Ten seconds after the opening tip yesterday, an astonishing pattern began to unfold in Capital Centre: one great player with a makeabld shot slipped the ball to another great player with a better shot. A layup. The NBA all-stars were going to destroy the concept of the NBA All-Star Game.
With altruism rampant among the West, Kareem Abdul-Jabber collected six assists the first quarter. The East has no choice but to try to play as much defense as anyone can muster against shooters who could send the ball through the eye of a needle in a hurricane.
We can carry this me-last theme too far, of course, for Walter Davis did sink a layup without looking at the basket, flicking the ball off the glass while spinning 180 degrees to his left and with Julius Erving hanging on him like a cape.
And the ultimate soloist, George Gervin, was judged the most valuable player, for 34 of the most creative points anyone will see in one afternoon.
Still, a game with 68 assists and 16 blocked shots -- and with the largest hot dog being a chicken -- leaves an unexpectedly pleasant impression. Only fans who had no business being on hand in the first place left before the East won in overtime by eight points.
"Guys were so keyed up," the East coach, Billy Cunningham, said, "the adrenaline was going too hard, if you can believe it, and I had to take some of them out.
"We weren't in our rhythm."
The affair should have satisfied the appetites of nearly everyone mildly interested in basketball. Eight relative fossils, including the sadly big Big O, allowed themselves to look foolish at halftime. And probably to muse before and after that Iceman and the Bird play a game with which they are unfamiliar.
The games within each All-Star Game provide most of the intrigue. Who is still where in the NBA spectrum? So it was significant that two rookies, Larry Bird for the East and Magic Johnson for the West, were on the court when the game mattered most.
And the celebration among fans whose greatest satisfaction comes from watching a dedicated player receive his just acclaim, to see the swan phase of a once-ugly duckling, was intense. The athletic world no longer can ignor Dan roundfield.
For some time, Roundfield has been the best unappreciated player in the NBA, a 6-8 forward who lost his two front teeth during a collegiate collision with Washington Wilbur Thomas and who makes all the winning plays with much effort and little acclaim.
"Glad to see a working man finally made the all-star team," Golden State's Clifford Ray said to Roundfield when his place on the East team was assured. That reflects the attitude throughout the league, for no player has come farther than this large Hawk.
He played for a high-school team in Detroit that once went winless an entire season; he attended the generally unknown Central Michigan for a reason clear to himself.
"I couldn't shoot at the time."
So he mastered every other phase of the game slowly because he did not begin to play basketball until high school. One of his specialties, offensive rebounding, came out of greed.
"A lot of times nobody passed me the ball," he said.
After several years of well-earned obscurity with the Indiana Pacers, Roundfield has become a much-admired player in much the manner of Wes Unseld. Bullet fans recall Roundfield from last season's playoffs. Every NBA fan could scarcely forget him after yesterday.
With 5 1/2 minutes left in the first quarter, Roundfield made his first All-Star Game appearance. Early in the second quarter, he showed he belonged, blocking Adrian Dantely's shot at one end of the floor and rallying the East with a three-point effort at the other. e
Later, he caused even Abdul-Jabbar to duck out of his way during a long flight that ended in a slam dunk that brought the East, who had been 11 points down, to a 60-60 tie. In all, Roundfield shot seven for 15 from the field and four for nine at the free-throw line. He also had 13 rebounds. And a terrible backache.
"The back's been acting up for a while now," he said. "The problem the second half was that I couldn't bend at the foul line. I can shoot fouls better than that."
He scanned the crowd of reporters near him and volunteered: "I like to stay in the background. How? Oh, I sneak out back doors sometimes." He laughed and added: "I try to throw the ball to the open man, not get too fancy and to shoot only when I have a shot."
This borders on NBA heresy, unless a coach happens to be nearby.
"I can remember Dan when he first started," Cunningham said. "He was a hard-working player with not a great deal of ability. I've seen him progress so beautifully, from the ABA Pacers, to the NBA Pacers, to the Hawks, to today.
"I've been so many never get better their first season. They never expand. I've got so much respect for Roundfield, for people who do it by work."