The Thunder have graced the Peake with their presence since 2008, and it's been a heck of a ride. Despite the fact that a title has eluded the Thunder for the duration of their run thus far, great play and a number of performances at All-Star weekend has kept OKC in the national spotlight for years. Still, given the fact that All-Star Weekend is separate from the rest of the NBA's schedule, it's easy to forget what happens from year-to-year.
Forget no more, as I've got a chronological YouTube history of the Thunder at All-Star Weekend right here for your reading pleasure.
The first year of the Thunder in OKC wasn't easy, as the team was 13-40 by the All-Star Break. Still, the Thunder did enter the break going a more respectable 9-10 over their last 19. This obviously wasn't enough to net the team an All-Star, but it was still obvious that OKC had some real young talent. And when any team has young talent, that means they're going to be forced to do a bunch of silly events at All-Star Weekend. You know, like....
Kevin Durant Wins H.O.R.S.E. (2009)
I really don't know what possessed the NBA to do this. Anyone who's played a game of H.O.R.S.E. in real life knows that it always ends up taking way too long and isn't really meant for TV. I'm fairly sure this event ran before All-Star Saturday night as kind of a special on TNT, and I remember it being kind of hard to watch.
Even sillier is the fact that KD won this thing entirely on deep jumpers, defeating the point of the competition. Still, it was an early indicator of just how good KD would be. We all kinda knew that he was a bit better than O.J. Mayo and Joe Johnson, and this game is one of the first things you can point to and say "hey, KD's setting himself apart."
Kevin Durant scores a game record 46 Points in Rookie Challenge (2009)
But really, this was the first bullet point on KD's resume. Even though the Rookie-Sophomore Challenge has gone the way of the Dodo, it was always traditionally tougher than the All-Star game. Younger players have less to lose and more durable bodies, so a good performance here actually means a lot. And it's easy to see why KD did well. He's a player with great range that can get a lot of his own rebounds and shoot quickly. That's a recipe for success, as KD was able to feed off of a lot of early pressure on his teammates for easy shots.
Probably the most awesome sequence you'll find in the video above comes at 3:27. Durant makes the perfect read on the break, then steals the inbounds and nails an off-the-dribble three. It's not something you'll ever see him do in the regular season, so it's special to see that here. Almost reminds me of the crazy game KD had at Rucker Park a couple years later.
Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook Play in Rookie Challenge (2009)
Jeff Green (Sophomores): 13 Points, 50% FG, 3 Assists, 2 Steals
Russell Westbrook (Rookies): 12 Points, 40% FG, 2 Steals
Unfortunately, this game was played before the digital age, so we have no surviving public video of the two above performances. It's been six years since I've seen either so I can't say much. I will say that the uniforms for both teams were ridiculously cheesy, and that I really miss having a kids only crowd.
The Thunder stormed out of the gate this season, basically floating around .500 until a run right before the All-Star break pushed OKC into serious playoff conversations. Durant wasn't big enough of a star to get the fan vote yet, but four 40+ point games that season thus far were more than enough to convince the coaches to let him in. Durant's presence was also felt at the Rookie-Sophomore game, where he was called upon to be an "assistant coach" for the rookies. In an All-Star game that means little more than managing lineups and looking good on the sidelines, but it was still cool to see nonetheless.
Kevin Durant makes 1st All-Star Appearance, Coaches Rookies (2010)
Above you'll find a behind the scenes video with Ahmad Rashad that follows KD as he participates in various All-Star weekend events. You'll also find a short clip of a buzzer-beating three that KD made at the end of the third quarter of the All-Star game. KD would finish with 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 turnovers on 50% shooting. Again, KD's quick release and tall stature proved to be helpful in logging a successful All-Star outing.
Kevin Durant wins H.O.R.S.E. again (2010)
Oh yeah, there was this too. I'll forever remember this H.O.R.S.E. event as the one where it devolved into a standing jumper contest between KD and Rondo that went about 20 minutes over the scheduled time. TNT's TV crews were really flustered, and KD basically had it in the bag. But Rondo, the NBA's quiet gamer who apparently schools kids at connect four, refused to let KD win. Rondo would hit jumper after jumper on the brink of elimination, hilariously extending this game for no reason at all. I remember jumping into the Celebrity game already halfway done because of Rondo's time-extending foolishness!
