday that he, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James were covering Sports Illustrated with the tagline “The New Era.” And now, Dwyane Wade is no longer in the NBA. Wade valued his career. And he walked out of American Airlines Arena at close to midnight one final time knowing that an entire fanbase, an entire city — and an entire generation — did, as well.

The 1999 NBA All-Star Weekend that never was What if the lockout never happened?

Vince Carter’s 2000 All-Star Weekend in Oakland, California, is etched in NBA history thanks to his instantly iconic performance in the Slam Dunk Contest. In actuality, though, Oakland should have been his second All-Star trip. The 1999 NBA All-Star Game, booked in Philadelphia — on Valentine’s Day, at that — was the most high-profile casualty of an NBA lockout that threatened the entire 1998-99 season.

“That’s where it was supposed to be? In Philadelphia?” Carter says after a January practice in Sacramento, California. Even over the phone there’s genuine shock in his voice. “Wow,” he says. “I [really] had no idea.”

But what if the NBA hadn’t had to cancel the 1999 All-Star Game? What if, in a new, post-Michael Jordan NBA, there had been a huge Philly basketball celebration to help ease the pain of losing basketball’s biggest star?

What if there had been an All-Star Weekend in 1999? You’re in luck. There is.

But first, some backstory.


Noren Trotman/NBAE/Getty Images

It’s tough to fault Carter for not recalling. The 1998-99 season is a forgotten, or at least rarely discussed, chapter in NBA history. Owners locked out the players on July 1, and the NBA season was shortened to 50 games. There were “no trades, no player signings, no NBA-sanctioned summer leagues, or contact between players and team representatives.” There was no All-Star Game. Shortly after the 1998 NBA draft, which featured future Hall of Famers such as Carter, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce, labor negotiations came to a screeching halt as growing profits, and how those profits would be allocated in coming seasons, became the glaring issue.

Team owners, among other things, talked salary cap issues and blamed Kevin Garnett’s 1997 $126 million contract. “That … changed the landscape,” said former NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik after the lockout. “This was the one where owners said something had to be done.” Players talked about the NBA’s swelling revenues, especially from television, and the rookie salary scale, among other things.

Players unfairly shouldered much of the public blame for the lockout, though in fairness, some players didn’t make it easy on themselves from a public relations perspective. While attempting to organize a charity game in Atlantic City, New Jersey, to benefit UNICEF — and NBA players — then-union president Patrick Ewing said pro athletes “make a lot of money, but spend a lot, too.” The gesture of the game did anything but win the fans’ favor back to the players. The Boston Celtics’ Kenny Anderson joked about selling one of his eight cars. And Grant Hill took a temporary hit to his reputation for, in the eyes of many, not taking more of an assertive role during the lockout — and his Sprite commercial with Tim Duncan reportedly angered several players.

By mid-October, the NBA’s preseason and the first two weeks of the regular season had been canceled. “If the [NBA] isn’t back by Christmas,” said Neil Hernberg, then the sports marketing manager of apparel behemoth Pro Player, “we could lose 75 percent of our NBA business.” The effects of the lockout hit the pockets of other business partners as well. “The market is soft,” noted Steve Raab, vice president of marketing for Starter. “Retailers are reducing and canceling orders.”

Networks were forced to revamp programming, and shortly before Christmas, the NBA announced for the first time in its history — and, to date, still the only time since 1951 — that the league would cancel its annual midseason classic. The city of Philadelphia lost out on an estimated $40 million.

“[The lockout] didn’t set me back because I had nothing to be set back from,” says Carter. “I went back to [the University of North Carolina]. I did a semester … and had a chance to work out with Coach [Dean] Smith and the team while I was waiting for the lockout to end.”

The players approved a new deal 179-5 at 6 a.m. on Jan. 6, 1999, and the league’s Board of Governors unanimously agreed to ratify the compromise. The deal was widely viewed as a win for the owners, but the players did walk away with more money for non-franchise players, and for the superstars. “Did [the players] blink?” then-NBA Players Association executive director Billy Hunter asked rhetorically. “I guess we both blinked.”

JOHN ZICH/AFP/Getty Images

Less than a week after the return of pro basketball back, Jordan retired for a second time.

The announcement wasn’t much of a shock, but the impact was massive and multidimensional. Television networks, which for years profited from Jordan’s magnetism, were forced to adjust to an uncertain new reality. “It’s unique to have been in a partnership with the NBA for eight years, and to have had this fairy dust sprinkled on us,” said NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol. “Now we have to reintroduce this generation of stars … will we get Babe Ruth tomorrow? No.”

“I’m sad to see him go,” rhythm and blues singer/actress Aaliyah said. “But he’s had an incredible career and we will miss him. … He’s worked hard and he deserves to relax now.”


It’s Valentine’s Day weekend in Philadelphia. In real life, the 1998-99 season is just over a week old. Teams and players are working their way back into a groove.

Instead of the pageantry of an All-Star Game, the 76ers are hosting the Atlanta Hawks. Allen Iverson is his usual self — 32 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 6 steals and 2 blocks — helping Philly improve to 4-1 to start the season. He’s the game’s lone bright spot in a 78-70 Sixers victory. Unfortunately, the biggest news to hit the city that weekend is a fire that engulfed South Philly’s St. Barnabas United Methodist Church. And the biggest sports-related news? Wrestlemania XV invading the city in March, headlined by a no-disqualification title match between Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock.

But let’s imagine an alternative history

Philadelphia is abuzz with Hollywood’s elite, music’s biggest names and NBA legends — both established and in the making. West Philadelphia’s Will Smith, fresh off “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It,” and Enemy of the State, is one of the biggest stars on the planet — he’s down front. So is Lauryn Hill — she’s one of the biggest musical artists on the planet. And Iverson? He’s in his third season and already one of the league’s most prolific scorers. But more than that? He reaches and represents a generation fueled by counterculture and soundtracked by hip-hop. While Iverson’s cornrows and tattoos are to some a sign of basketball’s decaying morals, to a younger generation he’s a symbol of defiance, swagger and perseverance.

“It’s unfair, but it’s true,” Iverson told Chris Rock. “People look at the way I dress, who I hang around, [my] jewelry — people try to make me 34 years old and I’m only 24.” People hated Allen Iverson and people loved Allen Iverson. It’s that dichotomy and that polarization that make him the obvious de facto mayor of the 1999 NBA All-Star Weekend that never was.

Team owners, among other things, blamed Kevin Garnett’s 1997 $126 million contract.

Also at courtside for the game are hometown heroes such as Mike Schmidt and Moses Malone. There’s plenty of room also for the other stars ruling culture: Denzel Washington, Mariah Carey, Aaliyah, Spike Lee, Snoop Dogg, Jim Carrey, Djimon Hounsou, Kate Winslet. Bill Russell is there, along with Wilt Chamberlain, whose relationship with Philadelphia is both storybook and tragic. The meeting at the 1999 NBA All-Star Game (that never was) would be one of their final times together, as Chamberlain would die eight months later.

Muhammad Ali and Philly’s own Joe Frazier, in the imaginary weekend’s most touching moment, publicly end a bitter feud that had lasted nearly 30 years with vicious taunts from both men. In real life, the two boxing icons squashed their beef at the 2002 All-Star Game in Philadelphia. Places of honor go to Julius Erving, as well as Jordan, whose presence is impossible to avoid given that most fans have yet to accept his second retirement.

Jazzy Jeff is the weekend’s official DJ. Hometown daughter Patti LaBelle performs the national anthem — paying homage to the city’s soulful musical roots with the most soulful rendition since Whitney Houston at the 1991 Super Bowl. The aforementioned Hill, following the August 1998 release of her The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, is tapped to perform at halftime with a string of hits, including “Doo Wop (That Thing),” “Everything Is Everything” and “Lost Ones.” Less than two weeks later, Hill’s place in history is cemented with five Grammys, including album of the year.

Celebrities are a necessary part of All-Star Weekend. As are big-name performers. But the biggest celebrities and performers are the ones voted in by the fans to start the game. Unlike 2019, the teams were still separated by conferences in 1999. Yet, like 2019, the game’s starters will be selected via fan vote. Here are your 1999 NBA All-Stars, for a game that never was — current and future Hall of Famers each one.

