For the first time in 32 years, the NBA is bringing All-Star weekend back to Chicago.
In 1988 there was no Rising Stars challenge or Celebrity Game. It was a quiet weekend in comparison, comprised of the three-point contest, the dunk contest, and the NBA All-Star Game and it all took place at the iconic Chicago Stadium.
The East beat the West 138-133, with Michael Jordan’s 40-point performance earning him the MVP title. Jordan also took home the hardware for the Slam Dunk contest beating out Dominique Wilkins. Larry Bird dominated the three-point competition, claiming his third and final title in the event.
On the court that weekend were five players representing the Chicago area: Isiah Thomas, Doc Rivers, Mark Aguirre, Maurice Cheeks and Craig Hodges, who competed in the three-point contest.
Thomas, Rivers, Aguirre, Cheeks and Hodges joined the Sun-Times for this week’s Chat Room.
What memory stands out from the 1988 NBA All-Star Game?
Isiah Thomas: “I remember that I wasn’t Isiah Thomas that night, I was Junior and Tuss. Tuss was my nickname and my family name is Junior. That’s all I heard for the whole weekend, Junior or Tuss. I don’t think I ever got called Isiah.”
Doc Rivers: “Coldest day in Chicago history; that’s what I remember about it!”
Mark Aguirre: “The whole entire weekend was incredible because I was in Chicago. In my world, I look at Chicago, especially our era; it was the heartbeat of Chicago as far as sports-wise.”
Maurice Cheeks: “I remember I wasn’t going to play much, I do remember that because All-Star games were for those kinds of players and I wasn’t one of those kinds of players. I remember Michael Jordan being in the game, and it was the dunk contest with Dominique [Wilkins], and that was such a great dunk and display. I think that just set the tone for the way the game was going to be played because Michael and Dominique were two of the best dunkers in forever.”
Craig Hodges: “I just remember the very first competition Larry [Bird] psyched everyone out when he came in the locker room and asked, ‘Who is coming in second?’. So that in itself set the stage for the first two or three years of Larry [Bird] being the guy to knock off the throne as far as shooting was concerned. For me, I always knew I could shoot with anybody on earth; it’s just a matter of you being able to keep your concentration together. So I never thought that I couldn’t win it, but Larry [Bird] made it as though he was going to win every one he was in. I was so hyper about being in Chicago that I did not go through my normal routine, the routine that I would use to win a couple of years later.”
What did it mean to you to be an All-Star in your hometown?
Thomas: “I remember when the game was played here in 1973. I was standing outside the stadium. I was one of those kids who had just left the Martin Luther King Boys Club down on Washington and Sacramento. I just remember standing outside and watching everyone come in and come out. Just having the All-Stars in the city and then one of those All-Stars acknowledging you and just making eye contact with you when you were a little kid. It means everything.”
Rivers: “Listen, making the All-Star team was an accomplishment. It was one of my life goals. To be able to make one at home, where I grew up, you couldn’t have a better plan. It was perfect. I had all my family, my mom, my dad, my brother, my kids. Everyone was there. It was one phenomenal weekend for me.”
Aguirre: “I was one of the few who went to high school and college in the city. So for me, it was very special because the only time I left here was when I went to the NBA. That made it different for me.”
Cheeks: “Growing up where I grew up in the projects on 53rd street, I didn’t think I would ever be there. Certainly not playing in the All-Star game. I never thought I’d be doing that. To have that ability to go back there and play in an All-Star game where my buddies and us we used to sneak to the Chicago Stadium and watch [Norm] Van Lier, Bob Love, [Tom] Boerwinkle, Jerry Sloan. We used to sneak in and watch those guys, and we’d be way up at the top. To be able to play in an All-Star game in Chicago was one of my greatest moments being in the NBA, to be able to play in that game.”
Hodges: “To have grown up here and visualize becoming a pro and visualize one day playing for the Bulls, at that point I was with the Bucks at the time, so I was almost an opponent coming in. But still, it was a great thing to be able to have my friends and family there. I wish I would have done better in the competition, but all in all, it was a great weekend.”
