The best thing that can be said about this one is that it didn’t require replacement players. Those were real NBA players playing that bad.
“You can’t please everybody,” Charles Barkley said after the West All-Stars steamrolled their Eastern counterparts 139-112 Sunday.
“To think we’re going to go out and kill each other all the time, to think every one of these games is going to be 100-100 with 5 minutes to play, that,” he said, warming to the task, “that is unrealistic.”
Maybe so. But Charles & Co. were no more realistic in trying to pass this off as anything resembling entertainment. An 18-4 run over the last 3:31 of the third quarter carried the West from an 86-77 lead to 104-81 and effectively ended any rooting interest for anyone who hadn’t checked in with his bookie beforehand - Barkley included.
Asked what incentive there was to winning, Barkley enunciated slowly, “Two thousand dollars more. …
“But it doesn’t do me any good,” he added, “now that football season is over.”
The NBA season, on the other hand, is exactly at its midpoint and this was probably not a good year to have a game this bad. With incidents almost weekly, with players going after each other, their coaches and now even their fans, there is a growing perception that the league’s marquee trio of Jordan, Magic and Bird has been replaced by guys named Selfish, Unprofessional and Uninterested. And this contest went only so far toward dispelling that.
Explaining how he tried to cope with the creeping boredom late in the game, John Stockton, the veteran Utah Jazz point guard from Spokane who recently became the league’s career assist leader, said, “You just try to keep moving, keep hustling.
“You don’t want to fall into the trap of playing for the show and trying to be cool,” he said. “It just doesn’t work out.”
Of course, had Stockton been able to pass around that bit of clear thinking as easily as he distributed the basketball, all of us could have been spared a few really bad moments of basketball.
Though everyone who saw the game will cull their own lowlights from this one, we are thinking, specifically, of a 3-minute-orso-long stretch in the final quarter when Shaquille O’Neal played point guard for the East with no particular distinction, and Hakeem Olajuwon did the same for the West. When Scottie Pippen and Detlef Schrempf exchanged blown layups to rare boos and fewer passes between teammates connected than at any time since guys wearing San Diego Chargers uniforms tried playing throw and catch.
Mercifully, that sorry sequence ended with a timeout call by East coach Brian Hill and the evening’s only real entertainment got underway. At that moment, Knute Rockne couldn’t have gotten the attention of the East team and Hill, to his credit, didn’t bother trying. Like their West counterparts, the East squad was caught up watching the Gorilla, the mascot of the Phoenix Suns, make dunk after spectacular dunk by launching himself with an electronically powered catapult.
But it got really mesmerizing when Barkley got in position to take a run at the gadget himself.
“He might be crazy,” said Paul Westphal, who is Barkley’s coach during both the regular season and this game, “but he’s not stupid.”
“I’m a spontaneous type of person,” Charles said, “and that looked like a lot of fun.”
Once it became clear Barkley wasn’t serious about risking life or limb, the last bit of suspense dissipated like air from a deflating balloon. With 4 minutes left to play, local hero Rush Limbaugh rushed out to cheers. Barkley instructed the rest of us to take the hint.
“I was trying hard to be a good host. The city was trying hard to be a good host. But now we’re tired of you all. So spend a lot of money tonight,” he finished, “and get out of town early.”
He won’t have to tell most people twice.
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