You knew there would be something wrong with the 35th annual NBA All-Star Game when early -- very early -- in the first period, both coaches, Pat Riley of the West and K.C. Jones of the East, rose from their seats and actually began calling plays.
Things didn't get much better, although Riley did win his first All-Star Game in three tries as the West defeated the East, 140-129, at the Hoosier Dome before a record All-Star crowd of 43,146.
Ralph Sampson of the Houston Rockets, starting at power forward for the West, made 10 of 15 shots from the field, scored a game-high 24 points and had 10 rebounds in being named the game's most valuable player. A strong case could also have been made for Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Runner-up to Isiah Thomas for the award last season in Denver, Johnson was once again a bridesmaid, although Sampson was the first to attribute his selection to Johnson's 15 assists. Johnson, the leading vote-getter in the fan balloting across the country, also scored 21 points.
Their first victory in six tries made it easier for some of the West's players to dismiss the afternoon's lack of fireworks. Part of the problem was the Hoosier Dome. Even with added stands along the court, most fans were too remote for direct involvement.
"If the building isn't closed in, that makes it sort of tough, but we still played and it was still exciting," said Johnson, who had played on the losing side in four All-Star games. "Something might have been missing, but I was out there dancing and having a good time."
He was a definite exception. Although arguably the best all-star game in professional sports, this season's game couldn't quite match its buildup. As usual, the game was full of great plays but they all seemed to be bunched.
Between these flurries, there were such sights as Larry Nance (16 points, five rebounds) consistently laying the ball into the basket, seemingly determined to show that he isn't just a dunker. At one point, after stealing the ball at midcourt, George Gervin (23 points) chose to lay the ball into the basket, which elicited a smattering of boos from the crowd.
But if the crowd seemed unimpressed with the players at times, the feeling was reciprocated. "They were just waiting for just the spectacular plays," said Rolando Blackman of the Dallas Mavericks, who scored 15 points in this, his all-star debut.
"If there was a fast-break situation and someone made a great pass, but the ball was laid in they'd go, 'Oh, that's nice,' but if the ball was slammed you knew they were there. That's why I don't buy the argument that the building took them out of the game."
Although the East outrebounded the West, 68-48, the winners shot 58 percent from the field and used Johnson's and Gervin's height advantages. "We did a good job of balancing our team throughout the game," Riley said. "Some players made great efforts, but there was no one on our squad who didn't play well."
Indeed, all five starters and eight of the 12 Western Conference players scored in double figures, with second-teamers Blackman, Nance and Norm Nixon playing major roles.
Those three, along with the Lakers' Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Alex English of the Denver Nuggets, started the second half.
Entering the third quarter tied at 68, the West used Nance's six straight points, sandwiched around Julius Erving's jumper, to take a 74-70 lead.
When Sampson scored on a hook shot with 2:19 remaining in the period, it was 94-83.
Things began to pick up early in the fourth quarter. Sampson scored on two crashing dunks off Johnson's passes and Gervin made two improbable, twisting shots to make it 105-95 with 9:44 to play. Soon Jones had starters Erving, Larry Bird, Moses Malone, Thomas and Michael Jordan back in the game.
But if Jones made the move in the hopes of pulling out the game, he was disappointed. Thomas' jumper made it 106-100 with 9:07 to play, but Adrian Dantley and Johnson each made two foul shots and it was a 10-point game again.
Things once again got interesting when, in an effort to offset the West's height, Jones paired Bernard King and Sidney Moncrief at guard with a front line of Malone, Milwaukee's Terry Cummings and Robert Parish of Boston. That group made a brief run, Cummings' three-point play drawing the East to 120-116 with 5:22 left.
But that was as close as the East would get. Johnson scored two consecutive baskets and, after Abdul-Jabbar's free throw, threw an alley-oop to Sampson, who made it 127-118. All that remained was to run out the clock.
After the game, Johnson said the assist to Sampson might have been his favorite play of the game. "I've got some great wing men playing with me now, but I can't throw that pass up as high to them," he said. "I know it's not going to happen right now, but I would love to play with him. If I did I think I'd average 25 assists a game."
Riley said the 7-foot-4 forward "has unreachable limits. We say he's awesome now, but I think his full growth is still ahead of him."
Sampson, who had averaged 37 points and 16 rebounds in three games before the all-star break, didn't disagree. "I don't think I've done that (strained the limits of his game). All I do is go out and try to do my best.
"Lots of people get the MVP award; someone does every year. I only tried to do the things I normally do."