It’s the stage which proves you’re among the true elite – one of the greatest among the greatest.
Playing in the NBA All-Star Game proves that you are among the 20-25 greatest players in all of basketball at any given time, that is why it is such an honour.
Even then, there is another level of elite NBA stars who make appearing in the NBA All-Star Game a perennial event, and without whom the showpiece just wouldn’t be the same.
It’s been that way throughout every epoch of the NBA, so here is a rundown of the stars with the most All-Star game appearances of all-time.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 19 NBA All-Star appearances
Let’s start with a pair of shocking facts: despite his great number of appearances in the All-Star Game, Kareem never won the All-Star MVP award. That’s almost unfathomable, if only because he was, for a decent stretch, the league’s most dominant player and mathematically, what are the odds of him going home empty-handed so often? Also, he didn’t play in the 1973 game because of safety concerns after seven murders took place at a property he owned in Washington which he had donated to a Muslim group, and organisers feared there would be an attack on the game by a radical group believed to be responsible for the tragedy. So Kareem stayed home. His best game was in 1984 when he collected 25 points and 13 rebounds.
Kobe Bryant, 18 NBA All-Star appearances
Nobody will ever forget the 1998 Changing Of The Guard Game in New York when Kobe and Michael Jordan appeared together for the first time. The hype was unreal, and Kobe, making his first All-Star start (as the youngest-ever at 19), relished in it. Then in 2003, Kobe led the West to a win over the East in Jordan’s final All-Star Game. In all, Kobe loved the All-Star Games, which gave him a chance to showcase himself among the best. He also took the games seriously, playing to win and playing to impress. Now, the All-Star Game MVP award is named in his honour.
LeBron James, 18 NBA All-Star appearances
Strange but true: LeBron didn’t make the game as a rookie as fans voted him fourth among East guards after Allen Iverson, Jason Kidd and Tracy McGrady. Of course, since then, he’s been the overwhelming fan favourite and an All-Star fixture. He’s been a starter each time and overall leading vote-getter nine times, and only Bryant and Bob Pettit have won the MVP more than his three times. At 21, he became the youngest MVP winner in history. He recorded a triple-double in 2011 and a career scoring high of 36 in 2012.
Tim Duncan, 15 NBA All-Star appearances
Duncan once said he’d “rather be laying on a beach somewhere” instead of attending the All-Star Game. It’s not that he was being disrespectful or unappreciative – it was just Duncan being Duncan. He never really gravitated toward the spotlight, and he relished down-time spent with family and friends and on the beach, where he was practically born and raised (Virgin Islands). Duncan never played more than 18 minutes in his final four All-Star Games, obviously informing his coach that he’d rather rest, preserve himself for the rest of the season, and give his time to others. Besides, the All-Star format favours the flashy, and Duncan was anything but. His best game was 24 points in the 2000 contest when he shared the MVP award with Shaquille O’Neal; he never cracked 20 again.
Kevin Garnett, 15 NBA All-Star appearances
He was the All-Star MVP in 2003 when he scored 37 points in a double-overtime contest, including the first seven points in the second overtime to trigger the win. That happened to be Michael Jordan’s final All-Star Game, and coincidently, KG’s point total was the most in an All-Star Game since Jordan’s 40 in 1988.
Shaquille O’Neal, 15 NBA All-Star appearances
His most memorable appearance in an All-Star Game wasn’t during the actual game, but the pregame: Who could forget Shaq joining the famous mime group Jabbawockeez in 2009 and pulling off an amazing dance sequence during the player introductions? It brought down the house. It was his final All-Star appearance, to boot. In 1993, he was the first rookie in eight years to make the All-Star team and eventually won three MVPs, sharing with Tim Duncan in 2000.
Michael Jordan, 14 NBA All-Star appearances
In the classic 1988 weekend in Chicago, of all places, Jordan reigned supreme, winning the dunk contest by taking off just inside the free-throw line (the photo became a hot-selling poster later), then winning MVP the next day with 40 points. Also, that weekend, the popular “Mars Blackmon” black-and-white commercials with Spike Lee were first aired. Jordan was a three-time MVP winner. On the flip side, there was the infamous “freeze-out” game in 1985, when Jordan, a rookie, was treated like one and took only nine shots, making two. He didn’t play in the 1986 game because of a broken foot. He recorded the first All-Star triple-double in 1997, scored only eight points in the 2002 game (a week before his 39th birthday), was famously serenaded by Mariah Carey wearing a custom Wizards dress in the 2004 game, and had a losing record overall in All-Star Games.
Karl Malone, 14 NBA All-Star appearances
The most fitting All-Star Game was 1993 in Salt Lake City when Malone and John Stockton shared the MVP award, a first in All-Star history. Malone had 28 points while Stockton notched 15 assists and the West won in overtime. But it was one of two All-Star MVPs won by Malone as he took the prize four years earlier in Houston at the Astrodome. That game set an attendance record at the time of 44,735 and Malone finished with 28 points and nine rebounds as the West prevailed.
Dirk Nowitzki, 14 NBA All-Star appearances
In an unprecedented decision, commissioner Adam Silver named Dirk – then 40 and in his final NBA season – as a special addition to the All-Star Game in 2019 (Dwyane Wade also received the same treatment). This 14th appearance was a well-deserved victory lap for Dirk, considered the greatest foreign-born player in NBA history. Strangely, Dirk was never voted as a starter by the fans, although he did serve as an injury-replacement starter twice: in 2007 (for Yao Ming) and in 2010 (for Bryant). The 2010 All-Star Game was, conveniently, played at AT&T Stadium – the home of the Dallas Cowboys – in Arlington, Texas. That All-Star Game was historic for its crowd, where 108,713 attended.
Jerry West, 14 NBA All-Star appearances
He was an All-Star every year of his career, a claim that not many can make (not even James). In 1972, not only did he help the Lakers win a record 33 straight games and the NBA title, he also won All-Star MVP, in a game held in Los Angeles. Also, West was among the players who threatened to boycott the 1964 game unless the league agreed to recognise the player’s union. The players chose the right game because it was the first to be televised, and the owners caved. Had the game been canceled, there was a great chance the NBA would not get a national TV contract, which it didn’t have at the time.
Watch all three nights of NBA All-Star Weekend live on Sky Sports – beginning Friday night at 2am, Saturday night at 11.30pm, Sunday night at 11pm across Sky Sports Arena and joined on Main Event.