Eastern Conference

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G — Allen Iverson | Philadelphia 76ers

The weekend’s point person, if you will. Though if you’re in the mix, you’ll see Bubba Chuck at every party in the city. Iverson’s popping bottles, rocking jewelry bright enough to light up the nightclub and partying to DMX, Jay-Z, Cash Money. You’re probably wondering when he sleeps? It’s All-Star Weekend! No sleep! It’s Philly, and it’s Allen Ezail Iverson, and you know he’s bringing the city out. Iverson did eventually capture All-Star Game MVP in Washington, D.C., in 2001 — also a homecoming of sorts, given his Georgetown roots. So, needless to say, the league’s leader in points per game and minutes per game in the 1998-99 season would’ve put on a show before a crowd that treats him like a demigod to this day.

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G — Ray Allen | Milwaukee Bucks

Penny Hardaway really could’ve won a popular vote over Ray Allen, aka Jesus Shuttlesworth, in 1999. Penny started every game in ’98-’99 and led Orlando to the playoffs. But Hardaway’s injury history works against him here and is beginning to paint the picture of what could have been an all-time great NBA career derailed by factors beyond his control. Riding the wave of 1998’s He Got Game, the Milwaukee Bucks superstar-in-the-making gets the nod, and you best believe he’s rocking the HGG 12’s in the process — with Washington, Lee and Jordan all sitting courtside too. Hardaway was a magnificent shooter from the day he entered the league, and in his later years he became a marksman who nailed the 3 that saved the Miami Heat’s dynasty in 2013. But young Ray? Oh, young Ray could do it all. Including put you on a poster.

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F — Vince Carter | Toronto Raptors

All the hoopla and hysteria we see around Luka Doncic now? That would’ve been Vince, the eventual Rookie of the Year, 20 seasons ago — had he actually had a real rookie season to lay ruin to. How massive was the Vince hype? Let his cousin and teammate, Tracy McGrady, tell it. “[Carter] lit the league on fire with his athleticism, his spectacular dunks,” he says with a smile you can almost see through the phone. “That momentum carrying into the ’99 All-Star break just would’ve been on fire.” Even in the abbreviated season, Carter’s athletic prowess became the theatrics of legend en route to a runaway Rookie of the Year campaign. Carter starts as a rookie in the All-Star Game because, why wouldn’t he?

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F — Grant Hill | Detroit Pistons

One of the best (and most popular and marketable) stars in the league was set to be leaned on heavily in the post-Jordan era. His ability to do nearly any and everything on the court — Hill averaged 21.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, 6 assists and 1.6 steals on 47.9 percent shooting in ’98-’99 — made him an undeniable superstar with crossover appeal. Hill’s marriage to R&B star Tamia, whose brilliant 1998 self-titled album produced the hit “So Into You,” also made the former Duke Blue Devil a star far beyond the court. The sky is the limit for Grant Hill in February 1999. One question no one’s really asking at this point, though. Should we be talking about Hill’s impending summer 2000 free agency? Too early, right? Yeah, you’re right.

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C — Alonzo Mourning | Miami Heat

When the center position actually counted in the All-Star Game, here is Mourning. Shaquille O’Neal had long defected to the Western Conference. And Patrick Ewing’s prime years are behind him. Mourning is, without question, the East’s best center on a team many believe will compete for a championship come June. His 20 points and 11 rebounds per night would’ve made him an All-Star in any season — but his league-leading 3.9 blocks per game make getting into Fort Knox easier than getting to the rim when Zo’s in the neighborhood.

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Coach: Pat Riley | Miami Heat

With Jordan retired and the Chicago Bulls team a shell of its former self, Pat Riley’s Heat had real-life title aspirations and the squad to do it. Just a hunch, though: They should probably try to avoid the New York Knicks in the first round.

Western Conference

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G — Gary Payton | Seattle SuperSonics

With fellow Oakland native and future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd in Phoenix, there’s competition out west for the starting guard spot, but The Glove gets the nod because he’s still very much the floor general who led the SuperSonics to the NBA Finals three years earlier. The Sonics aren’t the dominant force in 1998-99 they were in the mid-’90s, but Payton’s output was still up there with the best point guards in the league: 21.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 8.7 assists and 2.2 steals. Plus, Payton’s a showman of the highest order, and being able to mic him up in-game is too much basketball trash-talk nirvana to pass up.

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G — Kobe Bryant | Los Angeles Lakers

It was pretty much written in stone that from the moment this teenager started his first All-Star Game in New York a year earlier, one of these guard spots would be his every February for the foreseeable future. In️ this alternate reality, Kobe Bryant returns to Philadelphia — the city he claimed, although it didn’t always reciprocate his love — and puts on an absolute clinic. Not many players have had a higher flair for the dramatic than the perpetually dramatic Bryant. With Ali, Frazier, Hill, Jordan, Will Smith and others at courtside, maybe, just maybe, Bean captures MVP honors in Philadelphia in 1999 — just like he did in 2002.

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F — Kevin Garnett | Minnesota Timberwolves

The Big Ticket, like Bryant, is inked in here for as long as he can put up with Minnesota, largely accomplishing very little during his prime years. By the end of his third season in 1997-98, Garnett had become a one-of-one generational talent. He was a complete freak on the defensive end and was the only player in the league to put up 18 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists per night. If that wasn’t enough, the now three-time All-Star had no problem talking an opponent’s ear off.

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F — Karl Malone | Utah Jazz

Quick question. Don’t use Google, either. And please don’t Ask Jeeves. Who won MVP in 1999? If you guessed Malone, buy yourself a drink. Because of the lockout, his ’99 MVP, won in his 14th year in the league at age 35, is relegated to obscurity, sandwiched as it is between Jordan’s final MVP in 1998 and O’Neal’s virtuoso 2000 campaign. Malone, the game’s future second-all-time leading scorer, gets the fan selection here, but it does come with a caveat. There’s a young phenom in his second season at San Antonio by the name of Tim Duncan who will make this spot his very, very soon.

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C — Shaquille O’Neal | Los Angeles Lakers

Like Iverson, if you’re in Philly for the 1999 All-Star Weekend that never was, it won’t be easy to miss Shaq. Sure, because of his stature. But more importantly because of his larger-than-life personality. O’Neal’s a megastar not just on the court but with a broad appeal similar to Jordan’s. And with Bryant in Philly too, there was the slight chance O’Neal and Bryant could’ve performed their long since forgotten rap collaboration “3X’s Dope” from O’Neal’s 1998 album Respect at some random party in the city.

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Coach: Gregg Popovich | San Antonio Spurs

Gregg Popovich’s Spurs, with a young Duncan and a wily vet in David Robinson, seem poised for something special in San Antonio. They might be on to something here.


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Bonus: Is the 1999 NBA All-Star Dunk contest the greatest dunk contest that never happened?

Aside from a few special moments — see Cedric Ceballos’ blindfold, Dee Brown’s no-look, Shawn Kemp’s double pump, Isaiah Rider’s Eastbay Funk Dunk or Brent Barry’s jump from the free throw line — the dunk contest lost steam in the ’90s. Bryant, as a rookie, won the contest in 1997. There was no contest at all in 1998 — and no dunk contest in Madison Square Garden spoke volumes. The contest returned in 2000 with a bang. At the Golden State Warriors’ home arena, Steve Francis, McGrady and Carter proved to be human defibrillators, reviving the contest with legendary swag.

“Bro, I’m trying to tell you. It was some highfliers with creativity and young legs! It would’ve been crazy!” — Tracy McGrady

Yet, McGrady still wonders what would have happened in Philly at the All-Star Game that never happened. Could the greatest field that never happened … have actually happened in 1999? “You had Kobe in [’97]. Then you got Vince come in. I mean, who knows?” McGrady says. “Kobe probably would’ve entered that Slam Dunk Contest that year with Vince. You just never know.”

Carter agrees, although the missed opportunity doesn’t hurt as much given the light show he and his cousin put on in Oakland. “As far as what could’ve been? Yeah, maybe that year — as far as a dunk contest,” Carter says.

A potential field of Bryant, McGrady and Carter? “Bro, I’m trying to tell you. It was some highfliers with creativity and young legs!” McGrady exclaims. “It would’ve been crazy!

Carter doesn’t want to play the “what if” game too much, though. But he realizes what those three could have brought to the floor in the 1999 NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest that never was. “Kobe and I played with each other in AAU … Tracy and Kobe were good friends. The friendly competition and the mutual respect we had for each other as athletes and dunkers would’ve brought the best out of each and every one of us,” Carter says. “That would’ve been legendary.”