But really, this was more of KD basically cheating the entire nature of H.O.R.S.E. by nailing a ton of uncreative long shots. That, along with the time constraints, is probably why the NBA and TNT elected not to continue H.O.R.S.E. after this year. This leaves Durant as the sole 21st century H.O.R.S.E. champion. Woo!
Russell Westbrook scores 40 Points in Rookie-Sophomore Challenge (2010)
Life's easy for Russell Westbrook when he's guarded by rookie Steph Curry and Jonny Flynn. He's just too fast and too big. When you also consider that the rookie front line that year only consisted of DeJuan Blair, Jonas Jerebko, and Taj Gibson, you begin to understand why Russell was able to score so easily. There was just no one out there that could stop that type of athleticism on the perimeter or at the rim, so Russ was able to shine. The conditions were so favorable that Russ's 40 point game here stood as his career high for 8 months.
Still, that's not taking away from what Westbrook did. We got to see glimpses of his evolving stop and pop jumper in this game, along with great transition play and tons of stuff at the rim. He even had 4 assists, second highest on the Sophomores.
James Harden plays in Rookie Challenge (2010)
22 Points, 9-14 Shooting, 5 Rebounds, 2 Assists
Hidden in the 40 point performance from Russ is the fact that the Sophomores actually lost the game. The Rookies would win that year, on the back of hyper-efficient performances like the one you see above from James Harden. There's no public video, but it's obvious that the Rookies had a better passing game going. Harden has always been known for his court vision, and virtually every guard on that team had a high offensive IQ. Meanwhile, the Sophomores were stacked with ISO-heavy players like Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo, who struggled.
Russell Westbrook Eliminated in First Round of Skills Challenge (2010)
I'm putting this one last because it deserves to be last. Westbrook was a last second replacement for the injured Derrick Rose, and it almost seemed like a consolation prize for missing the All-Star team or something. Russ was probably tired, given that he had scored 40 points the previous night. In fact, he probably didn't care about winning the competition at all. I mean, up until this year, where they finally made it head-to-head, who actually ever cared about the Skills Challenge? I actually liked the shooting stars competition more, just because you get to see old dudes and WNBA players.
But yeah, Westbrook missed making the next round by a good 10 seconds. Waugh!
By the time the 2011 All-Star break rolled around, the Thunder had established themselves as a legitimate contender and were getting significant time on national TV. A strong performance against the eventual champion Lakers in the 2010 first round had caught everyone's eye, and the Thunder continued to impress against big time opponents during the ensuing season. Durant and Westbrook were becoming national household names, and OKC was first in the Western Conference at the All-Star break.
This unprecedented success meant that everyone was drinking our Kool-aid, and OKC got to participate in pretty much every event. We'll probably never see this level of involvement from our small market team again, making it a truly awesome weekend.
Kevin Durant scores 34 Points in first All-Star Start (2011)
These are the quietest 34 points that you'll ever see. Lots and lots of standing jumpers brought on by pressure, along with an alley-oop dunk and a decent drive. That's about it. This is a perfect example of a lot of KD's nights back then, as he was able to score so quickly and effortlessly during the doldrums of the game. Today KD takes on a lot more ball handling duties, so you don't get to see this style of play unless he's injured and taking it easy.
Regardless, the game was in L.A., so an MVP for Kobe Bryant was inevitable. Bryant was just a bit more efficient too, shooting 54% to Durant's 48%. You also can't ignore Bryant's 14 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals. Lastly, the timeliness of Bryant's baskets probably seals his performance as superior. Still I'd argue that this is probably the last year you could effectively say Kobe was better than KD.
