Perhaps the only thing crazier than Salt Lake City getting to host the NBA All-Star Game for a second time was Salt Lake City getting to host it that first time.
Sure, the event and all its peripheral madness was on an altogether different scale back in 1993 than it is now, but back then, the idea of bringing the basketball world’s cognoscenti and glitterati to Utah nevertheless seemed daft to some.
Like, say, Michael Jordan, who famously noted that the best thing about SLC was its short flight time to and from Las Vegas. He followed by skipping the NBA’s pre-All-Star media session to play some golf in Sin City, before finally arriving in Utah on the day of the game.
If the return of the All-Star Game to Salt Lake City this Sunday evening is glitzier — a flashier production in a more modern version of our city — it will have been built on a foundation laid 30 years ago.
Friendly advice gets the wheels turning
The Jazz franchise struggled mightily from its inception in New Orleans until auto magnate Larry H. Miller and wife Gail bought the team and stabilized its finances in the mid-1980s. Larry Miller formed a close bond with then-NBA commissioner David Stern, which would help grease the wheels years down the road.
Gail Miller, former Utah Jazz owner: “I have to start with the relationship that Larry and David Stern had developed. And that went way back to the time we bought the Jazz. They hit it off and they became very good friends. Larry had a style of developing friendships by investing in them.”
Don Stirling, former NBA employee, and later a Utah Jazz executive vice president: “From a league perspective, there were some days where the future of basketball in Utah was in question, and Larry and Gail came in and made it possible to continue, but I know that David challenged Larry and said, ‘For this to go long [term], you need to build a new building. You need to have a new arena.’”
The Jazz were then playing at the Salt Palace, a mixed-use facility built in 1969 widely considered outdated for an NBA franchise, considering its capacity of 12,000-plus. Larry Miller secured private financing for what would become the Delta Center. Ground was broken on May 22, 1990, and construction was completed on Oct. 4, 1991, at a reported cost of $93 million. The Jazz subsequently decided to bid to host an All-Star Game, and while Stern was supportive, not everyone was a fan of the idea.
Miller: “[Larry] and David talked about all kinds of things, not just basketball — they became really good friends. So when it came time for us to build the arena, David was out here a lot. In fact, his signature is in the rafters; when they put the roof on, he went up and signed a steel rafter and felt very honored to do it. … When we built the arena, that became the catalyst for the All-Star Game. The league liked to showcase new arenas.”
Dan Roberts, Utah Jazz public address announcer: “It kind of caught me off-guard that we were getting it so fast [after the arena’s completion]. But the league was very complimentary of Larry for the building, and getting it going so fast.”
Stern, the late former NBA commissioner, who spoke to The Salt Lake Tribune in 2018 for the 25th anniversary of the ’93 ASG: “Well, let’s put it this way, there may have been people who were skeptical, but I was never skeptical. … I always think of the Jazz as the little engine that could. We were proud of our Utah team.”
Miller: “What stands out to me was the excitement in the air. People were really excited. We had determined when we bought the Jazz that this was a community team, and we wanted it to be something that brought the community together, brought the state together. And if anything ever did it, it was the All-Star Game. That was kind of the culmination of our efforts.”
Terry Porter, ex-Trail Blazers guard and two-time All-Star: “Well, I think everybody was kind of hoping that it’d be a warm spot! … I think most players, when it comes to All-Star Weekend, they want to be somewhere warm, where they can enjoy being outside or being by the pool. I just think Utah is not perceived from players as a place you want to go hang out for three days. The vibe is not one of being in New York or being in Miami or L.A., it doesn’t have that star-studded kind of vibe to the city. If we had a lot of players that was skiing, I guess …”
Mark Price, ex-Cavaliers guard and four-time All-Star: “It didn’t bother me. I played in a cold city, in Cleveland. Because we only got three or four days off back then, part of me was like, ‘Oh man, I gotta go to another cold city — I’m not gonna get a break from that.’ But Utah’s a beautiful area. It was fine for me, kinda relaxing.”
Getting the ball rolling
Once the game was awarded, the league and the team began the process of getting all the logistics in place — securing thousands of hotel rooms, arranging security and transportation, finalizing both existing and new All-Star Weekend events.
Miller: “This is the league’s show — we would host it, but they’re in charge. They actually take over the arena. So everything that is done is done under their direction. We would just take orders.”
Stirling: “There’s a legendary story. You’ll see a lot of buses around town this weekend, and this goes back to David having learned [at an All-Star Game pre-’93] that an owner had waited at a hotel for transportation and it didn’t come. From that time forward, there were thousands of buses made available to take fans, to take owners to the various events. It’s like a military operation with the transportation as well as the security behind the scenes.”
Roberts: “I had a handful of meetings with the people who broadcast the game at NBC. They put together a game operations book for me that was at least two inches thick.”