Why Migos’ ‘Stir Fry’ is the perfect song for NBA All-Star Weekend Hip-hop’s Big 3 are pop culture and they’re truly doing it for the culture—of the NBA

Music’s hottest supergroup consists of three MCs known as Quavo, Offset and Takeoff. In the past year, the Migos have a Grammy-nominated No. 1 hit, a Grammy-nominated No. 1 album and their own brand of potato chips. This past November, between group efforts and individual guest appearances on other artists’ songs, the Migos had nine concurrent entries on Billboard’s Hot 100 — also known as the pop singles chart. And Offset is one half of the year’s newest power couple: He’s engaged to the coolest new star of the year, Cardi B.

So, just ask the Migos: There is something alluring about a trio in which each person brings a little something different and they all work together to create poetry in motion. The Migos are a big three.

The power of a “Big 3” in basketball is undeniable, and throughout the course of NBA history we’ve been spoiled by quite a few memorable ones. There’s Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy as the leaders of the “Showtime” Lakers. Chicago’s Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. And then the iconic Boston formation of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. And we can’t forget the straight-outta-video-game Miami Heat trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

In the game of hip-hop, Quavo, an ultimate hook man, runs point. The lyrically gifted Offset is on the wing. And tone-setting ad-libber extraordinaire Takeoff is down in the post. And now, with their talent and influence, the Migos have reached the NBA’s biggest stage.

On Christmas Day, the NBA announced the Migos’ Pharrell-produced “Stir Fry” as the official song of 2018 All-Star Weekend (Feb. 16-18). This ended a long run of forgettable tunes (in 2017, it was Sir Roosevelt’s “Sunday Finest”) selected by the league and TNT, the longtime broadcaster of the midseason classic. The song will serve as the soundtrack for the festivities, hosted this year in Los Angeles. “Stir Fry” is the best song the weekend has yielded since 2012, when Jay-Z and Kanye West, aka The Throne, provided the All-Star Game with its lead-in music via their 2011 megahit “N—as in Paris.”

But “Stir Fry” is an even more worthy theme song for All-Star (and a nice complement to the game’s fresh new pickup-style team-selecting format). It’s almost as if the Migos wrote the song specifically for this moment. Don’t discriminate, ballplayers come in all sizes / Finger roll, post move, or the pick and roll / They mad the way we win, they think we used a cheat code, flows Takeoff in the third verse — a small peek into the hoops knowledge and respect for the game possessed by the entire trio.

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Aside from the fact that they can actually hoop (especially Quavo), the Migos are a fixture at NBA games, primarily at Philips Arena, where their hometown Atlanta Hawks play. They were swagged out from courtside seats there on Dec. 23, when Hawks point guard Dennis Schroder put up a career-high 33 points after receiving some motivation from the group’s frontman, Quavo. “He told me last night … on the phone … ‘You’ve gotta get 30 points when I’m coming.’ I was motivated, I was focused, I still tried to get the win, but I did it for him,” Schroder said after the game, from which each member of the Migos left with a game-worn jersey off the back of a Hawks player. After an MLK Day matchup between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry presented the sideline-sitting Quavo with the pair of signature Under Armour shoes that he wore in 33 minutes on the court, in response to a midgame request from the rapper to let him have them.

As long as the Migos keep delivering hits, and keep “doing it for the culture” that’s reflected within the makeup of the thriving NBA, they’ll always have a place in a world of basketball that’s obsessed with prolific trios. It’s not a stretch to say that the Migos are probably your favorite hoopers’ favorite rappers.

And on Jan. 26, the group is scheduled to drop Culture II, the highly anticipated follow-up to their 2017 platinum album, Culture, just in time for All-Star Weekend, which tips off three weeks later. We already know what the players will be bumping in their headphones before game time.

How the NBA does the weirdest, wildest, most soulful Halloweens, ever From as far back as 1998 — and from as recently as last night — the NBA (and friends) take dressing up seriously

Whether it’s Michael Jordan as a knitting granny in 1992 or LeBron James as Prince in 2015, Halloween and the NBA go together like a weekend binge-fest and bomb snacks. Let’s look back — and let’s look at this weekend.

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Paul Pierce as Rick James

Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

 

Daily Dose: 10/26/17 NAACP travel warning tells black people to be wary of American Airlines

All right, y’all, busy day in these streets on a couple of levels. I’ll be on Around The Horn on Thursday, so that’s fun, and then I’m headed to Bristol, Connecticut, for some more fun to end the week.

Some people have to fly a lot. It’s just a part of life, and business travel is an unavoidable scenario. Depending on the type of person you are, different airlines are important to you in different ways. But an airport is also one of those places where racial discrimination is absolutely a thing and can affect your life drastically. So when the NAACP says that black folks should avoid American Airlines altogether because of a string of incidents, you’ve got to pay attention. At least American is trying to be understanding.

We’ve come such a long way on marijuana. Basically, the only people in polite society these days who think it should still be illegal are backward-thinking folks who have willfully ignored the past. Between mandatory sentencing that unfairly targets people of color and the actual health benefits of trying to make the “drug” and its effects more mainstream, it’s about time we legalized it. Now, according to a new poll from Gallup, most Americans believe that to be true as well.

George H.W. Bush is an American president. Apparently, he’s also a groper. Yes, it’s sad to have to talk about such an old man in such a way, but just because you sat in the Oval Office it doesn’t mean that you get to grab women’s butts for the rest of your life. See, he’s also been in a wheelchair for a while, which his camp seems to think makes this whole thing funnier, which it doesn’t. Now, more women are coming out saying this happened. He’s even got a joke to go with his predatory ways. Yeah, not cool.

Welp, it looks like LaVar Ball was right again. The man who everyone loves to hate said the Los Angeles Lakers would beat my Washington Wizards on Wednesday night, and guess what? They did. And not only did he say that before the game, he said that during the game, while it was still happening, so whether or not he knew what he was talking about, he was correct. Why does this matter? Because one Marcin Gortat was talking trash before the game, as was one John Wall of the Washington Wizards.

Free Food

Coffee Break: We’re getting close to Halloween, which means it’s time for all of our seasonal tricks to come out of the bag. And the one that’s the best from Saturday Night Live is obvious: Tom Hanks’ role as David Pumpkins. Well, it’s coming back as its own full-blown special. This oral history of the character is hilarious.

Snack Time: If someone did this to any member of my family, I would be doing a whole lot more than just suing when it came down to it. There would need to be MANY conversations about MANY things.

Dessert: Justice League fans, here’s a little nugget for you.

The NBA season has started and Paul Pierce already has a lot to say The former league vet talks Celtics, Chris Paul and more

Former NBA player Paul Pierce has a lot to say and a new platform to say it. Spending the first 15 years of his NBA career with the Boston Celtics, he was once the captain and part of an unstoppable Big Three in himself, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. The trio led the Celtics to two NBA finals (2008 and 2010) and one NBA championship (2008), for which he was awarded the Finals MVP.

Now he is sitting in the analyst chair, alongside Jalen Rose, Chauncey Billups and Tracy McGrady on Countdown hosted by Michelle Beadle. He will also make appearances on The Jump with Rachel Nichols.

On Monday, just ahead of Wednesday’s NBA opening day during a media conference call, the four-time NBA All-Star gave his take on what to expect in Boston. He also weighed in on Chris Paul and the Houston Rockets and offered his take on players and the 2017-18 NBA season.

Pierce said the Celtics’ big three of Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward have a chance at winning a championship in the Eastern Conference, but that was before Hayward suffered a dislocated left ankle and fractured tibia during the Celtics’ 102-99 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Tuesday’s season opener. According to ESPN’s Michael Wilbon, Hayward will have surgery Wednesday.


Some people are calling Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford the Celtics’ new Big Three. Do you feel they deserve to be called the Big Three? How do you feel they compare to you, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen?

The reason they’re called the big three is because they’re the three All-Stars on the team. They’re a lot younger than we were when they got together. I think only time can tell. Who knows who’s going to go on and have a Hall of Fame career and who’s going to go on and win a championship.

But when you get three All-Stars together, they’re going to be a big three. Only time will tell right now. I’m sure they’re going to win a lot of games, but they are definitely going to have a great chance in the Eastern Conference to win a championship together, if they’re together a long time.

Do you expect them to get to the Finals?

