CHICAGO -- And so concludes The NBA's Cavalcade of Stars Featuring Air Man Michael Jordan Having A Wild Weekend. Thank you for coming, and drive home safely. Michael, be sure and let the control tower know when you plan to land. Not too shabby a couple of days for Michael. See what home cooking can do? He wins the slam-dunk contest on Saturday, then wins the all-star MVP on Sunday with 40 points, eight rebounds, four steals and four blocks in 29 minutes. Call me a wide-eyed optimist, but you put him in a Washington uniform and the Bullets might even be a .500 team.
Not that Michael was the whole show. Not by a long shot. Dominique Wilkins was electrifying, particularly on those occasions when Isiah Thomas concentrated on getting him the ball within a step or two of the basket. Patrick Ewing, Akeem Olajuwon and Brad Daugherty testified that the center position is not nearly as wide a vacuum as recent reports have indicated. Clyde Drexler looks like he's going to be playing on this level for the next 10 years.
But my own personal favorite was Magic Johnson. I had him for 73 assists in the first half. He would have had more if his teammates held on to his passes, but they were undoubtedly astounded at Magic's ability to pass a basketball through the eye of a needle. "I'd have had a lot more assists if all the guys were Lakers," Magic said. "A whole lot more, a whole, whole, whole lot more."
For me, the most exciting moments in basketball come whenever Magic has the ball, especially in the open court in the all-star game. There's simply no end to the creative, improvisational passes he can throw. My notes are a blur, but I see something about a 45-foot windmill bounce pass, three different kinds of lobs, a look-away behind-the-back shovel, a stand-still in the lane laughing-smiling-joking Meadowlark Lemon over-the- shoulder drop. I swear Magic is an illusionist out there. Twice I counted him having six arms. It's like he's playing three-card monte. He shows you the ball at midcourt, then hides it under a huge shell and the next thing you see is Akeem jamming it through the hoop. How did it get there? And the amazing thing is, he's never looking at the player he's passing to. Most of the time he's not even looking at the court, but into the crowd. At one point or another he makes personal eye contact with every single person in the stands.
In the third quarter Magic and Jordan, appropriately, were involved in the wildest play I have ever seen. It happened just after Dominique banked in a shot to give the East a 76-66 lead, and Magic started race-dribbling down the middle of the court. Jordan was on Magic's left hip, checking him stride for stride, reaching over to try to steal the ball just as Magic was shielding it from him, and all the way down the floor they were literally talking to each other -- like they were on the highway with their windows rolled down, jawing at 80 mph. It's hard enough for most of us to dribble straight ahead alone in a gym, and these guys are yapping at each other in full stride! I mean what is Magic doing, asking directions to the closest Amoco station? Then, in the middle of this dialogue, Magic attempts to throw a no-look scoop across Jordan's body, like he's thinking the friendliness of the discussion has lulled Jordan into a false sense of security. Jordan tipped the pass and ultimately ended up with the steal. But I fully expected Magic to complete the pass for an assist, shake Jordan's hand, roll up his window and speed off into the night blasting the radio.
So what were they saying?
"Magic was telling me that his knees were bothering him, that he couldn't get loose," Jordan said, recalling that he answered, "Just don't get loose on me. Get loose on the others."
The NBA All-Star Game is a wonderful game to behold, even when it's a relatively dull one like Sunday's. It's a fan's game, a furious offensive show that finds the players as awed as the viewers. "I find myself standing around spectating," Magic admitted. "I hear myself going 'Oooooohhh' and 'Aahhhh' just like everyone else." It's an exhibition game -- the only one of the season -- and the players treat it accordingly. They, too, want to see how certain people play together, like how Jordan would do with a real center to get him the ball quickly, or how terrifying Akeem can be with a Magic setting him up. They, too, want to see what kind of stuff everybody else has, and if their stuff is equal to it. It's jazz, and the question is who can blow it the hottest while looking the coolest.
The pace of the game is ferocious, particularly when the sprinters like Jordan, Magic, Dominique and Isiah are in there. If you think you're harried watching, try keeping stats. "I went through five different pens in the fourth quarter," said a winded Marty Aronoff, statistician extraordinaire. "They played that one at the speed of light. It's more like ping-pong than basketball."
It goes too fast to leave anything but impressions. But looking down at my notes, some impressions were written in heavier ink than others. It says here that Kareem can play five more years in this league, sky-hooking Magic's downy Geriatric Feeds at will, but he ought to confine his all-star appearances to the Legends game; says here that all dolled up in his dark suit and pink tie, with that cute perm, and surrounded by all these huge men, Mike Fratello looks like he belongs on a wedding cake; asks here how it was possible that the University of Houston with Akeem and Drexler failed to win at least one NCAA title; says here that Danny Ainge is a better player than people think, and that Brad Daugherty is tougher than anybody thought; says here that Mark Aguirre and Alex English score a lot of points, but don't make their teammates better in the process. And it says here in these notes, underlined in envious green, that Karl Malone and Fat Lever could so easily have had their own parking spaces at Capital Centre.