With the Eastern Conference's 139-132 victory over the West in today's 36th annual All-Star Game, the NBA completed a remarkably incongruous weekend.
Throughout the three-day respite from the regular season, nothing was what it was expected to be. Saturday, a man standing 6 feet 9 and weighing more than 220 pounds (Boston's Larry Bird) won the long-distance shooting contest, and a sprite 14 inches shorter and almost 100 pounds lighter (Atlanta's Spud Webb) outleaped the best skywalkers the game had to offer in a slam dunk contest.
At one point in today's game, the West took to the floor with a lineup of 6-7 Marques Johnson, 6-8 Magic Johnson, 6-9 James Worthy, 7-0 Akeem Olajuwon and 7-2 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Credit new wave basketball and the shape of things to come. But why, then, was it another diminutive figure, 6-1 Isiah Thomas of the Detroit Pistons, who stole the show with a 30-point, 10-assist performance and was named the game's MVP in a unanimous vote?
"We had big big men and big little men, too," said losing coach Pat Riley of the Los Angeles Lakers. "All of our guards were at least 6-5. Perhaps another true point guard would have helped."
Particularly this weekend. "First it was Spud Webb and now it's Isiah Thomas," said 6-10 Kevin McHale of the Celtics. "Now short people everywhere have the incentive to live."
Size didn't do anything for the New York Knicks' 7-0 center, Patrick Ewing. The former Georgetown pivotman dressed but didn't play, sitting out because of sore knees. "I decided not to play early this morning," he said. "I'm not resting them, they're hurting."
Jeff Malone of the Washington Bullets was feeling no pain, having acquitted himself well in his all-star debut, scoring six points on three-for-five shooting from the field and adding four assists in only 12 minutes of play.
"The game was everything that I thought it would be, the excitement and everything," he said. "I wished I could have gotten more time, but you have to have people like Isiah out on the floor. I was saying that to Dominique (Wilkins of the Atlanta Hawks); even if you don't play at all, it's just great to be here."
For most of the game, the sellout crowd of 16,573 in Reunion Arena appeared content to merely be here. The only thing close to deafening was the silence of the crowd, which saved its biggest hand of the day to a nondescript group of male dancers from Baylor University.
"The excitement is there initially but it fades as the game goes along and I think that can be attributed to the entire weekend," said Sidney Moncrief of the Milwaukee Bucks. "People get drained from all the activities that go on.
"You have to remember that you're also dealing with neutral fans. They sort of cheer and enjoy it but there's no loyalty to spur them on. They're really just sitting there and watching what goes on."
There were some moments that the staid gathering simply could not ignore. In one sequence, Wilkins showed why -- following a career of little more than highlights on the 11 o'clock news -- he was playing in today's game. Wilkins followed a spectacular 360-degree layup with an identical move seconds later, only this time he dropped the ball back over his head in mid-rotation to Moncrief for a layup.
There was Ralph Sampson, part of an all-begoggled starting front line along with Abdul-Jabbar and Worthy, soaring high above the floor to throw down a series of power dunks from feeds by Magic Johnson and showing why he was the MVP of last season's game in Indianapolis.
And there was Thomas, who also took home an MVP trophy after the 1984 game in Denver.
"When I was a kid, I never dreamed I would be on the same court with the best basketball players in the world, let alone be named the best player there," he said. "To be singled out twice is a feeling I just can't explain. When you think of all the basketball players in the world, you really can't comprehend what it feels like to twice be named the best player on the floor."
Thomas earned that honor this year mainly because of a 12-point fourth quarter that helped bring his team back from a 128-121 deficit with less than four minutes to play.
Bombing in shots from the outside or darting and weaving amid the more sizable opposition, the five-year veteran decidedly salvaged what started as a miserable weekend.
"When I left Washington to come here (the day after a 111-109 overtime victory over the Bullets), I was tired, my feet hurt, my head hurt and I really wasn't sure that I wanted to play another game. But when I got in Dallas and got around all the guys I got excited and ready to play. You can't help but want to play basketball in an atmosphere like this."
Yet it was Magic Johnson, Thomas' best friend, who perhaps best expressed the feelings of players in both locker rooms.
"It's really the best time of the season," he said. "You know why? Because you can see the end coming."