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BJ Armstrong: NBA All-Star Game taught me I loved to compete; idea that All-Stars don't play hard is nonsense but it is show business

In the first of a series of weekly columns for Sky Sports, NBA legend BJ Armstrong – a three-time NBA champion and former NBA All-Star – shares his thoughts exclusively with our readers, starting off with an insight into what it's truly like to be an NBA All-Star

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BJ Armstrong reflects on his NBA All-Star appearance in 1994 with the Chicago Bulls

Most people really love to win. But if you love to win, you also have to understand that you're going to lose sometimes.

I remember going to the All-Star game and what I learned is that I love to compete.

You can't stop a truly great player. That type of vocabulary and thinking doesn't apply to these guys.

What are you going to do to stop Larry Bird? You don't just stop Magic Johnson. You don't just stop Scottie Pippen. You don't just stop Patrick Ewing. What we have to do is we have to compete. We have to contain him, we have to take away something. There's a level and sophistication that you have to play with.

It's not about showboating though. I had too much respect for the game for that, I never ever wanted to cheat the game. The fundamentals of the game dictated what I needed to do. If the play requires a bounce pass, that's fine – because that to me, is part of the show.

The difference between a professional and an amateur is the following: the professional makes the play and does so because he has the fundamental base skills-wise. You do whatever the play requires you to do. If the only way I can make that pass is a left-hand wraparound behind my back, then that's what you do. The amateur wants to do it because they want to show off.

If you need to finger roll it to get it in, because that's the only way you can get it in, that's beautiful. If you're just finger-rolling to finger roll, that to me has no substance there.

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There's no business like show business

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A game for the ages in 2001 as the Eastern All-Stars came back from a 21-point deficit in under 10 minutes to win. It also ushered in a new era of superstars like Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant – was it the best ever?

When I came to the NBA, I had this idea as a kid that I just wanted to play against the best. My first day or two on the job, I quickly learned that this was entertainment, it's show business. They didn't call it show-show. They didn't call it business-business. They called it show-business.

I didn't grow up as a kid in the park wanting to be an entertainer. I didn't grow up trying to play the game because I wanted to be some type of Globetrotter or something like that. That's not why I played, I played the game because I wanted to master the fundamentals of the game.

But the one thing that I remember about the All-Star game is that I couldn't believe how this little ball created this business. I was just a kid who loved to go to the park with my friends, like so many people. I was Walt Frazier, and me and my friends were just living our dream on the playground.

Then suddenly, that same little ball that I played for hours upon hours on end with for free, has created this massive show – and it's a billion-dollar business. I remember walking around and you see these virtual basketball reality setups, and you see Habitat for Humanity, and you see just everything that comes with it being All-Star Weekend, and you're just looking around going, 'It's all because of this little ball'.

The legendary Walt Frazier in action for the New York Knicks in 1969
Image: The legendary Walt Frazier in action for the New York Knicks in 1969

That ball has brought so much joy to so many people around the world. This whole business is because of that one little ball and I thought that was really cool. I was just kind of absorbing it, watching it, as a player participating in it. It was just a cool moment, because I was just looking at and taking in everything.

I was at the pinnacle at the All-Star game, because that's a show, it's a business and it's entertainment. I get the business of sports. I get also that there's an entertainment value where people love to be entertained. It's great seeing great players. I mean, it's great to see a player like Charles Barkley; it's great to see a player like LeBron James; it's great to see a player like Kevin Durant; these are wonderful players.

It's part of the entertainment and it's part of the business. Yes, they are great players but you also love to see players put on a show. So, the term show business, it made sense to me. But the only thing that allows you to have that happy medium of show and business are the fundamentals of the game. You got to be fundamentally sound because if you're just all show with no substance that doesn't work; and if you're just a player and you're not entertaining, yeah, you may win, but the business doesn't flourish.

That moment when your name is called...

The most phenomenal thing was getting your name called as a starter in the All-Star game.

Up until that moment, it was like, 'Okay, I'm here,' and I was there with great humility. I can remember thinking before I was announced, about watching the game with my dad, about when Isiah Thomas was named an NBA All-Star, and we were like, 'Oh, man, he's done that Detroit'. You know, that was like our guy.

I remember, before my name was about to be announced, I thought of that moment. Then I was thinking, 'Oh, that's me now - how did this happen?' and I just blanked out. I didn't even hear my name being called.

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The NBA's best players come together to take part in the All-Star Game, watch live on Sky Sports this coming Sunday

Of course, my parents and everyone were there as well and I just thought, 'I don't know how I got here, but I'm here', and that was the coolest moment of the weekend of being in the All-Star game. I just thought, 'Alright, I did it'. That was my discipline. That was my dream. It was a great moment in time, and I'm so thankful to have that opportunity.

Given how fragile the career of professional athletes can be sometimes, I'm so fortunate that I was able to live that dream out.

Watch all three nights of NBA All-Star Weekend live on Sky Sports - beginning Friday night at 2am, Saturday night at 11.30pm, Sunday night at 11pm across Sky Sports Arena and joined on Main Event.

You can also watch BJ Armstrong live on Sky Sports Heatcheck on Sky Sports YouTube and social media channels, and watch 'Heatcheck: The Best Bits' on Thursday evenings.

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