- The Washington Times - Friday, February 9, 2001

So maybe you can't sky like Vince Carter. Or jitterbug like Allen Iverson. Or block shots like Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean Jacque Wamutombo.
Heck, maybe you can't even pronounce Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean Jacque Wamutombo.
Whatever the case, it doesn't make you a dummy. Or a complete idiot. Sure, some folks are NBA All-Star Game geniuses, the kind who win two MVP awards, post the game's first triple-double and register the lowest first-round score in long distance shootout history. But you? You're like the rest of us content to flop on the couch, flip on the game and fill up on jiggly XFL promotional spots.
And that's where this guide comes in. Granted, it won't put you on the MCI Center floor for Sunday's All-Star Game. And it won't allow you to win the slam dunk contest in such desultory fashion that the entire affair is put on hiatus. It will, however, give you a cheat sheet for the whole shebang and with a minimum of fuss, so you can move on to more important things, like resting up for the second half of the season.
Need to read that over? Take your time. Ready to go? Then let's begin:
WHAT IS THE ALL-STAR GAME?

Played before dozens of fans and thousands of the NBA's corporate partners, the All-Star Game is a fast-paced, high-scoring midseason exhibition in which the world's best basketball players agree to not get hurt.
WHO PLAYS IN THE GAME?

As stated above, the All-Star Game showcases the league's top players. Except for Alonzo Mourning. And Grant Hill. And Shaquille O'Neal. And possibly Kobe Bryant and Gary Payton, depending on injuries. And maybe Karl Malone, depending on what sort of mood he's in.
After all, the Mailman nearly blew off last year's game. Twice. To start, he claimed that he had a sore back; when that didn't work, he expressed a desire to "spend time with his family."
Rebuffed by the league, Malone promptly failed to show for a mandatory Friday media session, arriving in Oakland just hours before the game's Sunday afternoon tipoff. His reward? A whopping three minutes of game time.
Warning: Skipping the game? Bring a valid doctor's note to the commissioner's office. Pseudo injuries and family values go over about as well as "the dog ate my homework."
HOW ARE ALL-STARS SELECTED?

Starters are chosen by fan voting. Reserves are selected by the coaches in each conference. Replacements for injured players are picked by the commissioner out of a vintage Clyde Frazier fedora. Successful All-Star campaigns often include one or more of the following elements:
Playing well.
Playing well for a good team.
Playing well in a good sneaker commercial, preferably one featuring the voice of funnyman Chris Rock (see Hardaway, Penny, 1998).
Having Boston Red Sox-loving computer hackers stuff the virtual ballot box. (Major League All-Star Game only.)
Remember: When it comes to nabbing a starting spot, it helps to play for the Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe Bryant (1998) and A.C. Green (1990) both got the nod over more worthy candidates (Mitch Richmond and Tom Chambers, respectively), largely because the Lakers play on NBC. A lot.
WHAT CAN I EXPECT FROM THE ALL-STAR GAME?

More scoring than you can possibly imagine. Far more than you'll ever see in a regular-season matchup, or even the NHL All-Star Game. Check out the scores from the last three contests: 137-126, 135-114, 132-120.
Tip: Always take the "over" on an All-Star Game wager.
Smiles, high-fives and good feelings are also part of the package. Though many All-Star teammates enjoy bitter intra-team not to mention inter-team rivalries during the season, egos and ill will take a back seat. For the most part.
"You kind of get to know the people you're rivals with," said Milwaukee All-Star forward Glenn Robinson. "You've been playing against them since college or even AAU, and now you finally get a chance to talk to them and find out what's going on in their mind it might not be that bad. At least for that day."
Tip: Hoping to see New York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy hanging from the bottom of someone's lower leg? Wait for the next Miami-New York game.
While exceptions to All-Star graciousness are rare, they're not unheard of. Two years ago, Malone grumbled after Bryant waved off an attempted pick. And in 1985, Isiah Thomas reportedly spearheaded a movement to keep the ball away from rookie teammate Michael Jordan.
Jordan shot just 2-for-9 in the game, then went on to lead the East squad in shot attempts for six of the next eight years.
Warning: If you're going to freeze someone out, make sure he doesn't end up becoming the greatest player of his era.
In addition, no All-Star Game is complete without a generous dollop of courtside celebrity. Expect a star-studded, "Hollywood Squares" sort of mishmash (sans Jim J. Bullock) that includes:
Tinseltown B-listers.
Big names from other sports.
Those inside-the-Beltway fat cats back in Washington (this year only).
Faceless corporate moguls (most of them in luxury boxes).
Spike Lee, but not Jimmy Buffett.
Billy Crystal, but not Gheorghe Muresan.
Whoever's currently holding down the fort in the half-hour time slot following NBC's "Friends." And possibly Richard Hatch.
"I've never been to the Super Bowl, but the All-Star Game is pretty big," Milwaukee All-Star guard Ray Allen said. "Off the court, everybody wants to be on the court. And on the court, everybody wants to be off the court. Everyone wants to see each other, and everyone wants to trade places."
WHAT'S MISSING FROM THE GAME?

Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards and Vancouver Grizzlies. And defense, which may as well be peering out from the side of a milk carton.
"Guys don't start playing defense in the All-Star Game until the fourth quarter, and then only if it's close," Robinson said. "You just go out and display your talents, try to put on a show for the team. If someone goes up for a dunk, I don't think anyone is going to try to take them out like they would in a real game."
What's an All-Star "defender" to do? Here's a handy guide:
DON'T hesitate to load up at pregame events, parties and buffets. A few extra pounds and a couple of nights out aren't going to hurt. At least not on defense.
"The first two days leading up to the game, everyone's just hanging out and having a good time," Allen said. "It's not like anyone is working out. So come game time, a lot of people are a little sluggish. But you still suck things up for offense."
DO let your man smoke you like a Cohiba. Provided he lets you do the same. "When I played, defense in the All-Star Game was a little more lax than in the regular season," said Fox Sports analyst Marques Johnson. "But now it looks like summer league basketball."
DON'T become unwilling fodder for a wall-size vanity poster. "Pride still kicks in when there's a mano-a-mano situation," Johnson said. "If I'm doubling back on defense and a Jerry Stackhouse or Vince Carter is coming in on offense looking to poster-ize me, that's when you'll see the occasional great defensive play.
"It's like what the animal people say about dogs having eye contact. You can look in a guy's eyes and tell whether or not he's going to challenge you or acquiesce. And if he challenges you, throw out everything about the All-Star Game and how you're not supposed to play hard."
WHO GETS TO SHOOT?

Everyone. But some more than others. In 1991, Michael Jordan squeezed off 25 attempts more than fellow starters Bernard King, Patrick Ewing and Joe Dumars combined.
"If you're playing in an All-Star Game with someone like Michael Jordan, you know he's getting 20 shots," Johnson said. "It's just a given with certain players. Status has something to do with it."
That said, the industrious chucker can still make the most of his All-Star appearance, even if he's a second-tier star. Just ask Denver guard Nick Van Exel, who came off the West bench in 1998 and jacked up 14 shots in just 20 minutes.
"I'm the type who wouldn't put myself into the position where I'm taking every shot," said Wizards TV analyst Phil Chenier, a former All-Star. "But you have others who say, 'Ooh, I've got the hot hand, I'm going to take it every time,' and forget that there are some other pretty good players in the game, too."
Reminder: Shame didn't get you to the All-Star Game. Why start worrying about it now?
WHO HAS THE EASIEST JOB AT THE ALL-STAR GAME?

The referees, who likely would choke on their whistles if they bothered to use them. Traveling, three-second violations and illegal defense calls are about as common as dot-coms with a positive cash flow, and foul shots are an afterthought the West squad attempted only 13 in last year's game.
"It's going to be a very casual game players aren't going to fuss with the officials and there isn't the pressure of a regular-season game," Chenier said. "So the refs have it pretty easy."
Warning: Don't mistake referee largess for nonchalance. Six steps still counts as traveling. Most of the time.
Then there are the coaches, whose primary responsibilities consist of (1) finding enough minutes for guys like Van Exel; (2) picking out an appropriately stylish, yet relaxed sports jacket.
"[There's] very little [playcalling]," said Toronto coach Lenny Wilkens, a sideline veteran of three All-Star Games. "We give them one or two things to do, just so they have some balance on the floor. Fast-break situations you let them push it, read it and get the ball to the open guy, that type of thing. You might call an out-of-bounds play that everybody knows."
WHO HAS THE HARDEST JOB AT THE ALL-STAR GAME?

The players but not because they have to perform in the game.
"You never really get any rest that weekend," said Washington's Mitch Richmond, a five-time All-Star and former MVP. "You've got to be at all kinds of events; you're trying to get business done outside of basketball."
Think parties at Club Nation. News conferences at the Grand Hyatt. Personal appearances at the Jam Session. Schmoozing with agents, front-office types and potential business partners.
And don't forget about your peeps friends, family, entourage and assorted hangers-on. They all need transportation, hotel rooms, event tickets and so forth.
"When I was in the game, it was crazy," Richmond said. "It's even hectic now, with it being in the same city. And I'm not even trying to get tickets for the game."
Good thing. Even though Washington is hosting this year's game, the Wizards aren't privy to any extra seats.
"We get no special privileges at all," Richmond said with a laugh. "That's a shame. But it's a really fun time."
DOES ANYONE CARE ABOUT THE FINAL SCORE?

Absolutely. No one likes to lose, even if he's not about to lose any sleep over it.
"The unwritten deal is that everything is kind of nonchalant and casual the first 3 and 1/2 quarters, but if it's close at the end, then it's for real," Johnson said. "The money makes no difference, but pride does. Since they're keeping score, guys still want to win."
Reminder: It's OK to care. Just not too much.
WILL ANYONE EVER DIVE FOR A LOOSE BALL IN THE ALL-STAR GAME?

"No," said Allen. "You'll never see that."

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