I think they’ve got a great chance, man. I think what they’ve been able to do with signing Gordon Hayward as a free agent. They made the trade to get Kyrie Irving. And hopefully some of these young guys can help contribute this year, guys like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. These are going to be two huge wild cards for them. If they can find some consistency from either of those two guys, then I think they’ve got a great chance.

But at the same time, it’s hard. Our situation was unique. We came together and did it in one year even though we had all new faces. That’s hard to do. It’s hard when you bring a whole new team together and say, look, we’re going to go out here and get to the NBA Finals or win an NBA championship. The chemistry has to be right. You have to be healthy. Guys have to understand their role. A number of things have to go right for that to happen.

Could you sense Chris Paul getting kind of frustrated with the Clippers, maybe losing his belief they could win there? Were you surprised he moved on, or did you think he would end up back there this year?

Truthfully, I didn’t think there was no way that Chris would leave the Clippers. He really built up something special, you know, with getting the Clippers back to being legitimate, make the playoffs every year, 55 games. He just bought a new home like less than a year ago. He had a $200 million offer on the table. So that really shocked me that he would leave.

Obviously, sometimes him and Doc [Rivers] had their differences, but what star players don’t have differences with their head coach? Especially when you guys have been together four or five years and things haven’t really panned out the way you really wanted them to. Same thing happened in Boston. Me and Doc, we didn’t look eye to eye all the time.

But that really shocked me seeing him leave, especially what he had built in L.A., on and off the court, and he had a huge contract in front of him and with him getting a new house. So that really shocked me. I didn’t think there was no way he would leave Los Angeles.

After you did the last two NBA Finals, what made you gravitate toward this TV role as something more expansive? What did you enjoy about it?

It gives me a chance to be around the game. When you’ve been around the game so much for so many years, it’s just like it’s a part of you. It’s like, man, when I was on the set during the NBA Finals, it’s funny that we’re on tape and we have microphones and suits on, but it’s like this is stuff we did every day in the locker room, talked hoops. We talked our opinions.

And after I did the first NBA Finals, I thought this is like, I had a good time. I developed a good chemistry with the team there. I did the second one, and I just thought maybe this is something I could do after basketball. I enjoyed talking about the game. I enjoyed being around it. I’ve been around it my whole life, so why not make this a second career out of this?

I saw the opportunity talking to people with ESPN/ABC, and we made it happen. So I was really excited about it, that I could still be around the game and talk about it, because it’s something I enjoy doing even when I wasn’t in the studio.

Is it easy for you to speak the truth about players who you were playing against just last year?

Yeah, it’s easy. That’s just who I am. I give my honest opinion. Whether it’s right or wrong, but it’s an opinion that I’ll make. It’s easy, man. None of these guys are calling my hotline saying they want to come beat me up or anything. Everybody is entitled to an honest opinion. What does it matter that I played against these guys than somebody else who didn’t play against them?

You kind of connected again with Ray [Allen] in Japan. Can you talk about that? What are things like now? Will he be at the 10-year reunion? What can you tell me about that?

Well, I knew I was going to see Ray. The crazy and, I guess, the funny thing about it is like, when we did we addressed the whole Ray Allen situation and reunion and our relationship and how it all kind of fell apart, the one thing I said to the guys also, I said, man, at some point we’re going to have to end all this. At the end of the day, Ray was a big part of what we accomplished. So we’ve got to eventually get over there.

I just saw opportunity, when I was able to see him, kind of like bury the hatchet, put it all behind us. I was just excited because the funny thing, our families, our wives still have a relationship, and our kids — you know, we did things together with our kids. So it was more than just a working relationship. We were all like brothers and friends, and it was just like, you know what, I’m pretty much over it.

And then what me and him discussed was, my biggest issue with the whole thing was not talking to him. So we talked about that. You know, why I couldn’t get a callback, and the funny thing Ray said was that was the one regret he had was not talking to me during that process. But then hearing his side of the story, you know, the things that went on as far as the trade rumors and the conversations with Doc and Danny and him almost getting traded, I think, the year before, I think that really put a sour taste in his mouth. And that was a lot of stuff that I didn’t really know too much about. And him having a reduced role if he came back or taking less, you know, less of a role and less money. So a lot of the little things I didn’t really understand until he kind of broke it down.

So a man has to make his decision for his own happiness, and I think that’s something Ray did. We talked about it, and now we can move forward. And the funny thing about all this, when we were in China, you know, the hurricane is going on in Miami where he lived. So he had to deal with all that. It’s a real concern for his family and things, and we just opened our relationship back up. I got his number. I texted him since leaving China, seeing how his family has been doing, and hopefully we can bring everybody together and really do a reunion trip or whatever we need to do to get everybody back together.

What’s the biggest challenge you think with this new Celtics team, in particular Al, Gordon and Kyrie?

Those are the leaders of their team. I’m not sure how they were with the other teams, if Gordon was a leader or Kyrie was a leader there. That will be a challenge being a bigger voice than they probably have in the past.

Also, on the court is going to be the chemistry issue. You’ve got pretty talented players. Who’s going to be willing to sacrifice? Who’s going to be willing to take less or do more? Those things come up. When you look at Gordon, he was the leading man in Utah. Kyrie, he was the leading man at some point, but then he became the second fiddle to LeBron. Now he’s probably going to be the leading man again. How will Gordon Hayward take to that? How will the rest of the guys, the rookies and the young guys fall into their role?

Everybody has to understand what their role is going to be and accept it if they want to go from a good team to a great team. Some people don’t always do that. But us being the older team, we realized we didn’t have a lot of time left, so we was ready to do anything possible to make it work. So sometimes you’ve got to put your individual goals out the window if you want to accomplish something bigger than that in winning the championship.

With your jersey retirement coming up in February, when you’re looking forward to that, what goes through your head?

Oh, man, you know what, I haven’t really given a lot of thought. I know — I don’t know what I’m probably going to say. There’s probably going to be a lot of nervousness because this is, like, a huge deal for me. It’s like everything I accomplished as a Celtic, now to go up into the rafters, this is like the final stamp on what I was able to do in my career in Boston. So this is a big moment for me.

I don’t know what the right words are going to be. There’s a lot of things going through my mind. I don’t even know what to wear. I haven’t given much thought to that. It just kind of happened so fast. I knew it would happen eventually, but when Wyc Grousbeck called me and said, ‘Do you want to do this in February?’ I was kind of overwhelmed by it. This is a huge deal for me.

Like the feeling I had on draft night. It’s like what to say on the stage, or what do I do? It’s a hell of an honor, knowing that I’m going up there with so many of the Celtics greats from the past and able to leave my mark on this franchise.

Have you ever envisioned doing the work you’re going to do now as opposed to an athletic career? What things have you done to really prepare yourself to be a solid analyst?

Well, I’ve done some work in the past over the course of my career. I’ve done some local things in Boston. I’ve done things with other networks. You know, it’s just something that was always in the back of my head, I guess, since I’ve always accepted when you get the network saying, ‘Do you want to come out and analyze the game?’ It’s something over my 19-year career I’ve done.

Did I know it was something I wanted to do after basketball? I think the challenging part is a lot of players from different sports sometimes don’t always know what they want to do. You kind of just fall into it, and then once I was working the NBA Finals a year ago, and it was just like really feeling comfortable and doing stuff that I did on an everyday basis in the locker room, talking hoops and talking about different players and talking about the games. It’s like something I’ve been doing my whole life.

Now you’re just doing it to where people can hear your opinion on certain games and certain players. It just felt I was feeling comfortable right at home. Now I’m doing it on the big screen. We’re in a coat and tie doing it instead of sitting in the locker room with my jersey on talking about the stuff with other players. So I just feel like it’s right at home for me because I always had an opinion about different players.

How did you work to find your voice in this broadcasting world?

I’m just being me socially. People sometimes want to hear the opinion of players that have done it and been in the trenches and being called a champion, you know, a voice that the people respect their opinion. I just think that’s pretty much what it is.

I’ve been talking basketball pretty much my whole life. Now I’ve garnered the respect of my peers to hear me speak about the game. I just think it’s going to take on a life of its own.

How do you feel about the term ‘superteam’? What’s your take on that?

Superteams have been part of the NBA for as long as I can remember, going back to the Celtics when they had all the All-Star members on one team. It’s just something that happens once every decade. You look at the ’80s and the Lakers. Each generation has a superteam.

When teams draft well and find a way to get other greats in. Who knew Kyrie would be the player he is today? Who knew Draymond Green would be the player he is?

