Originally created 02/09/02

All-Star 2002: East typifies how things have changed



PHILADELPHIA -- Everyone seems to be doing a double take whenever they look at the Eastern Conference standings, and things should be no different when they glance at the East squad for the All-Star game.

Michael Jordan will be wearing blue and white instead of red and black, Jason Kidd will have the word "Nets" across his chest, and Dikembe Mutombo and Shareef Abdur-Rahim will be donning different uniforms than they did a year ago.

In the West, there will be a distinct foreign flavor to this year's team, with a German, a Yugoslav and a Canadian on the squad.

"For me, I'm in other locker room and get to see what the East says about the West - and be a part of the smallball," said Kidd, the leading contender for the MVP award at the unofficial midpoint of the season.

The East has changed so much that the New Jersey Nets - you remember, the Meadowlands mutants of years past - could be on the verge of leaving everybody behind in what is widely considered a vastly inferior conference to the West.

The two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers are right back where they were a year ago, a four-game losing streak away from being the fifth seed and a four-game winning streak away from contending for first place in the conference.

Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant were voted All-Star starters, along with Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Steve Francis of the Houston Rockets and Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs.

O'Neal will miss the game because of a toe injury and will be replaced by Elton Brand of the Los Angeles Clippers on the roster. Sacrmento's Chris Webber will start in O'Neal's place.

The team with the NBA's best record, the Kings, will also be represented by Stojakovic. Stojakovic (Yugoslavia), Dirk Nowitzki (Germany) and Steve Nash (Canada) of the Dallas Mavericks and Dikembe Mutombo (Congo) of the 76ers give the All-Star game its largest international presence ever.

The West's other All-Stars are Karl Malone of Utah, Seattle's Gary Payton, Minnesota's Wally Szczerbiak and Brand.

Toronto's Vince Carter, the overall leading vote-getter, pulled out of the game Thursday night after straining his left quadriceps in a game against San Antonio. Carter, who was replaced by Charlotte's Baron Davis on the roster, is expected to be sidelined at least 10 days.

Jordan, Philadelphia's Allen Iverson and Mutombo and Boston's Antoine Walker also were voted into the Eastern Conference starting lineup, and coach Byron Scott pick Kidd to replace Carter. The reserves are Davis, Miami's Alonzo Mourning, Jermaine O'Neal of Indiana, Boston's Paul Pierce, Tracy McGrady of Orlando, Ray Allen of Milwaukee and Atlanta's Shareef Abdur-Rahim.

Abdur-Rahim, who spent his first five seasons with Vancouver, will be one of four Eastern players wearing a different jersey in the All-Star game for the first time. Mutombo wore an Atlanta uniform last year, Kidd was with Phoenix and Jordan was likely wearing something from Armani as he played host to the game as president of the Washington Wizards.

"I think it's going to be different, but I think it's good for the league to spread the wealth," Webber said. "I know my friends in New Jersey love it that they have an All-Star out there, so I think it's good for all the die-hard fans who have been watching their teams lose for years."

The All-Star game was originally supposed to be held in Philadelphia in 1999, but a league-imposed lockout forced the cancellation of the game. The 76ers were given the next available spot, since the NBA had already committed to Oakland for the 2000 game (when Carter won the dunk contest) and to Washington for the 2001 game (when Iverson and Stephon Marbury led the East back from a 21-point deficit in the fourth quarter).

The basketball mood in Philadelphia is nowhere near as positive as it was last season when the 76ers jumped out to a 10-0 start, maintained first-place throughout the season and won two thrilling seven-game playoff series to make it to the NBA Finals.

These days, the Sixers are one of many middle-of-the-pack teams trying to break free of the mediocre masses. A total of 11 teams were within four games of .500 through Tuesday night's games.

Iverson, again leading the league in scoring, will be the hometown hero at the First Union Center, and Bryant will be returning to the region where he attended high school before jumping directly to the pros.

This will be Bryant's fourth All-Star appearance - quite a large number for a player who is only 23.

Nine of the reserves, along with Francis, will be making their first All-Star appearance. Malone's selection is the 14th of his career, while Jordan has been selected 13 times and has been MVP of the game three times.

"I'm just going to go there and try to fit in," Jordan said. "It's a young crowd, it's a young generation. I feel like I'm one of the old guys there, which actually I am."

When Jordan attended his first All-Star game in 1985, there was only one foreign-born All-Star, Hakeem Olajuwon, and the slam dunk contest, 3-point shootout and other All-Star Saturday events did not yet exist.

This year, in addition to the five non-American All-Stars, there are five foreign players competing in the Rookie Challenge on Saturday pitting second-year players against first-year players: Pau Gasol (Spain) of the Memphis Grizzlies, Tony Parker (France) of the San Antonio Spurs, Andrei Kirilenko (Russia) of the Utah Jazz, Zeljko Rebraca (Yugoslavia) of the Detroit Pistons and Hidayet Turkoglu (Turkey) of the Sacramento Kings.

In addition, Ticha Penicheiro (Portugal) of the WNBA Sacramento Monarchs and former NBA player Sarunas Marciulionis of Lithuania will participate in Saturday's Hoop-it-Up competition, a 3-on-3 tournament that replaces 2-ball.

In the dunk contest, Desmond Mason of Seattle is back to defend his title. The format has been changed to include a twist in which the participants must recreate dunks from past contests.