Why I Love Basketball – NBA Superstars

NBA Superstars on VHS

For either my 11th or 12th birthday, I received this tape of basketball highlights called NBA Superstars. It’s a clip tape of a series of NBA athletes, whose highlights were edited to match a popular song (well, popular is relative term, but we’ll get to that).

It was made in 1990, right smack in the middle of Bird vs. Magic and the rise of Jordan, who would win his first title a year later.

It comes from a point in time where Magic was still the game’s preeminent ambassador – he would retire the following year after announcing that he had contracted HIV – and Isiah was still considered to have the purest of souls in maybe the entire sports world.

Usually videos like these have a collection of quality players, but there are always a few guys who actually turn out to be duds by the end of their careers. The producers of this video could not have picked a better set of players. The only featured talent on this tape who didn’t make the NBA Top 50 was Dominique Wilkins, and I think you’ll agree that even he was pretty damn good.

I know that I’m biased, but, I have been developing a theory that the Golden Age of the NBA started on opening night in 1979-80 (i.e. Bird and Magic’s rookie season), and ended about 30 seconds after Jordan’s game winner in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals. The arguments for said theory are for another post but, for now, let me just submit to the committee that this video happened to be created at exactly the right time, and with exactly the right talent to get nerds like me hooked onto the game for life.

I loved this tape. Loved it.

I watched this tape so many times that I actually wore out the cartridge. I remember hearing the film inside of it snap. I remember how bummed I was when it broke, but not nearly as bummed as when the underweight stock boy at my local Media Play informed me that the tape was officially out of print.

You can probably imagine the next couple parts to this story. I called all over the state to find another copy with no luck. Eventually I realized it was gone forever and let it fade into oblivion.

Then, flash cut to earlier today, I hear ‘The Warrior’ from Scandal on the radio, think about Charles Barkley dunking on some poor dude and then throwing the ball in his face (you’ll see what I’m talking about later), and then think, ‘wait a damned minute, There’s a thing now called the Internet…’

Folks, let me tell you. You Tube… rocks.

So, without further ado, allow me to excitedly share with you a bit of my youth, the entire collection of clips from NBA Superstars!

Magic Johnson
Control, Janet Jackson

This clip, and the one following it, defined the rivalry between Magic and Bird for me.

Magic was the showman, playing on the big stage in LA with his flashy passes and big smile. He got his video edited to Janet Jackson, with her big city synthesizers and hip lyrics – yes, I said ‘hip lyrics.’ Leave me alone, I was 11.

However, watching this again, I forgot how similar the context of Magic’s highlights in this clip were to Bird’s. Re-watching this, the big thing I thought about was how amazing his court vision was, how he could find the right guy at the right time, he’s got these great skills and everyone loves him.

But you know what? (To Be Continued)…

Larry Bird
Small Town, John Cougar Mellencamp

(Wasn’t it cool how I did that To Be Continued bit up on the Magic description? Ye-ah. Mad blogger skills baby.)

So, okay, you’ve seen the Magic clip. Now watch this one, and keep in mind what the on-the-court clips are trying to say: ‘Bird has amazing passing skills,’ ‘he’s so talented with the ball,’ ‘he can hit the big shot when it matters and people love him.’

Now don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of qualities that distinguished Bird and Magic from each other. Bird embodied the midwest, Magic embodied the coast. Bird liked to play the half court game and Magic liked to run. It was very easy for fans to take sides on this, and not for nothing, but everything I’ve read and heard about their rivalry suggests that they did. not. like each other.

When I see these clips, I’m reminded that both of these guys understood the game in a way that no one around them ever did, but I also remember that the images they represented, and the rivalry that ensued, happened to precisely represent this principle point of friction in the mindset of the players and fans of the NBA at this particular point in time.

Which leads us to…

Michael Jordan
Take My Breath Away, Berlin

Yeah, that’s right y’all, they cranked the cheese up to 11 on this one. Take My Breath Away? Really? AND they spent most of this clip comparing Jordan to an F-16. I dare you to make it all the way through this clip without gagging. I DARE you.

Wow, how did I not see how over-the-top this was before?

I can’t actually bring myself to get into my ever-evolving Unified Dunk Theory right now; not because I don’t want to, but because… holy frak this clip is cheesy. I’m going casually move along now and pretend this never happened, but remember that whole Bird vs Magic segway to Jordan thing I alluded to there, ’cause one day I’d love to talk about it in detail.

P.S. I’ve probably watched this clip 500 times, which I think may explain more about the man I’ve become than I’d like to admit publicly.

Hakeem Olajuwon
How You Like Me Now, Kool Moe Dee

Come for the dunks and the blocks, stay for Hakeem rapping in a music studio. I’m not making that up. Still, Hakeem the Dream was incredible in his prime. Such a quality big man. This is a great little reminder of how dominate he was.

P.S. If you were to kick up the time machine and grab Olajuwon in his prime and Shaq in his prime…

NBA Old Timers
This is the Time, Billy Joel

This was my introduction to ‘the old days’ of the NBA. If ever I’m asked to name significant players prior to Bird and Magic, I’m usually able to pass the test thanks to this clip. Also, I did an informal comparison between this clip and the NBA 50 – most of these guys are on it.

Dominique Wilkins
Looking Glass, Yanni

Speaking of the NBA 50, I have to admit I’m a little surprised that ‘nique didn’t make the cut, but maybe I shouldn’t be. On one side, he never won a championship, but on the other side, he ended his career 12th overall in career points. Tough call, especially when you think about who they would have had to leave off. Maybe he didn’t make the cut because his highlight reel was cut to Yanni.

Charles Barkley
The Warrior, Scandal

I recently heard a theory about Philadelphia sports that intrigued me. The idea is that Philadelphia has only ever been able to really connect with two basketball players – Barkley and Iverson. For whatever reason, Philly just ‘got’ those guys, and those guys ‘got’ Philly – More even than the Doctor. I don’t know why this may be, but watching this clip again, I understand it. Young Barkley could rip trees from the ground. He was invincible. My favorite part of this clip – still cracks me up – is Barkley dunking on some random Trail Blazer and then throwing the ball in his face.

Isaiah Thomas
The Right Stuff, Vanessa Williams

My friends and I have had an ongoing conversation about what teams need to win a championship quality squad. Because we’re Jazz fans, this usually turns into an exchange wherein we try to name the last championship team in the modern era wherein the Point Guard was clearly the best player on the team.

Cue Isaiah Thomas.

P.S. Name another one.

Julius Erving
Greatest Love of All, Whitney Houston

Great – and yet also amazingly cheesy – love letter to Dr. J, who had retired just a few years before. A lot of reverence for the Doctor in this clip, more than I remembered. In fact, this too may be a little tough to get through without gagging. Not that he doesn’t deserve every bit of it. Dr. J also has a role in my evolving Unified Dunk Theory…

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~ by djepperson on September 1, 2010.

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