The National Basketball Association's All-Star Game rarely is much in terms of deep thinking or teamwork. But it is perhaps the best outlet for individual expression in all of professional team sports -- a chance to see, be seen and score points that extend far beyond the basketball court.
On the eve of the 36th annual All-Star Game at Reunion Arena, it was uncertain how much would be seen of New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing. Hobbled by a sprained right knee to go along with the stress on his shoulders from carrying the 18-32 Knicks all season, the former Georgetown athlete was asked who would make the final decision on whether he would play.
Ewing smiled. "I will," he said. "I'm the one who signed the contract."
Ewing has his knee problems, Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers is talking about possible arthroscopic surgery, Kevin McHale has barely played for the Boston Celtics in the last two weeks because of a strained Achilles' tendon. Yet there seemed no way that they, along with 21 other players deemed the best talents in the league, would miss out on the game.
"Just look at this," said Rolando Blackman, representing the hometown Mavericks, waving his hands about the Western Conference locker room. "All those guys who say they don't want to be here, who say they'd rather have the three days off, are lying through their teeth. There's no way that could be true."
Jeff Malone, the Washington Bullets' representative in the game, had a smile on his face throughout the hour-long Eastern Conference workout today.
"I could get used to this," he said afterward. "People have been asking me if I'm nervous, but why should I be? There's Larry Bird. There's Doctor J (Julius Erving). There's nothing I could do out on the floor that would be wrong."
Leon Wood isn't playing in the main event, but he participated in the ancillary three-point shooting contest. Even so, the Bullets' newest guard got into the spirit. After arriving in Dallas on Friday night, Wood grabbed a pair of friends and headed to a local athletic club, where he practiced his specialty from 10:30 p.m. until midnight. This morning he was one of the first to arrive at Reunion to practice.
"Gotta get that stroke down," he said. "I'm ready to go."
All the work would go for naught, though, as Wood was eliminated in the first round of the contest by hometown favorite Dale Ellis. The contest was won by Bird, who after making 10 in a row and 18 of 25, proclaimed himself "the king of the three-point shooters."
The tenor of the all-star weekend is less than intense, which is an attraction for the players. How often will you find Boston's Bird and Moses Malone of the Philadelphia 76ers sharing a joke and trying to outshoot and outpass each other?
There's even a chance for some huckstering. Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls was one of the leading vote-getters in the East but had to give up his starting berth and spot on the team because of a season-long foot injury. He's here, however, and during the East practice, he ran into Calvin Murphy, a former all-star with the Houston Rockets.
"I don't want to talk to you," said Murphy. "My son has a poster of you up in his room. I put mine up next to it, and he tore it down. He's 7 years old and his feet are about an inch long, and I'm out buying him Air Jordan basketball shoes."
"That's because it's a quality product and everyone knows it," replied Jordan, who then grabbed a youngster strolling by. "Hey kid, what are the next pair of shoes that you're gonna tell your daddy to buy?"
"And who's your daddy?"
"Robert Parish (the Celtics' all-star center)."
Spud Webb of the Atlanta Hawks, at 5 feet 7 the shortest player in the NBA, won the third annual slam-dunk title, beating defending champion and teammate Dominique Wilkins in the final round.
On the second dunk of the finals, Webb bounced the ball off the floor and the backboard before dunking with one hand. That gave the Dallas native a perfect score of 50, and he was the winner when Wilkins got 48 points with a double-pump slam.
In the old-timers' game, the West beat the East, 53-44, rallying from an 11-point deficit with a 17-2 scoring spurt in the fourth period.
Zelmo Beaty and Calvin Murphy led the West with nine points, and Pete Maravich had 15 for the East.
The players ranged in age from Slater Martin, 60, to 37-year-olds Dave Cowens, Murphy and Maravich