James Harden, Serge Ibaka appear on Sophomore team (2011)
Harden: 30 Points, 53% Shooting, 2 Assists
Ibaka: 14 Points, 60% Shooting, 5 Rebounds, 2 Blocks
Given that James Harden is an L.A. native, he had extra incentive to perform well tonight. Adding to the incentive had to be the fact that Serge Ibaka was named to the Sophomore team ahead of James Harden, even though Harden had been on the Rookie team a year prior. Harden was only named to the team as a replacement for Evans. James would end up outshining Serge as he scored a buttload of points enroute to a Sophomore victory. Harden probably would have had more, were he not on the bench to start the game. Meanwhile, Serge Ibaka had a good night but it was completely lost in the fact that pretty much everyone had a night just as good as his. Since Serge can't really create his own shot, his fate in this type of game is up to the guards. Ibaka came off the bench as well, so there really wasn't an opportunity for him to blow up.
Serge Ibaka robbed in first round of dunk contest (2011)
If you were a Thunder fan back then, chances are you were psyched when you heard Ibaka would be in the dunk contest. Finally, OKC's best kept secret would be put on a stage for the world to see! Unfortunately, Blake Griffin had won the dunk contest before it began. Instead of saying anything, I'll throw it over to Nate Robinson. Here's a snippet of a January 8th, 2011 article by Steve Aschburner at NBA.com:
B-b-but why would the almighty "they" do that? Because it’s in L.A.? Because Griffin is the likely Rookie of the Year? Because he finally has given the Clippers a budding star with national and global marketing appeal?
"Everything. It’s all set up," said the Celtics’ guard, who "retired" from the dunk contest after winning in Dallas last February. "But we’ll see. I’m not saying he can’t dunk, because he can. Though we’ll see how it goes. Hopefully the guys that are in there with him will give him some competition and put on a show. Because that’s all it’s for — it’s a show. That’s the whole meaning of the dunk contest."
So, in the end, the LA homecrowd and Kia's money managed to swipe away what could have been one of the greatest dunk contests of all time. I mean, Serge Ibaka dunked it from behind the free throw line! Look at Dr. J do it. Look at Jordan do it. Heck, look at Brant Barry win the dunk contest by doing it with his foot on the line. Objectively, Serge had the best dunk of the four. And he didn't get out of the first round. Plus, Serge's other dunk was completely awesome. I mean, he grabbed a rumble doll from the rim with his mouth (something that hasn't been done before or since) and involved possibly the cutest mohawked kid of all-time. Serge even had the presentation down, rolling out a ton of flags before his first dunk. I can only imagine what he had planned for his next two, and it's a total shame that we'll never get to see.
Kevin Durant completely fails the Three Point Contest (2011)
This was a mistake. Going into the All-Star Break, KD was 33.8% from behind the three point line. Durant is known as a dead-eye shooter now and had shot over 40% in the 2009-2010 season. But this point in his career was a real adjustment period for KD, as he took on more ball handing duties and defenses began to get more physical with him. I don't know why his shot left him for a year, but the above reel is a good example of why we needed James Harden back then.
Russell Westbrook redeems himself in the Skills Challenge (2011)
This performance was much more impressive than the first. You can just see the difference in Westbrook's body language as he hits each station. He carefully sets his feet during this run, while he just kinda stopped wherever back in 2010. The improvement was enough to get Russ into the second round. A few mistakes would doom Russ to second place, but at least a much more respectable finish than we had seen before. Too bad no one remembers it because the skills challenge was unwatchable until this year.
The Thunder were fresh off a trip to the Western Conference finals, and were 27-7 at the All-Star Break. OKC wasn't exactly the toast of the town anymore, but they had certainly solidified themselves as one of the West's true contenders. As such, Durant and Westbrook were locks for the All-Star game. Durant got in with the fan vote for the second year in a row, while Westbrook was an easy choice for the coaches. The duo was also young enough to still want to participate in Saturday night events, so we saw appearances from them there as well.
Ominously absent from the 2012 festivities was James Harden, who was too old for the Rookie Challenge yet not good enough to earn an All-Star vote. He wasn't really heralded for his athleticism or dead-eye shooting, so he wasn't in any Saturday night events, either. Serge Ibaka also began a long string of All-Star absences, as he's never quite been at the offensive level needed to reach the ASG.