I just had a question for you about the NBA locker rooms that you’ve been in, of course, in Boston, Brooklyn, Washington and, of course, with the Clippers. Who do you think had the best locker room pertaining to sneakers that you’ve ever been in?

Man, it has to be Boston, because I was on the team with guys that had probably like three or four guys with their own signature shoe. And there’s something we used to compare. I remember us having to compare our shoes every All-Star: me, [Rajon] Rondo, Kevin and Ray. We always took pictures of our shoes, so everybody would post a picture of the shoes up. It was a lot of fun, man. Boston, by far, because I spent the most time there.

And who do you think, as an individual this year, would have the best year in sneakers? Who’s your favorite? Who do you like to watch what they wear?

Man, I’d probably have to go with — man, that’s a good one. I like Paul George’s shoe. I got a couple pair of those already. I already like his shoe. Or the Kyrie Irvings. I like Kyrie’s shoes a lot too.

Can you talk about Avery Bradley and what you expect him to bring to the Pistons this season?

Oh, man, he’s going to bring a defensive mentality. Avery is one of the best defenders in the NBA. I was really shocked he didn’t make the All-NBA defensive team. He’s a veteran now. He’s going to be able to bring his leadership qualities now. And somebody that can help him get to the playoffs. The Pistons are a team that I feel like should have been in the playoffs, but hopefully Avery’s presence and his leadership and his defensive mentality can help them get over that hump this year.

When you predicted on The Jump that Oklahoma City would be winning this year, people considered it a hot seat. What do you think that some people aren’t seeing with that position that you are?

I mean, you got three All-Stars. You need minimum three All-Stars to win a championship. What other team outside of OKC, Golden State and maybe Cleveland that can produce three All-Stars? So they have the criteria that you need to win a championship. I mean, when’s the last time a team won an NBA championship without three All-Stars? So I just figured that you’ve got men at the point in their career that they’re willing to sacrifice for it. It’s not like they’re all young guys.

And anything matchup-wise you saw that favors OKC?

PIERCE: Well, OKC is going to play basketball. You’ve got guys that can play multiple positions. You can put Russ [Russell Westbrook] at the 2. You can put Melo [Carmelo Anthony] at the 3, 4, or 5. You can also put [Paul] George at the 2, 3, 4. So they really have the versatility to match up with anybody in the NBA.

Just wanted to ask you mainly about the Isaiah Thomas-Danny Ainge debate. You similarly didn’t want to be traded from the Celtics. What advice do you have for Isaiah Thomas? Do you think he’ll ever get that feeling back in Boston? He left Boston, but he’s also kind of got that bitter taste in his mouth at the moment.

A lot of guys are bitter when — you know, I can understand Isaiah’s frustration because he felt like he’s given so much to the franchise, and he came back and played after a death in the family and played through injury. He just thought maybe that was worth something.

But at the end of the day, we’ve all got to realize this is a business. This is a business we’re in, and no matter what sacrifices you make as a player, the sacrifice is not always mutual on the other end because, at the end of the day, it’s not about the player, it’s about the franchise. I think he’ll understand it, get over it, and he’ll use it for motivation for this upcoming season.

I just wanted to follow that up with the guy that’s coming to the Celtics to replace Isaiah in Kyrie. Obviously, it’s going to be an interesting matchup Tuesday when he returns to the Cavaliers. What do you expect of the reaction with what he’s been saying this past week? What do you expect to be the reaction and how he’s going to react to the reaction, if you know what I mean?

Kyrie’s a competitor. He’s going to cancel out the crowd noise. He’ll probably see a lot of boos, but Kyrie is a competitor, and I don’t think it will affect him. Not one bit. He has some nervous energy from going back to a team that he played for his whole career, but I think after maybe the first couple minutes, he’ll get over it and be fine.

BIG3 league shows signs of promise in Brooklyn debut Despite injuries and rust, former NBA players were competitive in Ice Cube’s new venture

NEW YORK — There was no mic in his hand. No sound check. No Raiders cap. But O’Shea Jackson, better known as Ice Cube, was still center stage, sharply dressed in a suit and tie as he stood courtside an hour before the debut of his BIG3.

The day wasn’t perfect: Allen Iverson was clearly not Hall of Famer Allen Iverson anymore. Chauncey Billups didn’t attend because of ongoing talks about a front office job with the Cleveland Cavaliers. There were injuries, and some kinks still needed to be worked out. But for the most part, the debut of Ice Cube’s 3-on-3 league of former NBA players was competitive and well-attended by a star-studded crowd of 15,177 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

“It’s a great environment,” NBA All-Star James Harden told The Undefeated. “It’s rare to get these actors, actresses, stars of whoever you are, all in one building for one circumstance. It’s a dope event. Dope environment. Good music. Good vibes. And I’m happy to be a part of it and a witness of it. … The way this turned out, Ice Cube and whoever else put this on did a really good job.”

The game of 3-on-3 basketball has been popular in the United States for decades and is growing worldwide. It will debut as a sport in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Perhaps by then, the United States might want to bring the best players from BIG3 to represent the country.

Power’s DeShawn Stevenson tries to go for the layup while Tri-State’s Jermaine O’Neal defends during the game between Power and Tri-State on June 25 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The BIG3 League, created by Ice Cube, debuted with four games of 3-on-3 basketball featuring former NBA players.

Anthony Geathers for The Undefeated

Music legend, actor and film producer Ice Cube, along with entertainment executive Jeff Kwatinetz, announced the launch of BIG3 on Jan. 11. The league has eight teams, its most notable player is Iverson, and it also features former NBA All-Stars Jermaine O’Neal, Kenyon Martin and Rashard Lewis. Coaches include Iverson, Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Clyde Drexler, Gary Payton, George Gervin, Rick Barry and the intimidating Charles Oakley and Rick Mahorn.

Brooklyn rapper Fabolous performed between the second and the third games, to the locals’ delight.

Whoopi Goldberg, LL Cool J and Power actress Lela Loren were in attendance, as well as former NBA stars Paul Pierce, Nate “Tiny” Archibald, Sam Cassell and Jalen Rose. Harden and Rockets teammate Lou Williams, new Brooklyn Nets guard D’Angelo Russell and forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Detroit Pistons forward Tobias Harris were there as well. National media outlets covered it, and Iverson’s news conference was packed.

LL Cool J (left) shakes hands with Ice Cube during the intermission between games on June 25 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The BIG3 League, created by Ice Cube, debuted with four games of 3-on-3 basketball featuring former NBA players.

Anthony Geathers for The Undefeated

There were cool jerseys with nicknames on the back such as “The Answer” for Iverson and “W. Mamba” for Brian “White Mamba” Scalabrine, “White Chocolate” for Jason Williams and “Junkyard Dog” for Jerome Williams, who barked for the camera pre-game.

In the BIG3 the game ends when one team scores 60 points, with halftime arriving when a team reaches 30. There is hand-checking and a 4-point shot.

“Everybody that is in this league wants to ball,” Ice Cube told The Undefeated. “They’re not here just to hang out, shoot around. They are real ballers and wanted real competition. They were tired of playing in the Pro-Ams and stuff, and they were ready to play with their peers. It was our job to set the stage … it’s their job to take the league to the next level.”

The former NBA players took the games to a respectable level that Ice Cube could be proud of.

Three of the four games were close. Lewis’ 3-point play clinched 3 Headed Monsters’ win over Mike Bibby’s Ghost Ballers in the opener. DeShawn Stevenson nailed a game-winning 3-pointer to lift Power past O’Neal’s Tri-State and slapped hands with Ice Cube afterward. There were boos when shooting struggles took place with Iverson on the bench coaching during his 3s Company’s victory over the Ball Hogs. Al Harrington scored 25 points as Trilogy cruised in the final game, blowing out the Killer 3s sans Billups by 15 points.

Tri-State’s Jermaine O’Neal shoots over a fallen Jerome Williams from Power during the game between Power and Tri-State on June 25 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The BIG3 League, created by Ice Cube, debuted with four games of 3-on-3 basketball featuring former NBA players.

Anthony Geathers for The Undefeated

“You walk out there and see the crowd, and it’s like that feeling you get at school the first day or your first NBA game of the season,” Lewis told The Undefeated. “Every year, that first game was a big game. I couldn’t sleep last night, and I had that same [nervous] feeling coming here.”

