NBA ALL-STAR GAME West wins; marks passing of guard
After his final shot at the end of the first overtime, Michael Jordan went to the bench and didn't return.
ATLANTA (AP) -- Michael Jordan lowered his head, gave a slight shove with the forearm and flung his aging body into the air.
The ball left his right hand, rotating perfectly in a towering arc we'd all seen so many times before, barely touching the twine as it fell through for the winning basket.
The perfect ending to Jordan's final All-Star game. Only it wasn't.
A few seconds later, Kobe Bryant was sprawled on the court, sent flying by Jermaine O'Neal after flinging up a desperation 3-pointer.
Bryant made two free throws to force a second overtime, and the West beat Jordan's East team 155-145 Sunday night.
His Airness sat glumly on the bench for the final five minutes, the farewell script ruined by O'Neal's silly foul or overzealous officiating, depending on your point of view.
"I wanted to win the game," Jordan said. "I felt like we had a chance to win and I was a part of it. I think everybody wanted me to be a part of it."
At the end, he wasn't. In an appropriate passing of the guard, Kevin Garnett dominated the second overtime, finished with 37 points and took home the MVP award.
Jordan was just one of the guys, watching along with the other stars as Garnett -- 13 years younger -- accepted his trophy.
Garnett was an astonishing 17-of-24 from the field. And Jordan? He missed his first seven shots, had four others swatted away, blew a dunk and was 9-of-27 overall.
Only the sheer volume of shots -- three more than anyone else -- allowed him to score 20 points and surpass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most points in All-Star history.
Jordan shrugged off a performance that would have been totally forgettable if not for his 15-foot fadeaway with 4.8 seconds remaining in the first overtime.
"I have not played since Tuesday," he said. "I have not picked up the ball. So it took me a while to get a rhythm. I know everybody wanted me to take shots and make a lot of shots, but I'm no different than guys who have had four days vacation. Sometimes you come back to work and you've got a lot of paperwork on your desk."
Jordan, pushing 40 in his second comeback, insists he will put away his sneakers for good at the end of the season. Naturally, this game meant so much more than his mediocre line on the stat sheet.
Just before the East team took the court, Vince Carter insisted on giving up his starting spot to Jordan. After rebuffing offers from Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson, Jordan accepted this one.
Carter was criticized for saying he wanted to keep his spot out of deference to the fans who voted him to the starting lineup, even though he has played only 15 games because of knee problems.
"When it all boiled down to it, this is a storybook ending for Michael Jordan," Carter said. "I'm sure I'll have another opportunity to be in the All-Star game. He's supposed to be out there on the court."
At halftime, Mariah Carey belted out "Hero" and memorable moments from Jordan's career were shown as Bryant, Yao Ming and basketball's future stood and watched. When No. 23 finally took the microphone, the building shook with an ovation that lasted more than a minute.
"I leave the game in good hands," Jordan said. "Now I can go home and feel at peace with the game of basketball."
But there was still some basketball to play on this night. Jordan kept on shooting, missing a jumper that could have won the game at the end of regulation. He got another chance in the first overtime, creating a little space on Shawn Marion and launching a shot that just cleared the defender's hand and swished through the net, giving the East a 138-136 lead as Jordan stumbled into a row of photographers.
Suddenly feeling young again, Jordan bumped chests with Iverson -- who led the East with 35 points -- and slapped hands with the rest of his teammates.
"He shot it real high," Marion said. "I didn't think it was going in, but it went in."
There were still almost five seconds remaining. The West inbounded, the ball was knocked away and Bryant chased it down in the corner. He threw up a desperation 3-pointer that was well short of the basket, but O'Neal gave him a body shot that sent Bryant tumbling out of bounds.
Ted Bernhardt -- who didn't get the Jordan script, apparently -- immediately whistled for a foul, brushing off the complaints of East coach Isiah Thomas and sending Bryant to the line for three shots with a second remaining.
Ever the competitor, Jordan stepped in close to Bryant and mumbled some trash talk after the second free throw clanked off the rim. "I didn't want him to make it," Jordan said. "I was needling him to miss it."
Even Bryant was torn about ruining Jordan's perfect ending, but the last free throw dropped through the hoop to tie it at 138. Jordan had a third chance to win it, but his 21-foot turnaround jumper was partially blocked by Marion and collapsed well short of the rim.
That was it. The final All-Star shot for the greatest player of the generation -- maybe ever. Jordan went to the bench and didn't return.
"I had a job to do because I'm in the situation where I need to make the free throws," Bryant said. "But the other part of me was like, I just didn't want to do it, to be honest with you."
In the second overtime, Jordan watched Garnett dominate, outscoring the East all by himself with nine points. The crowd felt cheated, but not Jordan. He didn't want anything handed to him. Outside of Carter's generous gesture, nothing was.