Craig Hodges was the reason I fell in love with the three-point shot and the Three-Point Shootout on All-Star weekend. The first contest I ever watched was Hodges’ record-breaking performance in 1991 which sparked an obsession with the three-pointer. Not being particularly athletic, all I did was shoot and became the most one-dimensional basketball player one can imagine, all because I watched Craig Hodges have one of the most incredible hot streaks in NBA history.
Craig Hodges had been a Bull for two months, and I had just turned nine years old when he participated in the Three-Point Shootout in 1989. Winless in his three previous attempts, he was runner up to Larry Bird in 1986 and had failed to advance past the first round in both the 1987 and 1988 competitions. With Bird out of the contest due to injury in 1989, it came down to Craig Hodges and Dale Ellis. Hodges had the best single round of the competition (20 points) and two runs of 11 for 13 and 14 for 16, but he watched as Ellis put up 19 points and sent him back to Chicago with 2nd place, again.
“If I had it to do over again, I’d let Dale shoot first. I thought if I could put some numbers on the board, I could put some pressure on him and many pressure his shot.” -Craig Hodges, Chicago Tribune, February 12, 1989
“Craig…told the team he was coming here to win it,” said Michael Jordan during All-Star weekend in 1990. Hodges came in leading the league in three-point shooting at 47.7 percent, but the focus was Larry Bird’s return to the competition and Michael Jordan’s first (and fortunately his only) attempt at a three-point title. Hodges and Jordan actually squared off in the first round, not Jordan’s finest few minutes of All-Star action. His 5 points is tied with Detlef Schrempf for the lowest point total in the contest’s history.
Jordan admitted he was a little nervous before this performance.
After blowing out his teammate 20-5, Hodges survived a shoot-off with Miami’s Jon Sundvold in the second round to advance to the final against Reggie Miller. Hodges shot first and scored 17 points in the final round and watched as Miller got hot and hit 13 of his last 18 shots. It seemed as though shooting first had robbed Hodges again but Miller missed the money ball on the final rack giving Hodges his first Three-Point Shootout crown. Even Larry Bird had to reluctantly admit that “Craig Hodges is the three-point king.”
In 1991 Hodges had slipped in the Bulls rotation and was averaging career lows in points and minutes. His three-point attempts were so low that he was only invited back to the competition to defend his title, which he did in record-breaking fashion. In what is probably the best performance in the history of the Three-Point Shootout, he posted a 20 point first round and a 24 point (one shy of his own single round record) second round, a round in which he made an extraordinary 19 consecutive shots. The run destroyed Larry Bird’s record of 11 consecutive makes, and overall he defended his title by hitting on 71 percent (53 of 75) of his shots.
The performance drew standing ovations from his fellow All-Stars and fans alike. Terry Porter, the runner up in the competition, called it “unbelievable to watch,” and a cocky Craig Hodges, who said he felt like “the best shooter on planet earth” challenged Larry Bird. “If he wants to come out of retirement, I’m here.”
Hodges was back in 1992, which turned out to be his last season in Chicago. He broke no records in the competition, but he put up numbers good enough to get him to the final where he faced Jim Les of the Sacramento Kings. In the final, Hodges put up a vulnerable 16 points, but in a final that mimicked the 1990 final, Les missed his final shot, giving Hodges the victory 16-15. With the win, Hodges joined Larry Bird as the only two competitors to win the event three straight years.
In a controversial decision, the NBA allowed Hodges to compete in the 1993 Three-Point Shootout even though he did not play for an NBA team. It was his last competition and he surrendered his title to Mark Price. As I grew up watching the Bulls I always knew that no matter how much Gatorade I drank I could not “Be like Mike,” but I did believe at one time I could “be like Craig” or, later perhaps, “be like Steve.” The progression from childhood to adulthood has not changed the fact that NBA All-Star Saturday Night, especially the Three-Point Shootout, remains one of my favorite nights of the year, an occasion that even interrupts special occasions like Valentines Day. I never became Craig Hodges or Steve Kerr, but I did make 17 out of 25 shots in a three-point contest as a freshman in high school, which remains my only claim to fame.
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