A SPLIT DECISION
What's wrong with this scenario?
Magic center Shaquille O'Neal, returning to the city in which he
played high school basketball, helps thwart a West rally with
nine points in the fourth quarter of the NBA All-Star Game on
Sunday in San Antonio. With 40.6 seconds left, he punctuates his
performance with a vicious dunk over Spurs favorite son David
Robinson. O'Neal finishes the game, a 129-118 East victory, with
25 points and 10 rebounds. Michael Jordan, who sat out the final
quarter, meets Shaq at midcourt to congratulate him on his
impending MVP award. A minute later Jordan accepts the MVP trophy.
Fans boo. O'Neal glares into the distance. Jordan announces in
his speech that Shaq deserved the award. "We were all shocked,"
says Scottie Pippen, Jordan's Chicago teammate. "I think all the
players felt, like the fans, that Shaq had an MVP-type
O'Neal, it appears, was a victim of poor timing. The seven media
members who voted on the MVP were required to turn in their
ballots with about three minutes to play. Jordan edged O'Neal
4-3 based on a decisive third quarter in which he scored 10 of
his 20 points, enabling the East to extend a three-point
halftime lead to a 102-80 advantage. In a tight game Michael had
That was of little solace to Shaq, who in one breath asked for
the names of the media who voted and in the next feigned
indifference to the process. "These are the trials and
tribulations that happen to all great players," he said. "I'll
get [the MVP] one day. I'll get a bunch of things one day."
NO. 1 WITH A BULLET
When Bullets guard Tim Legler grabbed a basketball off the rack
to take his first shot in the All-Star Shootout last Saturday,
he wasn't thinking about the Nuggets or the Mavericks or the
Warriors or the Jazz or the Timberwolves or the "five or so"
other NBA teams that gave up on him without ever giving him what
he considers a fair shot. "What I was thinking," Legler says,
"was I better not squeeze the ball too hard, or it would pop."
Legler didn't pop any basketballs, but he did blow away the
eight-man field in the three-point competition.
How much did this event--and its $20,000 first prize--mean to him?
When Tim and his wife, Jennifer, realized that the due date of
their first child and the All-Star weekend would coincide, they
decided to induce labor early. Thus, while Legler was shooting
his way into the NBA spotlight, nine-day-old Lauren was snoozing
in her bassinet in Crofton, Md. "This is sweet because a lot of
the people watching in the stands had given up on me," says
Legler, who was referring to the NBA general managers, coaches
and scouts who were on hand for the festivities. Indeed, after
coming out of LaSalle undrafted in 1988, Legler had spent the
better part of six seasons playing in the CBA and the USBL
before signing a two-year, $500,000 contract with the Bullets in
Among the NBA culprits were the Timberwolves, who cut Legler in
1990 only 45 minutes before his contract would have become
guaranteed, and the Mavericks, who two seasons ago told
reporters they had renounced their rights to Legler before they
so informed him. Yet Legler says the biggest disappointment came
in Denver, in 1991, when he was released after playing on
back-to-back 10-day contracts. His roommate then, forward
Anthony Mason, was less fortunate; he was waived after his first
10-day deal had expired. "The Nuggets never gave us a chance,"
says Legler, who averaged 5.8 points and 14.8 minutes in 10
games with Denver but going into the break was averaging 9.2
points in 23.5 minutes and shooting a league-best 51% from
three-point range for Washington. "Every time I watched Anthony
in the NBA after that, it gave me hope."
Cleveland will host next year's All-Star Game, but the venue for
1998 remains undetermined. There are a couple of predictable
entries: Portland, which opened the Rose Garden this season, and
Philadelphia, which is constructing an arena that is scheduled
for completion in January '98. But there's also a surprising
bidder: New York. Knicks president Dave Checketts submitted a
lengthy presentation to a committee headed by NBA commissioner
David Stern. It included a video in which David Letterman lists
the top 10 reasons why the '98 game should be in Gotham, as well
as testimonials about the city from Woody Allen, Tom Brokaw and
New York hasn't hosted the All-Star Game since 1968, but the
trend has been to award the big game to franchises with new
buildings. Checketts says that criterion is unfair to his
organization, which recently spent $200 million to refurbish
Madison Square Garden. "We have presented some very creative
things that could give a nice twist to this event," says
Checketts. "We have resources, including a 5,500-seat theater,
to provide something different."
NBA sources say that while New York is intriguing to Stern, he
has not ruled out Portland, which has never hosted the game.
According to league sources, however, Portland has not persuaded
the NBA that it has the hotel space to accommodate what has
become a gargantuan gala.
LINE OF THE WEEK
Clippers guard Brent Barry at last Saturday's All-Star
festivities: 17 MIN, 4-10 FG, 8 points, 4 assists, 5 steals, 1
slam dunk championship. Barry finally brought the Clippers some
All-Star respect, first with his spirited performance in the
rookie game, then when he locked up the slam dunk title with a
high-flying jam in which he lifted off from the foul line.
AROUND THE ALL-STAR RIM
Count Jazz forward Karl Malone among those speculating about
which stars in the next generation will carry the torch for the
NBA. Through the All-Star break, average attendance compared
with the 1994-95 season was down in 11 cities, including
Atlanta, Cleveland and San Antonio, and Malone says that should
be cause for concern. "That tells you right there the appeal
isn't the same," he says. "We should be building smaller arenas,
not bigger ones." Malone thinks he knows what's wrong. "The
people doing crazy stuff get all the glory," he says, "and the
guys who just go out, play hard and be nice get lost in the
shuffle."... Swap of the Week: Knicks Charles Smith and Monty
Williams to the Spurs for J.R. Reid, Brad Lohaus and a
first-round pick. New York dumped two long-term contracts to
give itself room under the salary cap to spend on free agents
this summer. Asked for his take on the trade, Knicks center
Patrick Ewing said, "I'm playing for this year. I don't know
what management is doing."... Golden State continues to listen
to offers for unhappy Tim Hardaway, but his contract is up this
summer, and the Warriors like the idea of hanging on to his $3.8
million salary slot, which they could use in the free-agent
market in the off-season.... All-Star exchange: Bucks forward
Vin Baker told Nuggets center Dikembe Mutombo, who will be a
free agent after the season, that he would love to play
alongside him. "You're not talking about Milwaukee?" Mutombo
replied. "I don't want to be anywhere that gets to be 40 below.
Forget the money. I want to [be able to] go outside and walk my
dog." Mutombo's dog must love those balmy Denver winters.
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK Jordan earned the trophy well before O'Neal slammed the door on Robinson. [Michael Jordan holding MVP trophy]
COLOR PHOTO: NATHANIEL S. BUTLER/NBA PHOTOS [David Robinson defending as Shaquille O'Neal dunks over him]