All-Star Weekend is truly a three-day event with the game being the denouement to another showcase of the NBA’s best and brightest. But with Michael Jordan —the man who is probably at least partially responsible for every player that was on both conferences’ rosters falling in love with basketball—was retiring for the third time, this truly felt like a monumental landmark of a spectacle.
February 9, 2003. The 2003 NBA All-Star Game was one of the more closely contested ones in recent memory. The Association’s biggest names were there: Shaq, Duncan, Iverson, Kobe, McGrady. Superstars were in attendance, both on the court and in the seats of the arena. However, there was one man who was the star of the show regardless of anything.
Michael Jordan: The Last Game
Jordan was not voted as a starter for the Eastern Conference in 2003. Many NBA oddsmakers thought he would be named. Vince Carter was selected at that small forward position. Pressure rose on Carter to give up his spot because it was Michael Jordan, and he relented. Jordan himself didn’t want Carter to step aside, but public pressure is an opponent not even Vinsanity in his prime could hurdle.
It was clear the other East players, while also competing in the game, wanted MJ to shine. Jordan took 27 shots, most on the team and second only to Kevin Garnett of the Western Conference, who took home the game’s MVP honor. Jordan finished with 20 points, and the game was so close that it went to overtime. Here is where we all wanted to be that night.
After Shaq tied the game at the free throw line, the East had the ball with the shot clock turned off. Everyone knew who the ball was going to. Jordan was working to get free on the baseline with Shawn Marion shadowing him. Jordan gets clear and receives the ball. One dribble, a second dribble, and he rose over an extended Marion for a fadeaway jumper that we’d seen numerous times.
The game was tied, Jordan’s East All-Stars had the ball at the end of overtime, and Jordan, of course, got the final shot. Jordan, age 39, of course, made that shot with five seconds left.
Jordan’s final line? 20 points on 9–27 shooting. Bryant? 22 points on 8–17. Kevin Garnett, for the record, won MVP that day with 37 points and nine rebounds.
Jordan Bows Out
The crowd exploded as if Michael Jackson just walked on stage. Yes, it was an exhibition game. However, it was Michael Jordan’s last exhibition game, and he gave basketball fans what they wanted. They witnessed why he is so heralded as a player. Jordan reminded us of the reasons why he was to be celebrated that night, why Vince Carter—a better player than the 2003 version of Jordan—should have given up his starting spot. Hell, he reminded us why Carter, Kobe and several other athletic wings were falsely dubbed as “the next MJ” because no one should be compared to His Airness.
Jordan said goodbye to the All-Star game with his eyes teary. His game was a bit blemished but his flair for the dramatic very much intact as the West beat the East 155-145 in double overtime.
“I leave the game in good hands,” Jordan said. “So many great stars rising and playing the game. I have passed on the things that Dr. J and some of the great players — Magic Johnson, Larry Bird — have passed on to me, I pass on to these All-Stars here, as well as to the rest of the players in the NBA.
“I want to thank you all for your support. Now I can go home and feel at peace with the game of basketball.”