- The Washington Times - Monday, February 10, 2003

ATLANTA In the end, Vince Carter was the good guy.
Carter and the other Eastern Conference players convinced Michael Jordan he should start the final All-Star Game of his career, but another dose of Jordan magic was not enough. The West beat the East 155-145 in the first double-overtime game in the 52-year history of the event last night at soldout Phillips Arena.
Minnesota's Kevin Garnett was named MVP after scoring 37 points on 17-for-24 shooting in the first overtime game since 1993.
Jordan, who started the game only after Vince Carter and his other East teammates forced him to, finished with 20 points on 9-for-27 shooting. Carter, criticized the past two weeks for saying he wouldn't relinquish his starting guard spot, stepped aside.
"These guys went against my wishes in a sense," Jordan said. "Obviously, it was a last-minute decision with Vince. I felt like he had taken a beating when he shouldn't have. I thought he was being very respectful, which we have all been taught … to be very respectful for people giving you the opportunity. And he was doing that, and he was being criticized for it.
"I could have easily come off the bench and was proud to do that. I was happy to be here. The coaches selected me. I didn't want anyone to feel bad about anything that was happening this weekend. I didn't want a black cloud over this weekend. I didn't want to leave the game that way."
Leading up to the game all the talk centered on whether Jordan would start. In fact, in the weeks leading up to the game, both Orlando's Tracy McGrady and Philadelphia's Allen Iverson offered their starting positions to Jordan, but he declined.
However, pressure was placed on Carter, who has appeared in just 13 games because of injury, to do the same. Carter's position was somewhat difficult because, with approximately 1.3 million votes, he was the East's leading vote-getter.
For Jordan, who was initally announced as a reserve, it was a night of ceremony, and the All-Star Game, with all of its glitz and glitter, was the perfect setting. At halftime Jordan was honored by pop singer Mariah Carey, who serenaded him while the crowd applauded a highlight reel of some of his greatest moments overhead.
In the second half Jordan set the All-Star Game career record for points with two free throws with 2:04 left in the third quarter, passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (251). Jordan shoved the record to 262 by the time he was finished.
The game, which started out as a rather drab affair, became more intense as it extended later and later into the evening.
Kobe Bryant forced a first overtime but could have won the game when he converted one of two free throws to make it 120-120 after regulation.
Jordan appeared on his way to a storybook ending when he gave the East a 138-136 lead on a baseline jumper with four seconds left in the first overtime. But Bryant, fouled by Jermaine O'Neal while attempting a 3-pointer, made two of three free throws with one second left.
The East ran out of gas in the second overtime and was outscored 17-7.
For the East, Iverson scored 35 points, and McGrady finished with 29.
San Antonio's Tim Duncan had 19 points and 15 rebounds, and the Lakers' Bryant added 22 points.
All along, Jordan, 39, maintained Carter should start, insisting it was time to pass the torch. He repeated that just before the game.
"Truthfully, it's not about how many more years I could play," Jordan said. "The issue is I've come to the end, and I feel good about it. I'm leaving with great dedication and love. I think the guys in the game are going to carry on, and they are going to be fine. The game will continue to be successful.
"I'm comfortable with my decision because it feels like my work is done," he continued. "And now it's time to move on. It was given to me by players before me, Dr. J, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, and I feel an obligation to pass it to them. I think the thing I want to be remembered by and the things I want these guys to understand is that the game should be competitive. I don't want it to be one of those games where you get out of the way and let Michael Jordan score. I want my last All-Star Game to be something to talk about."
Carter, in fact, wasn't even the first substitute for the East. New Jersey's Jason Kidd was the first player off the bench, and not long after he entered the game he fed Jordan, who started the game by missing his first seven shots, for a layup.
Carter finally checked in with 2:33 left in the quarter with the score tied at 16-16.
Before the game, Jordan was the last reserve introduced, and he received the loudest ovation from the crowd.
Carter's announcement as a starter brought a smattering of boos. Few in the arena, however, knew Carter was stepping aside for Jordan. The East players are believed to have discussed the situation before the game.
Carter has come under fire before, even when it seemed he was doing the right thing.
In the 2001 Eastern Conference semifinals, a series in which Carter's Toronto Raptors lost to the Philadelphia 76ers, Carter came under fire for attending his college graduation from the University of North Carolina on the eve of Game 7. Carter had a chance to win that game, but his jumper at the end of regulation rimmed out.
The never-too-serious game featured some truly spectacular plays. There was 7-foot-1, 340-pound Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal leading the fast break. Carter caught a breathtaking alley-oop dunk from Kidd, and McGrady, who scored 17 points in the fourth quarter, stretched out for a few gasp-inducing dunks.
And Jordan, even though he didn't get the picture-perfect ending, scored one of his baskets on a dazzling, turn-back-the-clock, left-handed up-and-under around Dirk Nowitzki late in the fourth quarter.

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