BIG3 play should improve over the 10-week season as players get the rust off. There is no way Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, 48, is going to keep missing wide-open 3-pointers. But there were some disappointments for the fans, including the superpopular Iverson being more of a coach-player than a player-coach.

Iverson’s 3’s Company teammate DerMarr Johnson told The Undefeated it wasn’t until recently that the 2001 NBA MVP decided he would play, so Iverson hasn’t been working out that long. It felt like a playoff game as the crowd roared in anticipation when the four-time NBA scoring champ ran to the floor slapping the hands of fans. Iverson, an 11-time NBA All-Star, started but came out shortly afterward to take off an irritating television mic. After chants of “We want A.I.” brought him back onto the floor, Iverson looked like he needed more practice as he made one jumper and missed five shots, dished out two assists and had one steal in nine minutes of play.

“The best part about this game here tonight and all the other games, it was exciting all throughout,” Iverson said. “It didn’t need Allen Iverson the player, per se.”

The 42-year-old Iverson understands that he is the face of the BIG3 playerwise, but he prefers to coach. He signed autographs during halftime and was gracious with his time with the media. His presence alone is huge for the BIG3. And with each week of play, the fans and media will remain curious and infatuated with whatever he does.

Ball Hogs’ Dominic McGuire tries to go up for a shot while defended during the game between 3’s Company and Ball Hogs on June 25 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The BIG3 League, created by Ice Cube, debuted with four games of 3-on-3 basketball featuring former NBA players. (Anthony Geathers for The Undefeated)

Anthony Geathers for The Undefeated

”I signed up to be a coach, player and captain. Coach part is going to go on throughout the game,” Iverson said. ”Playing part is not going to be what you expect. You’re not going to see the Allen Iverson of old out there.”

BIG3 had a lot of cool swag for sale, including a jersey of a star player from each team. It wouldn’t be surprising if jersey sales for Iverson and “W. Mamba” did well. Billups’ jersey with the Killer 3s that reads “Mr. Big Shot” was available for sale, but he may never wear it. The 2004 NBA Finals MVP is still in negotiations with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the president of basketball operations position, sources told The Undefeated. Billups did not attend Sunday’s games, and a source told The Undefeated that Billups didn’t want to be a distraction on BIG3’s first day with the Cavaliers situation so fluid.

The first day of BIG3 games will be shown on Fox Sports 1 on Monday night. Fans watching on television will get a condensed version of games and also bleeped-out curse words from the likes of Payton. The first two games seemed to take about an hour. If the score were cut to 50 or 42, the contests would probably be quicker and more fan-friendly, with better play because of fewer minutes. But for the first day, most of the players appeared to be in good shape, motivated and even physical, as some dove to the floor for loose balls.

“What a great idea. I think it’s 20 years late, but it’s time for it,” Drexler said.

The BIG3 should get better from here. Iverson, the former Philadelphia 76ers star, may get in better shape knowing that a stop in the City of Brotherly Love is only three weeks away.

3’s Company captain Allen Iverson warms up on June 25 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The BIG3 League, created by Ice Cube, debuted with four games of 3-on-3 basketball featuring former NBA players. (Anthony Geathers for The Undefeated)

The one thing the BIG3 can’t control is injuries.

3 Headed Monsters guard Jason Williams left Game 1 with a knee injury, but Payton expects him to return to action in Philadelphia. Power captain Corey Maggette also suffered a leg injury that isn’t expected to be too serious. Trilogy captain Martin pulled a hamstring as well. Iverson complained about his legs being tired after playing just nine minutes.

“It’s going to be competitive,” said Lewis, who made the BIG3’s first 4-point shot. “It’s on TV. You have the internet nowadays. Nobody wants to be embarrassed. Guys came ready to play. I just think it’s a little different. [Williams] came and greeted us and said the doctor said nothing was wrong and everything was fine. That’s good. We’re going to need Jason Williams.”

It wouldn’t be surprising if more former NBA stars decided to play in the future.

Several BIG3 players mentioned Kevin Garnett. Pierce spoke highly of the event and seemed curious about possibly playing. The fans also chanted, “We Want Kobe,” during Iverson’s game. Former NBA players such as Lewis, Andre Owens, Josh Childress, Dominic McGuire, Rasual Butler, Derrick Byars, Rashad McCants and Lou Amundson might get another look at the NBA because of BIG3.

BIG3 also gave longtime NBA fans a chance to either attend or watch and introduce their children to Dr. J, The Answer, The Glide, The Glove, K-Mart, The Ice Man and Ice Cube.

“It’s about getting a chance to see guys you can’t see anymore, especially in this setting,” Ice Cube said. “Seeing our Hall of Fame coaches, celebrating what they did for the league and what they did for us. And now, they’re competing like they are used to. This is not a charity game. This is not a one-time tournament. This is a season. So these guys are fighting for the chip, and it’s going to be great to see them back.”

The BIG3 has people of color and women in elite roles.

As one of the two co-founders of BIG3, Ice Cube may be the most notable African-American to be atop a professional sports league since Manny Jackson owned the Harlem Globetrotters. Former NBA sharpshooter Roger Mason Jr., an African-American, is the president and commissioner of BIG3.

Trilogy’s Kenyon Martin screams after scoring during the game between Trilogy and Killer 3s on June 25 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The BIG3 League, created by Ice Cube, debuted with four games of 3-on-3 basketball featuring former NBA players. (Anthony Geathers for The Undefeated)

Anthony Geathers for The Undefeated

Amy Trask, who was previously named the NFL’s first female CEO by Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis in 1997, is now CEO of BIG3.

“Look, doesn’t that say it all?” said Trask to The Undefeated. “I had the great fortune and tremendous privilege in my life of working for two men, Al Davis and now Ice Cube, neither of whom are remotely concerned about my gender. We’re all here to do a job.

“Race, gender, ethnicity, religion or any other individuality has no bearing whatsoever on whether any individual can do a job. It’s absolutely irrelevant if we are engaged to do a job.”

Next up for the BIG3 is Charlotte, North Carolina. The television debut and the sold-out crowd in Brooklyn will probably help sell tickets at the Spectrum Center. The arrival of Maggette, a former Duke star, McCants, a former North Carolina star, and former Charlotte Hornets forward Lee Nailon should be attractive to the locals. Perhaps even Michael Jordan will show up in the arena his Hornets play in to join the NBA family reunion as a spectator.

“I’ve been excited about it since they had the press conference in January. I can always say I was one of the first players to play in it during the first year it was created,” Lewis said.

The most iconic sneakers from every NBA playoffs since 1997 With stakes high and games on the line, these are the shoes that got laced up, ‘flu’ or not

The NBA playoffs never disappoint — especially when it comes to kicks.

Michael Jordan, Game 6, Allen Iverson and the infamous step over, King James ascending his throne at the Palace of Auburn Hills — each one of these historic playoff moments was seized in a fresh pair of sneaks. From Air Jordans to Converse, player exclusives to limited editions and zip-ups to high-tops, every year, style and circumstance dictate which pair is crowned the freshest of all. Starting with the pinnacle Air Jordan XIIs in 1997 and ending with a heartfelt tribute on a pair of Nike Kobe A.D.s in 2017, these are the most iconic sneakers from every NBA playoffs since 1997.

Air Jordan XII ‘Flu Game’

Michael Jordan (No. 23) of the Chicago Bulls rests during Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals played against the Utah Jazz on June 11, 1997, at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

1997

No pair of sneakers on this list — or in the history of the NBA playoffs, for that matter — is more legendary than the Air Jordan XIIs that Michael Jordan wore on June 11, 1997, in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. In them, Jordan played through “flulike symptoms” (although his personal trainer revealed years later that it was food poisoning, while conspiracy theorists still believe the sickness was the result of a hangover) to put up an incredible 38 points (13-of-27 field goals, 10-of-12 free throws), seven rebounds, five assists and three steals in 44 minutes. Like the game itself, the red-and-black colorway of the Air Jordan XIIs he wore that night has since been referred to as the “Flu Game.” In 2013, the autographed game-worn shoes, which Jordan gave to a Utah Jazz ball boy after his performance, were sold at auction for $104,765. No game-worn Jordan shoes have ever been sold for more.

