Editor’s note: This column originally published on Feb. 11, 1991.
Most of the time, the players are so serious. They fight for rebounds, sprint up the court and occasionally dive onto it, talk about key plays and turning points and the one game they take at a time.
But when the best of them are plucked from 27 NBA teams and given two sets of jerseys, they aren’t so serious.
Basketball might not be a kid’s game but the All-Star weekend is. There are no tricks, no subterfuge and no hidden agendas. Players have the kind of no-frills fun kids do.
Here comes Dominique Wilkins of the East, moving on a straight line to the basket at Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game in the Charlotte Coliseum. Only the West’s 270-pound Kevin Duckworth has a chance to catch him, and Duckworth is six steps behind. Seven steps behind. Eight.
All that separates Wilkins, the NBA’s No. 2 dunk artiste, from the spectacular is air. Wilkins jumps way up, brings the ball back down to his waist and then back to the basket.
The idea is to bring down the house. Instead it’s Wilkins who goes down on one leg after the ball bangs off the rim. Wilkins stays down.
The players on the West bench, who respect Wilkins as a player and person, offer understanding and sympathy.
Ha-ha-ha, ha-ha, ha.
Magic Johnson laughs so hard his head ends up on the lap of Kevin Johnson who sits in the next chair.
“I’m gonna remind him, “ Magic would say later. “I’m gonna light into him for missing the shot on national TV.”
A timeout is called, and Wilkins returns to his good friends and very own teammates on the East bench.
Ha-ha-ha, ha-ha, ha.
Recalling Dee Brown, the winner of Saturday’s slam-dunk contest who constantly pumped air in his shoes, Michael Jordan says: “I think Dominique forgot to pump up.”
Sunday was not the one game the players take at a time. Magic of the West is dribbling and Jordan of the East stares at the bouncing ball, talking to Jordan as he does. Charles Barkley is talking to teammates, opponents, fans, the press, and anybody else close enough to receive his wit and wisdom.
After he feeds Patrick Ewing for a dunk, Barkley shouts: “If I played with this guy, I’d lead the league in assists every year.”
Ricky Pierce of the East has the ball and Clyde Drexler of the West tells him not to even think about trying to beat him.
Jordan has the ball and Magic tells him what he is not about to do.
Kevin McHale, who falls down and draws a charging foul, is so happy about his selflessness that he runs not straight down the court but in front of the East bench better to remind his teammates what he just did.
An official calls a foul on Karl Malone for pushing Barkley, and Barkley is prompted to congratulate the official for his insight and integrity.
“Good call, “ he says. “Don’t call that on me, though.”
Kevin Johnson of the West and Jordan collide and Johnson hits the floor and stays there, evidence he can use to make his case. Jordan did this.
Barkley changes the venue by picking Johnson up like a chess piece and setting him on his feet. Johnson does not thank Barkley. He does get a foul. Ah, sweet justice.
Three seconds remain in the game, the West trails by two and Johnson, who plays for the Phoenix Suns, takes an open three-point shot.
As the West is about to take Johnson’s shot to the bank, Karl Malone of the the Utah Jazz and the West reaches up and tips it. Malone gets a basket interference call and the East wins. E
ast players get $5,000 and West players get $3,000. The East gets to celebrate and the 188-pound Johnson gets to kick the 256-pound Malone in the butt not once but two times.
“I’m not that stupid, “ Johnson says. “That’s a big dude.”
Johnson does not complain.
“The weekend was fun, “ he says. “It was even fun at the end. I don’t care about the loss. So what if Karl cost me a couple thousand dollars and a chance for everlasting fame. We play Utah pretty soon, anyway.”