- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2001

Allen Iverson, who has come to personify everything wrong with the NBA off the court, became the league's savior at last night's All-Star Game at MCI Center. He decided at the end that his team would not lose.

Yes, the NBA needed Allen Iverson last night.

With about five minutes left and the East down 100-87, Iverson grabbed the comatose NBA and gave it a breath of life, leading his team to a remarkable come-from-behind 111-110 victory over the West in what was a terrible game until Iverson declared it would be terrible no longer.

The NBA may not love the 6-foot Iverson's image, but it's impossible not to love his game. His 15-point, fourth-quarter performance earned the smallest player on the court MVP honors and saved the NBA from yet another series of stories today about how the game is so boring.

Those stories would have been written, too, because, for the most part, last night's game was, well, dull. But you know what they say about NBA basketball, among other things the game doesn't really count until the final minutes. It was a dazzling few minutes, too: a shootout with Iverson stealing the ball, driving the lane and burying shots; Kobe Bryant answering back with his own offensive display; and Stephon Marbury hitting two 3-pointers in the end to put the East on top with just seconds left.

When Tim Duncan missed a last-second shot and the buzzer sounded, MCI Center erupted and the East players celebrated as Iverson, who finished with 25 points, bounced around the court and thumped his chest. The Philadelphia 76ers star had every right to because he created something rarely seen at MCI Center a few moments of supremely talented, supremely intense NBA basketball.

"You know, it's not easy to win a war like this when you have so many great players on the court at one time," Iverson said. "I think [the league] is going to be beautiful for years to come because every year it seems like we get somebody else with different kind of God-given ability to add to this league."

The game certainly wasn't beautiful for the first 55 minutes. In fact, most of the All-Star Game, the lowest scoring since 1975, seemed eerily familiar. There may not have been any Washington Wizards playing, but their presence was certainly felt.

The East, sitting on the Wizards' bench, didn't score a point until nearly halfway through the first quarter, when Antonio Davis mercifully tipped in a missed shot to make it 11-2. Pure Wizards basketball.

Iverson certainly didn't start the game like he finished. Once he threw a pass to Anthony Mason, who wasn't looking. Then he went down the lane and turned the ball over. And then Iverson threw away yet another pass.

Heck, Rod Strickland could have done that.

The Wizards were represented last night, though, in some capacity. The Wizards dancers performed during a timeout. And the president of the team was introduced in a halftime show.

Yes, there was a bona fide Michael Jordan sighting. He was introduced as part of the ceremony honoring former All-Star MVPs.

Too bad there were no Wizards fans in the stands to see him because there were so few tickets for local fans to buy. And those who bought them had to take out a second mortgage.

It's easy to criticize the NBA these days. After the whipping that commissioner David Stern took this week about the league's problems, you would have thought the XFL had more credibility (they were running XFL commercials on NBC during last night's broadcast, which Stern must have loved).

Actually, the NBA might be closer to the XFL than Stern wants to believe, at least in terms of reaching certain markets. Supposedly, the hip-hop, tattooed image of NBA players is turning fans off. Yet there was Nike, showing a commercial featuring NBA players last night that celebrated that image.

That may turn off a geezer like me, but it speaks to a younger generation that believes image is everything. To that group, the quality of the game is hardly as important as the show and the style that goes along with it. In the XFL, the quality of the football is the last thing the young generation of fans is drawn to.

Anyway, who really is stranger, Bill Walton or Jesse Ventura?

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