OVERTIME: Can't be like Mike
It's meant to be a showcase of talent, of the best the league has to offer but Sunday night proved one thing the kids aren't all right.
In front of the 50 greatest players of all time, youngsters Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson and Grant Hill all tried valiantly to give reasons for their attendance at the National Basketball League's all-star game but their antics conjured up the recurring fact that the league is on its deathbed with Michael Jordan's impending and inevitable retirement.
Jordan has single-handedly carried the league on his back for the last six years when both Larry Bird and Magic Johnson chose to leave the game. During that tenure he has given reason to the most nonchalant of viewers to tune in weekly and watch his Bulls win and win consistently. The final games left in him serve as a carcinogenic to the flourishing league, one which has shot its own foot in promoting him as their spokesman.
Everyone wants to be like Mike, but no one in the world is like him. He is not expendable and cannot be replaced, not even by a wealth of overrated and impetuous rookies. Even as commissioner David Stern continues to warrant the likes of Grant Hill as the future of the sport, even he perhaps knows the inevitability of his league's slow demise.
It was apparent the year MJ left the sport to play baseball. Spectator records declined for the year and the NBA playoffs did not pull in as many viewers as had witnessed the Bulls' three-peat the year previous. It was not that Hakeem Olajuwon and Anfernee Hardaway were not talented enough to put on a show, it was just that apathy resounded outside TV land, where it seemed not worth watching without Michael.
Last year Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton took a shot at the Bulls in the finals and David Stern was a happy man. Not because Michael and his Bulls blew away the Sonics in six games but because it introduced a few other names to household terminology. Problem is, those names were soon forgotten. Jordan and the Bulls' incomprehensible 42-6 mark at the all-star break has seen to that.
This year Michael upstaged even Glen Rice (who was not deserving of the all-star MVP award) as the only man to record a triple-double in an all-star game. With 14 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds, he took charge of an Eastern team that was down by more than 20 and transformed it into a 132-120 runaway. Only the league chose to capitalize on the success of Charlotte's Rice and in the end, you can't blame them.
Michael Jordan has reached a point in his career where he does not need further attention. All eyes are on him regardless of what he does. But the league has done a poor job of showcasing other talents, leaving it to commercial-moguls Nike and McDonald's to introduce them to the world.
And still no one gives a rat's ass. The only media these upcoming kids have garnered is their wanton disregard and lack of respect shown to their older peers the people who made it possible for their existence in the league. The NBA is a corporation and Jordan is doing a fine job as its principle CEO. No one can take that away from him and no one can fill his shoes once he's hung them up.
So it's time for the NBA to consider downsizing rather than rebuilding. Forget your 25,000 capacity stadiums and their luxurious frills, there are going to be very few people who care enough to go. Given the level of young superstars who place a distant second, you can't really criticize their apathy.
Have fun dominating the league Shaquille, just wait your turn until the real talent steps down.