Kevin Durant named All-Star Starter, wins MVP (2012)
The style, the hype, the swagger! So much to love about this highlight reel. What gets me the most is how KD really made a statement against the other All-Stars. Here we was, carrying the West to a tremendous lead during the third quarter. It almost looked like KD was playing some terrible Eastern conference lottery team at times. And the less serious air of the All-Star game gave KD room for some personality too, as he hung on the rim after a dunk and shouted at Dwight Howard after a back court steal. All in all, it's just an example of KD at his finest. Also, it explains the benefit of having Scott Brooks as the West coach that year, heh.
Russell Westbrook named to first All-Star Team, goes HAM (2012)
There's no complete reel, but the above two dunks tell you all you need to know about Russ in the All-Star game. He's just as amped as if he was in a regular season game, and you can tell that he wanted to win. This was during a time when many were questioning Westbrook's ability to be a point guard. Furthermore, many were criticizing Russ for taking bad shots at the end of games. So with a clutch dunk, 17 points and 58% shooting on the night, Westbrook made a rather strong statement.
Kevin Durant grabs 2nd in Three Point Contest, loses tiebreaker (2012)
There's no footage of the first two rounds, but, you know, it's just KD hitting more threes. When it's not live, watching a three point contest can be about as exciting as watching grass grow. Still, KD was really close to winning this one, and originally I was on the edge of my seat during the entire final round. I bet if they moved the line back just a tad, KD would have swept the field. At least he redeemed himself after that disaster in 2010.
Russell Westbrook eliminated in first round of Skills Challenge (2012)
Westbrook had done the Skills Challenge twice by this point, so the course was pretty old hat. But he missed getting into the second round by a second. Why? That darned bounce pass, and the stupid jumper. Both stations bugging Westbrook makes sense, as Westbrook doesn't throw a two handed bounce pass very often, and almost never steps back for a jumper. If the Skills Challenge were all about cross-court one-handed bounce passes and jump-stop jumpers, then Westbrook would have destroyed the field here.
The Thunder lose the Finals, and they lose James Harden over the off-season. But the team shows no signs of coming to Earth, as they cruise into the All-Star break with a 39-14 record. It was only good enough for second in the West, so Brooks wouldn't get to coach the team. Still, it was enough to get Westbrook and Durant rightfully back in the All-Star game. Harden managed to make the West team as the leader of the Houston Rockets, as we all begrudgingly know.
Without any hot new names, OKC was conspicuously absent from almost all other aspects of All-Star weekend. Westbrook did make a quick cameo in the Shooting Stars Competition, because he seems to love losing at competitions that are designed against him as a player.
Kevin Durant named All-Star starter, scores 30, snubbed for MVP (2013)
The title says it all. Chris Paul won MVP honors by virtue of looking better as a player. Sure, KD finished with 30 points on over 50% shooting, but there's a reason we don't have a Youtube highlight reel for this one. KD missed a few open shots in this game, and did most of his work at the rim. Meanwhile, Chris Paul was drawing pressure and generating quite a few easy shots for KD. My last quip is that the above dunk is probably the flashiest thing KD did in the entire game. KD has always been known for efficiency, but he just doesn't know how to show off or excite a crowd very well. It's just not him.
Still, the big takeaway here is that KD warranted serious consideration for the All-Star game MVP for three years straight.
Russell Westbrook pals with James Harden on All-Star bench, we all cry (2013)
I really don't remember much of what Russ did in 2013, simply because he was on the bench and Popovich didn't play him much in the fourth. But I do remember several plays that involved him and Harden, each more painful than the last. It was just a reminder that we would never get to see them run the break together again, and that the dream of 2012 will forever be dead. Probably a performance we're best off forgetting.
