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N B A

22 February 2001

By TERENCE HILTON CLARKE
 

I STILL have my doubts as to whether the 50th NBA All-Star Game, in Washington, D.C. two Saturdays ago, was really the great epic that many people are trying to portray it as.

Please don’t get me wrong. I do acknowledge the end of the game as being outstanding:

· The East, coming back from 21 points down over the last nine minutes of the encounter (with Allen Iverson scoring 15 of his 25 points during this period), to pip the West 111-110.

· The final three minutes featured a thrilling a thrilling three-point duel between the West’s Kobe Bryant and the East’s Stephon Marbury.

· The West, with one final chance to try and win it, inbounding the ball with 10.9 seconds left, Bryant laying it off to teammate Tim Duncan, whose shot misses at the buzzer.

The AP report on the game declared: “It was the kind of game that might stop people from bashing the NBA as boring…it was the kind of game that any fan of any sport would prefer to see – a riveting one.”

Okay, I understand the point. But come on. I thought that one usually attributes such sentiments to games featuring close battles between two evenly matched teams. Encounters that bring out the best on both teams from start to finish. Exciting match-ups that depict outstanding play and end to end action over a period of 48 minutes plus, in other words: the entire game. When one team dominates the other over three-quarters (as the West did), then starts missing down the stretch (as all of the West’s players, except Bryant, did), allowing the other team to take advantage (as the East did), it’s very hard to refer to that game as being great. Instead, the All-Star Game was more reminiscent of dozens of regular games, the ones in which one team has the advantage for the most part; but the other team either manages to stay with it or come back, making for an interesting or exciting final two or three minutes – as happened two Saturdays ago.

However one thing is for certain, the 2001 All-Star Game confirmed Iverson, Bryant and Vince Carter as the three standouts of the rising generation of NBA players. For his effort in leading the East to victory, Iverson was granted the MVP Award – something that should look good alongside his Rookie of the Year prize from 1996-97. Iverson currently leads the NBA in both scoring and steals, and his Philadelphia 76ers have had the league’s best record throughout the entire season. Bryant, also in his fifth year in the NBA, is currently second in scoring and, in Washington, led the West with 19 points. He, of course is the only one of the trio with a championship ring – earned with the Los Angeles Lakers, last year. Carter, meanwhile, seconded Iverson on the East team with his 16 points – which included two mesmerizing first half dunks, a 360-degree turn and a windmill slam, and four assists.

All three possess outstanding talent and are no older than 25, meaning that none has reached his peak, yet. One gets the increasing feeling that one out of this triumvirate is going to be top player of this generation. Determining whom it may be is the fun part. Bryant, 22, seems to have the advantage over all because of the fact that he plays on the NBA’s strongest team and is able to feed off the talent surrounding him. He has shown some flashes of potential greatness in the past, but the old questions regarding his maturity have resurfaced this season amidst his alleged spat with Lakers co-star Shaquille O’Neal over team leadership. Similar inquiries still abound over 25-year old Iverson. The former Georgetown University star gives the impression of being one-dimensional; tremendous at scoring (his per game average has increased each of the last three seasons) but frequently absent when it comes to helping his team in other areas – he has been criticized for his defence (or lack thereof) while his assists per game average actually went down from 7.5 in his first season to 4.7 last year.

It is Carter, 23, who has the best athletic gifts. But, while the 1998-99 Rookie of the Year has thrilled Toronto Raptors fans with his dunks, he has also displayed proficiency in other areas. His three-point field goal percentage is currently .427 (up from 2.88 in his first year); he has always been good from the free-throw line with his percentage increasing from .761 to .785 and has averaged 3.7 defensive rebounds per game in his career thus far. He is currently fourth this season in scoring and is definitely the Raptors’ marquee player.

In the end, it is one that manages to diversify his skills the most who will become the best of the lot. For, as Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson (both of whom stood out both offensively and defensively) have proven, the more all-round you are, the more likely you will join the list of all-time greats.