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Monday, February 16, 2009

No Shaq-Kobe Drama--Just a Win and Some Laughs

Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal were the main focus in the days leading up to the All-Star Game--and when the lights came on Sunday night they lived up to all of that advance billing both in terms of entertainment value and production. O'Neal kicked off the festivities with an elaborate dance routine as he was introduced, a performance that he later suggested may have been his way of saying goodbye to the All-Star Game. Bryant saved his best moves for the game, scoring a game-high 27 points on 12-23 field goal shooting to lead the West to a 146-119 win over the East. Bryant also had four rebounds, four assists and four steals in just 29 minutes of action. O'Neal scored 17 points on 8-9 shooting in just under 11 minutes and the former teammates shared MVP honors, just the fourth time that there have been multiple MVPs in an NBA All-Star Game and the first time this has happened since O'Neal and Tim Duncan were the 2000 All-Star Game co-MVPs.

LeBron James led the East with 20 points but shot just 8-19 from the field and he seemed to be trying a little too hard to either put on a show and/or keep up with Bryant, who fired up 10 field goal attempts in the first quarter and scored 11 points as the West bounced back from a 12 point early deficit to lead 34-27 at the end of the first 12 minutes.

The East's fundamental problem in this game was simple and obvious: they were simply too small to consistently battle the West in the paint, where the West enjoyed a staggering 96-58 scoring advantage and a 51-38 lead on the glass. The East tried to counter by using small lineups and firing up three pointers but they shot just 8-34 (.235) from behind the arc. This game is a good example of why serious consideration should have been given to adhering more strictly to the roster guidelines and thus making a legitimate center like Zydrunas Ilgauskas one of the East reserves; that would have enabled the East to avoid having to check O'Neal with Rashard Lewis.

ESPN, TNT and NBA TV will no doubt run highlights of this game until dedicated viewers know every sequence by heart, so it would be redundant for me to describe plays that you have likely already seen, nor does it make sense to spend too much time analyzing strategy and tactics in this particular contest. West Coach Phil Jackson and East Coach Mike Brown did the best that they could do while juggling various--and, at times, conflicting--considerations: the desire to make sure that every All-Star received a legitimate opportunity to participate in the contest, mismatches created by unbalanced rosters and players nursing nagging injuries who therefore could only play limited minutes.

The MVP balloting for this game is very interesting: fan voting counted for 25%, while the media voting counted for the remaining 75%. O'Neal won the media vote 5-4 but Bryant won the fan vote, thus earning two of the three fan "votes" on the weighted scale. Add all of that up and you get a 6-6 tie.

Bryant and O'Neal thoroughly enjoyed each other's company after the game. First they "fought" over who would keep the MVP trophy and then in the postgame press conference they traded one liners; after a reporter asked if this game made them wistful about playing with each other, both answered "No," followed by laughter. Bryant gave O'Neal an "A-plus" for his dance moves but only gave him an "A" for his performance in the game, mock chiding him because of his poor "wing isolation." After O'Neal deadpanned that he was going to do a "Vince Carter wrong-way windmill" before Paul Pierce fouled him, Bryant said with a smile, "And then he woke up."

Not quite a decade ago, Coach Phil Jackson began the process of molding superstars Bryant and O'Neal into dynastic champions, so it is only fitting that Coach Jackson have the last word about their improbable reunion. During the postgame press conference, I asked Coach Jackson to talk about how amazing it is to go from where he, Bryant and O'Neal were just five years ago to a place and time in which the three of them are not only reunited but combine to lead the West to victory. I almost got the sense that Coach Jackson was grateful for this question, because it provided an opportunity for him to deliver a larger message:

I think it is a great life lesson for people. This is something that the people work together, people find a way to get through situations, find harmony in their life, find co-habitation. I hope this speaks volumes not just for our community in basketball but our world community too and I like the idea that we even brought that to the All-Star Game and brought the international flavor in. Basketball is a thing that is a game. It is played as a game but it is serious business to these players and it is wonderful to see them have fun at it in a game like this. Now it is great to get back to the business of finishing this season off.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:16 AM



At Tuesday, February 17, 2009 6:08:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey david,

great post as usual. Was just reading an article, and I thought you might be interested.


At Tuesday, February 17, 2009 7:10:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You are the third person who has mentioned this article to me. I was in Phx. for All-Star Weekend when it came out, so I have not had a chance to read it carefully yet. Once I do, I plan to write about it.


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