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A hot topic at this year's All-Star weekend was injuries, and
not just because they forced several high-profile players to sit
out the game. Dream Team III members Charles Barkley, Penny
Hardaway, Shaquille O'Neal and David Robinson have been
sidelined for chunks of the season, and some are wondering if
playing in the Olympics last summer might have had something to
do with their being banged up. "You have to wonder about that
with all the guys who are hurt," says Sonics guard Gary Payton,
a '96 Olympian who was bothered by a sore back earlier this
season. "We're used to taking the summer off, giving our bodies
some rest. It might [have affected us more] because we're all
getting older." As a result, expect a younger, less-experienced
U.S. squad at the 2000 Games in Sydney....Michael Jordan was up
to his old tricks before the All-Star Game. Last year he pulled
off Hardaway's warmup pants as Penny rose from the bench during
pregame introductions. This time Jordan targeted Atlanta center
Dikembe Mutombo, tugging the big man's warmups loose as he ran
from the tunnel during the spotlighted intros. Scottie Pippen,
introduced next, held tight to his pants when his name was
called....The reason this year's All-Stars wore their regular
team uniforms, despite any confusion it may have caused? Generic
All-Star duds don't sell well at the local shopping mall; team
jerseys do....Lakers rookie guard Kobe Bryant, the new Slam Dunk
champ, said last Friday that his first name comes from a
Japanese word meaning "tender meat." That's a tidbit the
18-year-old phenom might have been better off keeping from his
teammates....Don Nelson's first order of business when he
accepted the job as general manager in Dallas last Friday was to
waive center Oliver Miller. When Doug Collins became head
coach-G.M. of Detroit two years ago, his first move was also to
cut Miller....Forward P.J. Brown, who signed a seven-year, $36
million free-agent deal with Miami last summer, says that only
two players have congratulated him on his windfall. "Michael
Jordan and Dennis Rodman," Brown said. "That's two megastars. I
know I'm blessed." Maybe Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy, who views
Jordan's kindness to opposing players as a psychological ploy,
is onto something after all....How much worse can things get for
Pacers point guard Jalen Rose? With starter Travis Best sitting
out a Feb. 6 game against the Nets, coach Larry Brown went with
second-year guard Jerome Allen rather than Rose down the
stretch....Miami's 6'10" backup, Isaac Austin, torched
center-challenged Boston for 17 points and nine rebounds in a
118-117 victory on Feb. 5, then made the Celtics feel worse by
saying he would have signed with them last summer if they had
just returned his agent's calls. Boston coach M.L. Carr would
blame it on the G.M., except he is the G.M....Sixers rookie
forward Mark Bradtke, rumored to be headed for the injured
reserve list when forward Scott Williams came off it, walked to
the locker room after a recent practice limping dramatically.
Just before he reached the door, he stopped and said, "No, wait.
It's supposed to be the right leg." Then he adjusted his limp
and kept going. Within a few hours it was announced that
Williams had been activated and Bradtke was going on the IR with
a "lumbar sprain and strain."

COLOR PHOTO: DARRELL MIHO Payton and his Olympic teammates have had to fight through injuries. [Gary Payton in game]




Pacers center Rik Smits is a certified auto mechanic with a
passion for high-horsepower rides. His affection for the
Plymouth Roadrunner is so great that he also collects things
related to the cartoon Roadrunner. Here are Smits's favorite
muscle cars.

1 '70 Plymouth Roadrunner Superbird with a 426 Hemi engine
2 '69 Dodge Daytona Hemi
3 '70 Dodge Coronet R/T Hemi
4 '69 1/2 Dodge Challenger Super B with a Six-Pack
5 '72 Roadrunner Six-Pack