There were more ironies than memories at the 40th annual NBA All-Star game Sunday afternoon, hardly the way to run a show for national television and 14,810 at Miami Arena, but good enough for some.
Magic Johnson, for example. During eight previous appearances in these games, he averaged 14.1 points and collected more assists than any player in All-Star history, 111. But he never was named most valuable player.
That came this time--in a game his Western Conference team once trailed by 23 points in the third quarter before finally falling by a more respectable 130-113. Johnson became only the third MVP in history from the losing team.
No one on the winning team scored more than 17 points, but four players had 14 or more. No one stepped forward as a clear MVP choice, which is why Johnson got three votes and four other players got two each. No single person put together a highlight-film package of material for the league to show ad infinitum until next February.
No one seemed to mind, either.
“I think we had an advantage,” Detroit’s Isiah Thomas said. “We had three guys from the Celtics, who we’re used to playing. We had three guys from the Pistons, and two guys from the Bulls. I think our team had a little better continuity, a little better flow.”
Some even claimed the East won with a fair amount of defense.
“Never before,” said Robert Parish, an eight-time all-star who contributed to the win with 14 points on seven-of-11 shooting. “The first time for me.”
It was a first-time-for-everything kind of day. But it was similar to last season in that one team jumped to a big lead early and then held tough at the end, although last year at Houston that role belonged to the West.
This time, the East led, 65-52, at halftime, and 91-68 with 4:06 left in the third. The cushion held at 20-plus most of the rest of the period, finally finishing at 100-83 heading into the final 12 minutes.
The push for a decent game came as the West, thin on the front line, went with a three-guard lineup--Magic, Fat Lever and Kevin Johnson--and transformed guard Chris Mullin. They cut the deficit to 102-92 early in the fourth and then to 118-109 when Rolando Blackman hit a 22-footer with 2:25 remaining.
The rally ended there, the East finishing with a 12-4 run. Exploiting their size advantage, the East scored six of those points inside.
It was going to end at 127-113, with Charles Barkley holding the ball 30 feet out as the final four seconds drained out. But when Larry Bird, his East teammate, yelled to shoot, Barkley did.
Swish, with 0.1 seconds to play.
“Surprised?” Barkley said. “I always make them in Miami.”
Magic Johnson, who had 22 points, was guarding Kevin McHale and Barkley much of the time down the stretch. When Barkley moved Johnson, 6-foot-9 but in no position to body up against the Philadelphia 76ers’ star, out of the low post once, it came with a comment. Something about, “You don’t belong here.”
Said Johnson later: “I looked over to Coach (Pat) Riley and said, ‘Did A.C. foul out?’ ”
A.C. Green did not, but there were other problems. Voted by fans into the starting lineup to a game in which some felt he didn’t belong, period, the Laker forward spent much of the past weeks defending the selection. When it came time to play, he went for 10 minutes in the first half and two the rest of the way, missing all three shots from the field.
“A.C. said he didn’t want to play that much,” Johnson said. “He had cramps in his stomach he was so nervous.”
No ailments were reported by James Worthy, the third Laker starter voted in, so his one-of-11 shooting, four rebounds and two points in 19 minutes will stand on their own. Together with Houston’s Akeem Olajuwon (two of 14), that made the West’s opening front line a combined three for 28 for 10 points, though Olajuwon did have a game-high 16 rebounds.
When someone mentioned to Riley afterward that Green seemed to be pressing, the response was direct:
“He wasn’t the only one.”
Johnson was the only starter to impress and, save Tom Chambers, David Robinson, Lever and Blackman, one of the few West players to provide any offense. The East tried to make quick defensive switches on Johnson, much like Coach Chuck Daly of Detroit did in two consecutive NBA Finals.
But Johnson made nine of 15 shots, including four of six three-point attempts. After one long-distance connection, Daly saw his plan was being shredded and went for the psychological ploy.
“I asked him how his hamstring was,” Daly said.
Just fine, but not enough to carry the West against an East team that had muscle to spare. Patrick Ewing had 12 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots, McHale 13 points and eight rebounds, and Parish 14 points.
So it was only unfitting that in a game won by a team that used defense, the award as the top player would go to a guard on the losing team.
“It is very ironic,” Blackman said.
It was that kind of day.
The voting for the MVP by an 11-member media panel: Magic Johnson three votes, Patrick Ewing, Michael Jordan, Robert Parish and Isiah Thomas two each. The other MVPs who came from losing teams were Julius Erving in 1977 and Bob Pettit in 1958. . . . Three of Magic’s three-point baskets came in the first half. “He was the one keeping us within 17,” Dallas guard Rolando Blackman said. . . . Members of the East team received $5,000 each, players on the West $3,000. . . . The 1991 All-Star game will be at Charlotte.