Stirling: “I worked at the NBA in 1983 we were part of the first All-Star Weekend in the modern [league], in Denver, 1984. So there had started to be new events. [All-Star] Saturday was reinvented with the Slam Dunk [contest], the Legends Game — which didn’t last too many years — and then the 3-Point Shootout. I had left the NBA [by 1993] but was living in Salt Lake and working for an organization called Children’s Miracle Network, and the league reached out said, ‘Hey, we’re doing this new [thing].’ They had started something in the late ‘80s with ‘Stay In School.’ … And the league got behind that, which then turned into the NBA Jam Session. I believe Salt Lake was the first full-blown NBA Jam Session.
Dave Allred, former VP of communications to The Tribune in 2018: “Utah is not known for Hollywood-style celebrities, and we’re looking for someone to host our Kids Fest, which was this event on All-Star Saturday to tell kids to stay in school. I get a call from this guy, an agent saying, ‘I’d like to offer my client: His name is Dennis Haskins, he’s Mr. Belding from Saved By The Bell.’ … Honestly, he was just incredible: He came on stage singing the ‘Saved By The Bell’ song. He kind of set the standard for the event.”
A memorable weekend
“Baby Jordan” Harold Miner won the Dunk Contest (which featured Jazz forward David Benoit), Price beat Porter in the finals of the 3-Point Contest, and Larry H. Miller … got to co-coach the final Legends Game alongside Frank Layden. While some weather-related fears came to fruition, things were back on track before Sunday’s game even tipped off.
Miller: “The difficulty was, this is a cold-climate area, and what would happen if it really snowed hard? Which it did.”
Allred, in 2018: “Saturday, before the events, it started to snow like crazy. We thought that was cool, too, like, ‘This is great: This is Utah, we’re showing off the snow.’ It was a little bit of a nightmare with the buses, though.”
Porter: “When we got there, they had one of the worst winter snowfalls. … You couldn’t really do that much outside of the game because of the amount of snow that was coming down during that weekend. So that kind of put a damper on things — we just couldn’t get out and get to events as smoothly as you could during a normal All-Star weekend in a warmer climate.”
Greg Miller, former Jazz CEO, in 2018: “I remember we were at the old Salt Palace. A number of us were waiting to get on the bus, wind started blowing in sideways. Clyde Drexler was standing right next to me and got hit in the face by a blizzard.”
Price: “It was my third time being asked to shoot in the Shootout — the first two times I didn’t do as well as I hoped. But I thought having that experience under my belt, I had a good chance to win. … I beat Terry Porter in the finals. And that kind of led into the game the next day.”
Gail Miller: “[Larry] was able to co-coach the [last ever] Legends Game, so he wore a suit and tie on the bench — which I think alarmed everyone! ‘What’s happening to Larry?’ But he enjoyed that with Frank. [He went] from the crazy uniform — short shorts and headband — to a coat and tie.”
Porter: “I loved All-Star weekend! For me, it was about being in the locker room, guys chatting, having some of the older guys come in and tell stories, those types of things. … It was an opportunity to get to know some guys who weren’t your teammates, but who you respected and competed against every night. Today’s league, everybody knows each other because of the AAU circuit, the Nike events, the adidas events; back then, you didn’t have that many interactions with most of the guys, so your chances to get to know them were really events like this.”
Stirling: “You look at that game, it was Shaq’s rookie year, so it was his first appearance, and it was Isiah [Thomas]’s last game as an All-Star. … These games are a little bit like a time capsule. I went back to check in ‘93 who sang the national anthem — it was Boyz II Men.”
Roberts: “In terms of the lead-up, the thing I remember most was the anthem. It was sung by Boyz II Men, and it was unbelievable. They all gathered at center court, there was a spotlight coming down that highlighted just them — and they sang an anthem that gave me chills. It was spectacular. I’ve never witnessed an anthem beyond that in all the years I’ve been doing this.”
The game itself
The ’93 ASG was a star-studded affair. It featured much of the old guard (the only members of the previous year’s “Dream Team” not to play were Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Christian Laettner), plus many up-and-coming stars such as Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Hardaway, and Larry Johnson. The Western Conference earned a 135-132 overtime victory. The night was not totally perfect, however.
Porter: “That game had some major, major centers. These days, you maybe have two centers that stand out, but back then you had Hakeem [Olajuwon], you had Patrick [Ewing], you had Shaq, you had David Robinson. Just an unbelievable amount of superstars who were still young. Obviously you had Michael [Jordan] in the East. But what stuck out to me was the amount of star power on both sides. It was cool just being on the floor with them — I was in awe.”
Price: “You just had so many greats. I mean, I was playing with Michael Jordan. And Michael was passing me the ball! … The other thing that was cool was I was playing with two of my teammates (Brad Daugherty and Larry Nance). To have three All-Stars then was kind of unheard of.”
Gail Miller: “I do recall the game because I sat up fairly high! I don’t know why. … Not up in the very top, but not on the front row, I can tell you that. I think Larry stood in the wings, watching [nervously].”
Roberts: “What I remember most is how good the game was. It was East vs. West, and it was a competitive game. It was not throwing up 3-point shots from 40, 50 feet away.”
