The 2003 NBA All-Star game is widely regarded as one of the greatest shows the All-Star weekend has ever given due to all the storylines coming into it. Michael Jordan was making his last appearance, Vince Carter gave up his starting spot to MJ, and the torch got passed to Kobe, as all of that ultimately led to an overtime showdown.
A no-brainer decision from Vince Carter
Back in 2001, Michael Jordan decided to come back for a final run with the Washington Wizards. It was far from the Chicago Bulls version of MJ that dominated the league, but he still demanded respect from his opponents with his presence no matter the age. As the 2002/2003 season got announced as the final season for Jordan with no chance of a 4th comeback, every game was must-see, farewelling MJ into retirement.
When the All-Star teams got announced, Michael was, of course, a part of the Eastern Conference but not named a starter. Pretty untypical and weird to see for NBA fans, but it was the real picture as guys like Allen Iverson, Vince Carter, and Tracy McGrady deserved it more, with the voters agreeing. But that would lead to an admirable and respectful gesture by Vince Carter, who gave up his starting spot so MJ could start in his last All-Star game.
Even though Jordan tried to convince Vince not to do it because he deserved it, Carter did not doubt his decision:
"I remember walking in All-Star weekend with all the festivities and MJ's in the back doing what MJ does. And I walk in and say 'hey MJ, it's your last All-Star game and everything, you're gonna start. He said 'no, you earned it.' I didn't wanna get blackballed so I get back in, get dressed, and I'm like 'no way.' So I go shoot and that conversation right there is where I'm telling him and he's telling me 'you earned it.' I said 'MJ look here. I am going to walk to the back of the locker room during starting lineups because you're going to start, I'm not about to get blackballed."
Vince Carter, NBA Today
Kobe stole the show
The game turned out to be an instant classic with a flurry of NBA legends on the floor giving it their all. From MJ to Kobe, Shaq, KG, Iverson, McGrady, Carter, and Kidd, all the best players in the game came to play. It would come down the wire, as Jordan symbolically got the ball on the wing and scored a tough fadeaway jump shot over Shawn Marion for the perfect ending.
But then Kobe Bryant and the insane competitive nature came into the picture, as he managed to draw a foul on Jermaine O'Neal and score two free throws to send the game into a second overtime where the Western All-Stars prevailed and took the 155-145 victory. This is how Vince described that last play in the first overtime:
"We tried our best, we're yelling to stop the game. It was like 7 seconds I think. Stop the game, stop the game. Well, rest in peace to Kobe Bryant -- being Kobe Bryant, he wanted to win the game and steal the show. So he gets the ball out of the timeout, he gets fouled by Jermaine O'Neal, hits both free-throws, and we lose. We end up loosing that game."
Vince Carter, NBA Today
Jordan is known as an insane competitor, but Kobe was right up there when it came to wanting to win every game. That "Mamba Mentality" couldn't have let him just slide that game away, even though it was all about Jordan that night. Knowing MJ's mentality, I'm pretty sure he had no problem with Kobe going full force at him, as any other way would have been an insult for the GOAT. At least it led to some great trash talk between the two greats who also became brothers off the court.