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Archive for Sunday, February 15, 2004

Bryant, O’Neal All-Star newsmakers

Laker standouts should feel right at home in tonight’s showcase

February 15, 2004

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— More often than not in recent years, the NBA All-Star Game has ended up revolving in some way around Kobe Bryant or Shaquille O'Neal.

Last February in Atlanta, Bryant's foul shots forced overtime and prevented a storybook ending for Michael Jordan.

In Philadelphia two years ago, Bryant was booed unmercifully in his hometown.

In 1996, fans in San Antonio booed Jordan's MVP selection as a tribute to O'Neal. In 1998, Bryant waved off a pick from Karl Malone at Madison Square Garden, prompting a tirade on generational respect from the Mailman.

The two All-Stars will play on their home court in tonight's game, and chances are one of them will seize the spotlight again.

"If I'm feeling it, I'm going to try to take it," O'Neal said. "But if I'm not feeling it, I'm not going to try to force the issue."

The league's showcase event has gone Hollywood this year, with the Staples Center -- home of the Lakers and Clippers -- playing host to the event. Jack Nicholson, Magic Johnson and Dyan Cannon will be courtside, the lower bowl will be liberally sprinkled with Academy Award winners, Grammy nominees, hip-hop impresarios and other varieties of the beautiful people that make this city a perfect place for such a spectacle.

Aside from O'Neal and Bryant, there are other All-Stars in this year's game with ties to Los Angeles -- Paul Pierce and Baron Davis.

But will anybody care about those story lines when the ball goes up for the opening tipoff at 7:52 p.m.? Or will all eyes turn to the two Lakers whose uneasy relationship has lent a plot-twisting undertone to the team's continually evolving story?

O'Neal remains an icon in Los Angeles, a larger-than-life figure beloved for bringing three championships in the past four years. Bryant's stature is not what it once was, the rape allegation against him in Colorado tarnishing the image of a player once thought to be the perfect face of the NBA for its transition into the post-Jordan era.

"I don't know if he (Bryant) is into it as much as he would have been," said Elton Brand of the Clippers. "I think Shaq, especially because he's been pretty vocal, he's been upset at the refs, he'll want to shine. And it's in his city."

O'Neal will come off the bench for the second straight year behind Yao Ming of Houston, who outpolled him in fan balloting.

Other Western Conference starters are Kevin Garnett of Minnesota, Steve Francis of Houston, Tim Duncan of San Antonio and Bryant.

Starting for the East are Vince Carter of Toronto, Allen Iverson of Philadelphia, Tracy McGrady of Orlando, Ben Wallace of Detroit and Jermaine O'Neal of Indiana.

Minnesota's Flip Sanders and Rick Carlisle of the Pacers are the coaches.

Among the reserves are six first-time All-Stars: Andrei Kirilenko of Utah, Michael Redd of Milwaukee, Kenyon Martin of New Jersey, Jamaal Magloire of New Orleans, Ron Artest of Indiana and Sam Cassell of Minnesota.

At 34, Cassell will be the second-oldest first-time All-Star in NBA history, one month younger than New York's Sweetwater Clifton in 1957.

Shaquille O'Neal is making his 11th All-Star appearance -- four more than anyone else in the game. Bryant is an All-Star for the sixth time, as is Tim Duncan, while Carter and McGrady are five-time All-Stars.

Jason Kidd and Garnett are second in seniority with seven appearances apiece.

"I sort of like one of the young elder statesmen," said O'Neal, co-MVP of the 2000 All-Star game. "I just want to go out there and give the fans a good show with my special shoes that I've designed myself."

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