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On This Date in Sports March 2, 1951: The First NBA All-Star Game

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Looking to boost the sport and bring attention and publicity to professional basketball, the NBA held its first All-Star Game at the Boston Garden. The idea for an All-Star Game comes from Publicity Director Haskell Cohen and Commissioner Maurice Podoloff, and Celtics Owner Walter A. Brown. The game is a success as the crowd of 10,094 sees the Eastern All-Stars beat the West 111-94.

The sport of basketball was in peril as college basketball was rocked by a point-shaving scandal that involved some of the top teams in the NCAA. The National Basketball Association was still trying to find its audience in its fifth season. Most nights, even the biggest arenas averaged just 3,500 fans per game.

Looking to bring some positive attention to the NBA, Publicity Director Haskell Cohen suggested the league hold an All-Star Game similar to the one held by baseball with the best players from the teams of the Eastern Division facing the best players for teams in the Western Division. While Commission Maurice Pdoloff was skeptical that it would work, Boston Celtics Owner Walker A. Brown saw its potential and offered to host the game, pick up all expenses, and cover any potential losses.

The rosters were made up of ten players on each team, chosen by local sportswriters, with a rule that a writer could not select a player from the team from his home city.

The Eastern Division Team was coached by Joe Lapchick of the New York Knickerbockers. Selected to start for the East was Bob Cousy and Ed Macauley of the Boston Celtics. Joe Fulks and Andy Phillip of the Philadelphia Warriors, along with Dolph Schayes of the Syracuse Nationals. The Eastern Conference reserves were Paul Arazin of the Warriors, Red Rocha of the Baltimore Bullets, Vince Boryla, Harry Gallatin, and Dick McGuire of the Knicks.

Minneapolis Lakers Coach John Kundla led the Western Division team. Kundla had two Lakers in the starting lineup, George Mikan and Jim Pollard. Bob Davies of the Rochester Royals joined them along with Ralph Beard and Alex Gorza of the Indianapolis Olympians. The Western Conference reserves featured Larry Foust and Fred Schaus of the Fort Wayne Pistons. Vern Mikkelsen of the Lakers, along with Frank Brian and Dwight Eddleman from the Tri-Cities Blackhawks.

The East got off to a fast start, building a 31-22 they would never relinquish as they increased their lead through the first three quarters, ultimately winning by 17 points. In suffering a 111-94 loss, the Western Division can blame a 32.7% shooting percentage, while the East gave a strong defensive effort, limiting George Mikan, the consensus top player in the NBA, to just 12 points. Ed Macauley of the Celtics was the game’s top scorer with 20 points and six rebounds. In 1953, Macauley would be chosen as the first game’s MVP retroactively.

Other stars having a big game for the East included Joe Fulks, who had 19 points and seven boards, and Dolph Schayes, who had a double-double with 15 points and 14 rebounds and scored the first All-Star basket. For the West, the top scorer was Alex Gorza, who had 17 points and 13 rebounds, while Mikan also had a double-double with 12 rebounds to go along with his 13-point effort.