The National Basketball Association staged its first All-Star Game in the Boston Garden on March 2, 1951. From that year on, the game has matched the best players in the Eastern Conference with the best players in the Western Conference.
The participants are currently chosen in two ways. The first is via fan ballot, with the leading vote recipients at each position starting the game; secondly the reserves are chosen by a vote among the head coaches of each squad's particular conference. Coaches are not allowed to vote for their own players. If a player is injured and cannot participate, the commissioner will select a replacement.
The coaches who currently lead the teams with the most wins in their conference through the Sunday two weeks before the game coach their respective conferences. However, the same coach cannot coach the team in consecutive seasons. This is the so-called "Riley Rule" so named because coach Pat Riley's Lakers teams of the 1980s won so often that he coached the Western Conference team nearly every season in the 1980s. In the event that a coach's team repeats as the best record holder the coach from the team with the second best record will serve as All-Star coach for that conference.
The All-Star Game is played under normal NBA rules, but there are notable differences from an average game.
Since the starting All-Stars are selected by fan vote, players sometimes start the game at atypical positions. For instance, in 2007 Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady had the two highest fan vote totals among Western Conference guards. As both players normally play shooting guard, Bryant, who is 6'6" (198 cm), started the game as a point guard, a position usually manned by a much smaller player.
The player introductions are usually accompanied by a significant amount of fanfare, including lighting effects, dance music, and pyrotechnics. Special uniforms are designed for the game each year, usually red for the Western Conference and blue for the Eastern Conference, but the 1997–2002 game allowed players wearing their respective team uniforms. A major recording artist typically sings "The Star-Spangled Banner" prior to tipoff. One of the more memorable performances was given by Marvin Gaye during the 1983 game. Gaye was accompanied by Gordon Banks, who played a tape from an all night session that used numerous elements of soul music and funk. Banks still has that historic tape of the music to which Gaye sang his soulful version.
Gameplay usually involves players attempting spectacular slam dunks and alley oops. Defensive effort is limited and the final score of the game is generally much higher than an average NBA game. The coaches also try to give most of the reserve players some time on the court instead of using a limited rotation as they would in a normal game. The fourth quarter of the game is often played in a more competitive fashion if the game is close.
The All-Star Game is the featured event of All-Star Weekend, and it is held on a Sunday night. All-Star Weekend also includes a number of popular exhibition games and competitions featuring NBA players and alumni as well as players from the WNBA and D-League.