Price: “I had a really good game! At the time, I might have tied or set the record with six 3-pointers [made]. That weekend, I made about 75% of my 3-pointers! … I wasn’t used to getting to shoot that many 3s in a real game.”
Porter: “There was always kind of a rule — the first two quarters, not much defense, just focus on playing extremely hard and giving the fans enough highlights for them to enjoy it. But come the fourth quarter, it was a strong effort. We wanted to win the game, we played more seriously on defense — we didn’t want anyone to get uncontested layups, uncontested fast-break opportunities. The fourth quarter was a more meaningful time and was going to definitely be played at a more intense level.”
Roberts: “I don’t hear a lot of the trash talk taking place on the floor, but I get to see a lot of emotion — you can basically see when a player is going to try to do something amazing, and you could see that with Michael [Jordan]. Honest to god, he’s the most amazing player I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Price: “I remember, particularly in the second half, guys kind of getting into it. We all wanted to win the game, and it got pretty intense. We were down, we came back — I made two or three shots to get it into overtime.”
While Jordan scored a game-high 30 points, the hometown stars Karl Malone (West-high 28 points, 10 rebounds) and John Stockton (his 15 assists more than doubled the next-highest player’s total) came out dead even in the media voting and shared MVP honors.
Roberts: “John and Karl played their butts off! They wanted to win. They ended up getting co-MVP, which was another endorsement of the city and the team and the building.”
Porter: “Yeah, I remember those guys won MVP. Shocker, right? No, no shocker there!”
Price: “It would have been interesting if they hadn’t won that game if they would have still given it to ’em anyway! There’s a chance they might have.”
Gail Miller: “Karl carried his little girl out on the court — that was fun for me to see him share that with her. John was single when he came [to Utah]; he got married, had six kids before he retired. And Karl did the same, only he had four kids. So it was fun to watch them grow up and then to have this experience together.”
Price: “The game was late, it was a night game. After the game, my wife and I had the hardest time finding a restaurant that was open! It was the strangest thing — here we are at All-Star Weekend, and we can’t find a place to eat after the game. … Back in the early ’90s, it was kind of a ghost town on a Sunday night in Utah.”
The legacy, 30 years later
When, in 2017 the Jazz decided to give Vivint Arena a $125 million-ish facelift, they quickly saw the opportunity to make it about much more than a building upgrade. A proposal was made to bid for another All-Star Game, Stirling took charge of the effort and quickly got Miller on board. The next year, the organization officially made its pitch to host in either ’22 or ’23 — though Stirling privately liked the idea of hosting exactly 30 years after the first time.
Stirling: “We started some conversations in 2017, 2018 about a bid. And there were some cities lining up — Indianapolis, Cleveland. And we felt like there was great symmetry in 2023 — 30 years later, renovated building.”
Miller: “That’s true. Ryan [Smith] did not secure the game — we did before we sold [the team]. And Don was very instrumental. I made a call to Adam Silver to tell him how much we would like to have it.”
Stirling: “It always helps when a senior, tenured owner calls the commissioner and says, ‘We’d really like to host the game,’ so we appreciated Gail making that call.”
Miller: “We had just invested $127 million into renovation of the arena — which was way more than what it cost to build originally! And it turned out really nice, it was well done. The architect said, ‘This building has great bones, but we can make it even better. We don’t have to tear anything down, just remodel, reorganize and you will have an even better arena.’ So that kind of sparked the idea. … I think that’s why we have [the All-Star Game] today, because our arena was renewed to a new arena.”
Stirling: “I mean there was that notion that, ‘Hey, we have an All-Star break, let’s go to Orlando, let’s go to Miami, let’s go to L.A.’ When we were bidding [for the 2023 game] — because it was ultimately going to go Indy, Cleveland, Salt Lake — we jokingly said, ‘Look, we promise you we’ll be the balmiest weather of those three.’ We told them it’s a warm cold here.”
On Oct. 23, 2019, Silver joined Miller, LHM Group of Companies CEO Steve Starks, then-Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and then-Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski on a makeshift stage at the arena to announce that game was, indeed, coming to SLC in 2023. Miller noted that she’s happy to have been hands-off this time around (though she is wondering about her seats again). And Stirling was bemused by the irony of another bit of unexpected symmetry.
Miller: “I’m a spectator. Which is fun, because I don’t have to worry about a thing. I am supportive of Ryan — if he needed anything, I’d certainly be there to help him, but he’s doing fine, he doesn’t need me, so I’ll just watch and enjoy. I don’t know where I’ll sit! I haven’t got the tickets yet. But I’ll be there.”
Stirling: “I remember going to the  All-Star Game in Los Angeles, which was hosted both by the Clippers and the Lakers, and we were on the plane with Donovan [Mitchell], and the last part of our pitch was to get Donovan to sign a jersey which would go in the pitch package, which said, ‘Hope to see you in 2023.’
“We will see Donovan in 2023 here in Salt Lake City — it’s great that he’s a starter for whatever team he gets picked on, and now Lauri [Markkanen]’s a starter [too]. I mean, sometimes the basketball gods smile.”
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