Team Westbrook loses final of Shooting Stars (2013)
This is just a recap highlight reel instead of a Russell-exclusive one, but you get to see pretty much everything. This one was actually really intense, as Westbrook went down to the wire, desperately trying to make a half-court shot in the final round. Maya Moore was able to hit the shot for Westbrook in the first round, but this competition is really like a lottery since no basketball player regularly practices half-court shots. Maybe Westbrook would have hit one if somebody was trying to foul him while he shot it?
Westbrook's injury in the midst of the first round playoff series with Houston was the first time things had really gone wrong for the Thunder. The Westbrook-less Thunder would lose a wild second round series with Memphis, and went into the 2013-2014 season with a lot of questions. But Westbrook's injury had opened up the door for Reggie Jackson to shine. A couple of big playoff performances from Jackson would sweep him into the temporary starting point guard role in 2013. His play in that role (along with the continued evolution of KD) allowed the Thunder to keep their place among the West's elite. As such, KD was a lock for the All-Star game and the leading vote getter.
2014 also marked a bigger Thunder presence at All-Star Saturday night. KD took a spot in the Shooting Stars challenge, probably just so he can say he participated in three different events over the years. Reggie Jackson's increased exposure got him a spot in the Skills Challenge. And of course, I can't forget about the presence of rookie Steven Adams, selected with one of the picks from the Harden trade. His gritty defense in relief of the long-maligned Kendrick Perkins was a gift to Thunder fans everywhere, and it was great to see him at the Rookie Challenge.
Durant has 38 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists in West loss (2014)
This year was the first year that Durant had to effectively lead the West team, and he did a very admirable job. As you can see in the above video, Durant is performing clutch plays for his team well into the fourth quarter. I mean, stuff like really deep threes, smooth passes in transition, and off-the dribble jumpers late in the game. You didn't see that from KD in previous All-star highlight reels, and it really shows just how much his game had evolved.
The West did lose the game, as John Wall and Kyrie Irving were too much for Steph Curry and Chris Paul. Wall was behind a big third quarter run, while Kyrie Irving largely lead the late fourth quarter run. KD failed on a couple of key possessions, but he was asked to do more than anybody on the East was. Furthermore, KD's stats would have easily warranted serious MVP consideration had the West won, for what would have been the fourth straight year. Obviously Brooks' presence this year helped KD out a ton, but his performance was still very impressive nonetheless.
Steven Adams appears in Rising Stars Challenge (2014)
He would finish with 6 points on a perfect 3 of 3 shooting, 2 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 2 steals. There's no highlight reel of it online, but I remember Steven making a pretty strong statement with his performance. Adams wasn't exactly skilled at the time, and isn't necessarily super athletic. But he's determined, nimble, and has a lot of hustle. For a guy who only got 17 points in the game and was picked last by Grant Hill and Chris Webber, I'd say he proved a lot.
Kevin Durant loses finals of Shooting Stars (2014)
I actually kind of like watching this, because it makes me feel like there' hope for a 37 year old Kevin Durant when the WorldBA decides to institute a four point line at half-court. But for real, KD's half-court shots were on line and really close to going in. He could have easily won this competition. Maybe if Karl Malone wasn't distracting everybody with his horrible shooting and ridiculous arms, KD could've stood a chance! Team Durant would beat team Curry by 5 seconds to get into the second round, but lost by 12 seconds to Team Bosh in the final.
Reggie Jackson flubs first round of Skills Challenge (2014)
So we all know that the "team" concept worked out atrociously on All-Star weekend, especially when it came to the dunk contest. The skills challenge was more of a mixed bag, but it was still weird to see random pairings of players from different teams like Reggie Jackson and Goran Dragic. Jackson looked downright disinterested during his run (much like Westbrook did back in 2010), and it's no surprise that he and Dragic were knocked out in the first round.
This year, we have Durant and Westbrook returning to the All-Star game. Steven Adams was also slated for the World team in the Rookie Challenge, but his hand injury kept him from seeing action. Saturday night will treat us to Westbrook's second go at the Shooting Stars competition. That's a shorter roster than year's past, but considering the Thunder have undergone their second worst start in franchise history, I'm just glad OKC is in it at all.