Air Jordan XIV ‘Last Shot’

Michael Jordan (No. 23) of the Chicago Bulls celebrates after a play against the Utah Jazz in Game 3 of the 1998 NBA Finals at the United Center on June 5, 1998, in Chicago.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

1998

Psycho: I’m liable to go Michael, take your pick / Jackson, Tyson, Jordan, Game 6, raps Jay Z on the 2011 hit “N—-s in Paris.” Jay references Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals between the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz, which produced one of the greatest shots of Michael Jordan’s career: a 20-foot jumper over Bryon Russell with 5.2 seconds left that ultimately won the game and a sixth championship for Jordan and the Bulls. The sneaker Jordan wore in this moment was dubbed the Air Jordan XIV “Last Shot” because in January 1999 he announced his second retirement from the NBA, making the jumper not only his last shot in Game 6 but also the last shot of his career — at least at the time. Jordan returned to the NBA in 2001 to play for the Washington Wizards for two seasons, so the XIVs now commemorate the “last shot” Jordan took as a Chicago Bull.

Nike Air Flightposite ‘The Future’ PE

Kevin Garnett(R) of the Minnesota Timberwolves shoots over San Antonio Spurs’ Tim Duncan(L) for two of his 23 points during second half action at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas 11 May 1999.

PAUL BUCK/AFP/Getty Images

1999

For the 1999 playoffs, Nike blessed a then-22-year-old Kevin Garnett with Nike Air Flightposite player exclusives (PEs) for the first round, which saw Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves face Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs. These rare black-and-white PEs are glorious — with Garnett’s initials on the tongue of each zip-up shoe and the words “The Future” on each heel tab. The Spurs beat the Timberwolves, 3-1, in a best-of-five series, but Garnett won the sneaker battle against his then-fellow Nike-endorsed athlete (and career-long foe) Duncan, who sported the Nike Air Vis Zoom Uptempo. Duncan did win the 1999 NBA championship in his shoes, though.

Adidas The Kobe

Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers holds his injured ankle after becoming tangled up with Jalen Rose of the Indiana Pacers, June 9, 2000, during the first half of Game 2 of the NBA Finals at Staples Centers in Los Angeles.

HECTOR MATA/AFP/Getty Images

2000

Before he was one of the faces of Nike, Kobe Bryant was endorsed by Adidas, signed by the company out of high school in 1996, when he was drafted. Bryant appeared in his first NBA Finals in 2000, when the Los Angeles Lakers faced the Indiana Pacers, and during the series he wore his third signature sneaker, the Adidas The Kobe. Perhaps the most memorable image of the shoe is that of Bryant lying on the Staples Center hardwood, writhing in pain as he clutches his foot. In the second quarter of Game 2, Bryant suffered a left ankle sprain after he went up for a jumper and his defender, Jalen Rose, landed on it. The injury forced Bryant to miss Game 3, although he returned for the remainder of the series to help lead the Lakers to the first of three straight championships. The sprain didn’t necessarily mean the shoe lacked ankle support — because Rose eventually admitted to purposely injuring Bryant.

Reebok Answer IV

Allen Iverson (No. 3) of the Philadelphia 76ers during the 2001 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

2001

No one had a better view of the kicks Allen Iverson wore in the 2001 NBA Finals than Tyronn Lue. With less than a minute left in overtime of Game 1 between the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers, Iverson translated his trademark crossover into a fadeaway jumper to seal the game. While contesting the shot, Lue fell to the ground and Iverson punctuated the swish (two of his 48 points on the night) by stepping over Lue in slow motion and planting both of his signature Reebok Answer IVs firmly on the floor. Everyone remembers Iverson’s “step over” — and the shoes he was wearing when he did it.

Nike Flightposite III

Antonio Daniels (No. 33) of the San Antonio Spurs goes up for a shot during Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals during the 2002 NBA Playoffs against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Alamodome in San Antonio on May 10, 2002.

D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images

2002

T.I. once said, “You ain’t gotta be a dope boy to have money.” In a similar regard, you ain’t gotta be a superstar to have some dope kicks. During the 2002 postseason, Antonio Daniels was far from a superstar, coming off the bench in all 10 of the San Antonio Spurs’ playoff games. But, boy, were his shoes sweet. Daniels rocked the Nike Air Flightposite IIIs in a white-and-black colorway that is virtually impossible to find on the resale market nowadays — even on eBay. Here’s to hoping A.D. still has a pair.

Air Jordan XVIII

Richard Hamilton (No. 32) of the Detroit Pistons played against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2003 NBA playoffs at The Palace of Auburn Hills on May 6, 2003, in Auburn Hills, Michigan.

Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images

2003

On April 16, 2003, Michael Jordan played in the final game of his NBA career while wearing the white, royal blue and metallic silver colorway of his Air Jordan XVIIIs. Unfortunately for Jordan, with his Washington Wizards missing out on the playoffs, the shoes didn’t make it past the regular season — at least on his feet. Dallas Mavericks swingman Michael Finley and Detroit Pistons shooting guard Richard “Rip” Hamilton both swagged the XVIIIs during the 2003 postseason. For Hamilton, a former teammate of Jordan’s in Washington, it was a long time coming. The greatest of all time once told Rip that he wasn’t good enough to wear Jordans.

Nike Air Zoom Huarache 2K4

Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of the 2004 NBA Finals against the Detroit Pistons at Staples Center on June 6, 2004, in Los Angeles.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

2004

After six years with Adidas and a year as a sneaker free agent, Bryant inked an endorsement deal with Nike in the summer of 2003. But not until 2005 would Bryant get his signature sneaker, so Nike tided him over with the Nike Air Zoom Huarache 2K4s. In the 2004 All-Star Game, Bryant wore the sneakers in red, white and blue. During the regular season, his Huaraches matched his Lakers uniform in either white, purple and gold, or black, purple and gold, depending on whether the team was home or away. The 2004 Finals brought a battle of the Huaraches, with Bryant in his Lakers colorways and Detroit Pistons guard Lindsey Hunter in the All-Star colorway. Hunter beat Bryant in his own shoes, with the Pistons winning the series, 4-1.

Air Jordan XX PE

Ray Allen of the Seattle SuperSonics in Game 1 against the Sacramento Kings in the Western Conference quarterfinals during the 2005 NBA playoffs at Key Arena on April 23, 2005, in Seattle.

Jeff Reinking/NBAE via Getty Images

2005

Ray Allen has been Team Jordan since day one. When Nike first announced the launch of Jordan Brand on Sept. 9, 1997, Allen’s name was listed in the press release among the original group of NBA players endorsed by the future multibillion-dollar sub-brand of Nike. Because Allen is an Air Jordan O.G., the player exclusive sneakers he received in 18 NBA seasons are next to none. The best in his PE collection? The Air Jordan XXs that he wore in multiple variations of his green, gold and white Seattle SuperSonics colors during the 2005 playoffs. How Allen pieced together the best postseason of his career (26.5 points per game) in a shoe with a flimsy ankle strap is beyond even the basketball gods.

Converse Wade 1 Playoff Edition

Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat elevates for a dunk against the Dallas Mavericks during Game 2 of the 2006 NBA Finals played June 11, 2006, at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

2006

When’s the last time a player dominated an NBA Finals in a pair of Converse? Surely in the 1980s, during the Magic Johnson and Larry Bird era … right? Nah. In the 2006 NBA Finals, a young Dwyane Wade threw it back to the good ol’ days, wearing his two-tone Converse Wade 1 Playoff Edition sneakers all the way to hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the Miami Heat. Wade was the best player in the series against the Dallas Mavericks, averaging 34.7 points in six games to earn the honor of Finals MVP. Since 2012, Wade has been endorsed by the Chinese company Li-Ning, after also spending a few years with Jordan Brand. But the first sneaker deal he signed as a rookie was with Converse.

Nike Zoom Soldier 1 ‘Witness’ PE

The new Zoom Soldier sneakers of LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 of the 2007 NBA Finals at the Quicken Loans Arena on June 14, 2007, in Cleveland.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

2007

It was hard not to marvel at the sight of LeBron James in the 2007 playoffs — especially in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Detroit Pistons, when he dropped a whopping 48 points, including the final 25 of the night for the Cleveland Cavaliers in a double-overtime win. Two games later, we saw James lead the Cavs to the NBA Finals at the youthful age of 22, which Nike celebrated with the “We are all witnesses” marketing campaign in anticipation of James winning his first championship. The company’s special gift to The King was two player exclusive editions of his Nike Zoom Soldier 1 (one pair in white, wine and gold for home games, and the other in navy, white and gold for the road) which featured the motto “Witness” on the outer sole of each shoe. The San Antonio Spurs swept the Cavs, 4-0, to end James’ magical 2007 playoff run.

