-- When the ball goes up for tip-off of the all-star game Sunday night, Shaquille O'Neal and Michael Jordan will be watching from the bench for the first time.
Karl Malone will probably be off hunting or fishing, Reggie Miller might be on a beach, Grant Hill and Dikembe Mutombo will be recuperating, David Robinson will be planning his impending retirement.
A new generation of perennial all-stars, along with the NBA's newest curiosity, will comprise the two starting units as the league holds its 52nd annual showcase event.
Four of the starters, Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, Kobe Bryant and Jermaine O'Neal, jumped from high school to the pros without spending a day in college.
One of them, 7-foot-6 center Yao Ming, made the biggest leap of all -- coming from China to the United States and becoming the first rookie to displace an established starting center since O'Neal did it to Patrick Ewing a decade ago.
This will be the first time in 25 years that the all-star game has come to Atlanta. The last time was in 1978, when Randy Smith of the Buffalo Braves came off the bench to lead all scorers with 27 points.
"I remember begging editors to send their reporters so we could get some press coverage," Commissioner David Stern recalled Thursday. "I remember a snowstorm Monday morning so we couldn't get out; a comedian whose name escapes me who appeared at dinner and went long."
"Twenty-five years ago we were worrying about getting media in this country to cover us, and now we have to worry about where to put all the media from all over the world. It's a wonderful problem to have."
Let's take a look at what some of this year's all-stars were doing in '78:
* Four (Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Yao and Tracy McGrady) weren't born.
* A dozen (Vince Carter, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Allen Iverson, Brad Miller, Paul Pierce, Antoine Walker, Tim Duncan, Garnett, Steve Francis, Stephon Marbury, Shawn Marion, Peja Stojakovic) were in diapers.
* Steve Nash presumably was out of diapers by then. He was 4.
* Ben Wallace might have been. He was 3.
* Jordan was 16, still a year from his first job as a dishwasher at Whitey's restaurant in Wilmington, N.C. He would become an all-star himself seven years later, eventually getting voted in by the fans as a starter 13 times.
"It doesn't matter if you play or you don't play," Jordan said. "It's truly an honor just to be selected on that team. That's the way I accept it. I don't go in there thinking any less than the other 13 times I've been there."
Making his 14th and final appearance, Jordan plans to retire after this season -- he swears he means it this time -- and will be bidding farewell to the game he dominated so many times.
He has the only triple-double in the game's history, three all-star MVP trophies and the fourth-highest average (20.2) among all players with at least three appearances. Bryant ranks first with a 20.8 average in four appearances.
Jordan needs to score 10 points to surpass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (251 points in 18 appearances) as the leading scorer in all-star history.
If he does it, he'll be accomplishing that feat eight days shy of his 40th birthday.
"I look forward to spending time with some of the guys I never probably get the time to spend with, even thought I'm a little bit older than most of them," Jordan said. "All I'm going to do is just try to enjoy myself."
The NBA selected one of the players' favorite cities for this year's All-Star Weekend, and Atlanta will be hopping into the wee hours of the morning as players from around the league -- all-stars and non all-stars -- flock to the capital of the new South.
"Guys have never really said that they like playing here when they're part of the [Hawks], but they all look forward to coming to play here," said Chris Webber, the only one of the 24 all-stars who will be unable to play because of injury.
Atlanta is the city where O'Neal spent his first day as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, signing with them in the summer of 1996 on the day the U.S. Olympic men's basketball team arrived in town for the Olympics.
That was the day O'Neal proudly made the observation that he had won at every level except college and the pros -- a statement that was mocked at the time for being indicative how clueless the next generation of players had become.
Three NBA titles later, O'Neal is no longer at the forefront of the next generation. He has reached a sort of NBA middle age, a bridge between the Jordan generation and the current era -- Generation "Y" as in Yao.
"Yao Ming is my brother," O'Neal said after the two faced each other for the first time last month in Houston.
On Sunday, they'll be teammates for the first time.
"He can play point guard and I'll be the shooting guard," Yao quipped.
There are some similarities between this year's game and the last all-star game in Atlanta in 1978.
There were no Hawks in that game, which was won by the East, 133-125. There was a sellout at the Omni (15,492), which was only six years old at the time, but that was an aberration that season. The Hawks averaged 7,416 per game.
This year, they're a bad team playing in a four-year-old arena with no all-stars and the second-lowest attendance in the league.
"The all-star team, as it should, recognizes contributions from winning teams," Hawks Coach Terry Stotts said.
A majority of this year's all-stars fit that bill.
Nash and Nowitzki will represent the Dallas Mavericks, the team with the league's best record (38-10).
O'Neal and Bryant will represent the three-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Jason Kidd is there for the New Jersey Nets, and the other O'Neal -- Jermaine -- will represent the Indiana Pacers. Those two teams enter the break tied for the best record in the East (34-15).
Coaching the East will be Indiana's Isiah Thomas, while Rick Adelman of the Sacramento Kings will lead the West.
Jordan, O'Neal, Kidd, Gary Payton and Jamal Mashburn will be the only players over 30, yet there will be plenty of all-star experience among the twenty-somethings in the starting lineups.
Garnett is making his sixth appearance, Bryant and Duncan are making their fifth, Iverson and Carter their fourth, McGrady his third, and Jermaine O'Neal and Francis their second.
For Shaquille O'Neal, it will be his 10th.
"That just speaks to the enormous capacity of the NBA to continuously renew with the influx of talent," Stern said. "It makes me feel young."