How special was it to share the court with your fellow Chicago All-Stars that night?
Thomas: “All of us, with the exception of Mo [Maurice] Cheeks, Mo was a couple of years older than us, we were all in high school at the same time, competing against each other. So, it was special being together for the All-Star game. All of us were in high school together, and the incredible thing is we all went to the NBA, and we all won NBA Championships. Tell me where else that happens other than Chicago? When you come from Chicago, the expectation is for you to win a Championship.”
Rivers: “It’s our life. We grew up all of us out on the parks in Maywood, on the south side, on the west side, and we played all the time against each other. 10 years later, we were all playing at the Chicago Stadium together. For me walking in that exit that I used to stand outside and wait for the players to come out and ask for their shoes, and now I’m one of the guys that those young kids are asking was phenomenal.”
Aguirre: “We grew up together. It was so special. I don’t know, but have that many guys from the same city played in the All-Star game before? It was like a homecoming. To go through childhood with those guys and go on to be some of the top picks that was special. To look across and look at all the festivities and see guys you played against in high school, that was special to me. It was really special to me.
What was the Chicago Stadium like that night?
Thomas: “It was rocking. The slam dunk contest between Dominique [Wilkins] and MJ, that’s when Jordan flew in the air. That was just a magical, magical night. Not only for Chicago but for all our friends coming back and watching us.”
Aguirre: “That All-Star game you basically had All-Stars from the two biggest rivals in the NBA. With Jordan playing here in his city, that was the only time he got to play [the All-Star game] here. It was kind of the cream of the crop implemented into a city that was also the cream of the crop. So it was kind of a double whammy.”
Hodges: “You look back at it, and in the last two or three months, I’ve seen highlights of MJ from the dunk competition. I was looking at how packed the building was, and it was almost more packed than how it was when we played for championships. It seemed like people were hanging from the rafters. It was one of those things where people were in every nook and cranny. It was a great environment both to participate in and just to be a part of.”
Where does the 1988 All-Star game rank for you?
Thomas: “It was a special time because that year was my first trip to the NBA Finals. My son was born in 1988. That was when I had that magical NBA Finals moment, that’s still a record. But the bittersweet part was that we lost in the 1988 finals.”
What is it going to mean for the fans to have the All-Star game brought back to Chicago for the first time in 32 years?
Thomas: “It’s going to be great. My hope is that Anthony Davis and Derrick Rose will be All-Stars. I know when Mark Aguirre and I came back home to play in the All-Star Game, and Doc Rivers and all of us came back home to play in the All-Star game here in Chicago at that time it was a very special moment. Not just for us but for the neighborhood and the communities that we grew up in. The pride that we felt coming back home that the people also felt in the streets it was like ‘Junior, you made it.’”
Rivers: “Chicago fans are the best fans in the country. Everyone in Chicago plays basketball, so it’s going to be phenomenal for the city.”
Aguirre: “I’ve been fortunate to be in a few, and all of them are great, but to me personally, this city is built for it. The reason I say that is because when you talk about sports fans, we’re a second away from Milwaukee, Detroit and a lot of other cities who are basketball cities. Believe me, they come out.”
Cheeks: “So the last time it was there we were playing in it? I didn’t realize that. Chicago’s such a deserving town of such a prestigious event because, of course, Michael [Jordan] they won those six championships while he was there. When I was growing up, we used to watch all those games on TV with Boerwinkle, Bob Love and all those guys so the fact that it’s going back there and it’s such a special sports town anyway not just basketball, but baseball, football, hockey. And just an amazing town for basketball. 32 years ago? It’s going to clearly be different than what it was, I mean the way they put the show on is probably going to be, everything is so much more advanced than it was 32 years ago. So, it’s probably going to be a show like no other. And it doesn’t even matter that it may be cold or snowing. The fact that the All-Star game is there, the dunk contest, and the whole festivities for that weekend, it’s probably just going to be amazing.”
Hodges: “It’s always something special. As a kid growing up in the city of Chicago knowing what the Bulls meant to the city just being able to come here and participate in the weekend and see the league pull out all the stops, it was cool. Just like I’m sure it will be this year.”