Adidas Team Signature KG Commander Limited Edition

Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics wears a pair of unique Adidas sneakers in honor of the 2008 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers on June 17, 2008, at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

2008

When Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett were traded to the Boston Celtics in the summer of 2007 to join forces with Celtics stalwart Paul Pierce, it wasn’t a question of if, but rather when the “Big Three” would bring an NBA championship back to Boston for the first time since 1986. The Celtics wasted no time. In the first season of the Big Three era, Boston won the title in a throwback series against the Los Angeles Lakers. During the 2008 Finals, Garnett wore the limited edition Adidas Team Signature KG Commanders, which commemorated Boston’s run to the title and Garnett’s first Finals appearance with his face on each shoe’s outer sole and an illustration of the Larry O’Brien Trophy on the inner soles. Adidas released only 48 pairs of the shoe (eight for each of the series’ six games), sold at retail for $1,017 each. All profits were presented to the NBA Cares community partners in the Boston area. In his first season in Boston, Garnett gave back in more ways than one.

Nike Zoom Kobe IV ‘61 Points’

A view of Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant’s shoes during Game 1 of the 2009 NBA Finals against the Orlando Magic at Staples Center on June 4, 2009, in Los Angeles.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

2009

On Feb. 2, 2009, Kobe Bryant went into Madison Square Garden and put up a monstrous 61 points against the New York Knicks. Four months later, when the Los Angeles Lakers advanced to the NBA Finals to face the Orlando Magic, Bryant came out in the special edition Nike Zoom IV “61 Points” in both home and away colorways, which paid tribute to his historic scoring night at MSG and the Lakers’ run to the Finals with a Sharpie scribble-style design. Like he did to the Knicks in February, all Bryant did was score against the Magic in June, averaging 32.4 points in L.A.’s 4-1 series win. After the Finals, Nike rolled out an updated version of the shoes, the Nike Zoom IV “Finals Away,” featuring the letters “MVP” on the tongue of each shoe — a nod to Bryant being named the 2009 Finals’ most valuable.

Nike Air Force One High PE

A detail of sneakers worn by Rasheed Wallace of the Boston Celtics against the Orlando Magic in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA playoffs at Amway Arena on May 26, 2010, in Orlando, Florida.

Doug Benc/Getty Images

2010

Rasheed Wallace had the swaggiest sneaks in the 2010 Finals — fact. Playing for the Boston Celtics in his second-to-last season in the NBA, Wallace balled against the Los Angeles Lakers in some green patent leather high-top Nike Air Force One PEs. He’d begin games with the shoes strapped up tight, but as the night went on he’d let that ankle strap hang like he was on the blacktop. In Wallace’s 15 NBA seasons, Air Force Ones were his staple, so Nike gave him a stockpile of PEs, which featured a silhouette of him shooting a fadeaway jumper.

Adidas adiZero Rose 1.5

Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls walks towards the bench against the Miami Heat in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA layoffs on May 26, 2011, at the United Center in Chicago.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

2011

It’s easy to forget that Derrick Rose was once the best player in the NBA. Every now and then he’ll show flashes of his healthy past, but it’s hard to imagine that he’ll ever match the version of himself that was so fun to watch during his NBA MVP-winning 2010-11 season. That year, the Chicago Bulls earned the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference over a Miami Heat team led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Playing in his signature Adidas adiZero Rose 1.5s, Rose averaged 27.1 points and 7.7 assists in the playoffs, taking the Bulls to the Eastern Conference finals, though the Heat claimed the series over Chicago, 4-1. Based on Rose’s numbers and durability (he played 97 games during the 2010-11 season), the adiZero Rose 1.5s appeared at the time to be the best-performing basketball shoes Adidas had ever released. Now they’re yet another relic from his now unbelievable season.

Nike LeBron 9 Elite ‘Home’

LeBron James of the Miami Heat wears Nike sneakers while playing against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 4 of the 2012 NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena on June 19, 2012, in Miami.

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2012

In 2007, he couldn’t get it done in the Nike Zoom Soldier 1s. Four years later, he fell short in the Nike LeBron 8s. But finally in 2012, LeBron James won his first NBA championship. And when James hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy after defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games, he was wearing the white, black and gold-accented Nike LeBron 9 Elite “Home.” Like Michael Jordan winning his first title in the Air Jordan XIs and Kobe Bryant winning his first in the Adidas The Kobes, the Nike LeBron 9 Elites will forever be connected to The King’s championship legacy.

Air Jordan XX8 PE

The sneakers of Ray Allen of the Miami Heat during Game 3 of the 2013 NBA Finals on June 11, 2013, at the AT&T Center in San Antonio.

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2013

If the Air Jordan XXs that Ray Allen wore in the 2005 playoffs are his best PEs, the line of Air Jordan XX8 PEs he wore in 2013 playoffs are a close second. Allen certainly had a bigger moment in the XX8s — arguably the biggest shot of his career. In the waning moments of Game 6 of the 2013 Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, Allen scurried back across the 3-point line and hit a heroic game-tying deep ball with 5.2 seconds left. Allen and the Heat stole Game 6 and beat the Spurs in Game 7 to win the title. Weighing in at just 13.5 ounces, the XX8s are the lightest Jordans ever made. So who knows, if Allen had been wearing a different (and heavier) sneaker in that moment, maybe he wouldn’t have made it back across the line. Maybe the Spurs would’ve won in 2013?

Nike LeBron 11 PE

Manu Ginobili of the San Antonio Spurs showcases his sneakers against the Oklahoma City Thunder during Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals during the 2014 NBA playoffs on May 19, 2014, at the AT&T Center in San Antonio.

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2014

It must have been humbling for LeBron James to see his opponent, Manu Ginobili, come out in Game 1 of the 2014 Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs in a pair of Nike LeBron 11 PEs. Then James must’ve felt some type of way four games later when Ginobili was celebrating his fourth NBA championship in the 11s. Yes, Ginobili beat James in his own shoes. Savage.

Nike LeBron 12 Elite PE

A detail of the shoes of LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the third quarter during Game 6 of the 2015 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors at Quicken Loans Arena on June 16, 2015, in Cleveland.

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2015

One of the most disrespectful things in the game of basketball is LeBron James being denied the Finals MVP award in 2015. It went to Golden State’s Andre Iguodala as James lost in his first year back with the Cleveland Cavaliers. But James absolutely dominated the series, averaging 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists a game. He also was a sneaker showman in the series, wearing seven different pairs of Nike LeBron 12 Elite PEs in six games (he swapped shoes during Game 3). We can only imagine what he would’ve whipped out had the series gone to a Game 7.

Under Armour Curry 2 Low ‘Chef’

A view of the sneakers of Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors during practice and media availability as part of the 2016 NBA Finals on June 12, 2016, at Oakland Convention Center in Oakland, California.

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2016

At the beginning of the 2016 Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry’s signature Under Armour Curry 2 Low “Chef” sneakers were released. And when Twitter got a hold of a picture of the low-cut, plain-Jane white shoes, the roasting began, with people calling them everything from the “Let Me Speak to Your Manager 5s,” to the “Life Alert 3s,” and the “Yes, Officer, I Saw Everything 7s.” Curry pettily clapped back at the haters when he wore the shoes to practice after a win over the Cavs in Game 4. He reportedly wanted to play in them in Game 4, but Warriors general manager Bob Myers and his agent, Jeff Austin, talked him out of it given his history of ankle injuries. Maybe if Curry would’ve worn the Chefs in the series the Warriors wouldn’t have blown a 3-1 … never mind.

Nike Kobe A.D. PE

Isaiah Thomas of the Boston Celtics ties his shoes, with messages dedicated to his late sister Chyna Thomas, who was killed in a car accident April 15 during the first quarter of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Chicago Bulls at TD Garden on April 16 in Boston.

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2017

It only took one game for the most important sneakers of the 2017 playoffs to be determined. A day after his 22-year-old sister, Chyna, was killed in a car accident in their home state of Washington, Boston Celtics star Isaiah Thomas played in Game 1 of a first-round series against the Chicago Bulls in a pair of Nike Kobe A.D.s PEs that he customized by writing the words “CHYNA I Love You,” “CHYNA R.I.P. Lil Sis” and “4-15-17,” the date she died, on them. The sneaker tribute could not have been a better way to remember his late sister on the court.