ORLANDO, Fla. -- If the NBA All-Star Game is the place for the bigger names around the league to strut their stuff, tonight's three-point shootout and slam-dunk competition are the place for the lesser lights to shine
For example, Chicago guard Craig Hodges, who has won the last two American Airlines-ITT-Sheraton Shootouts, is generally mired on the Bulls' bench.
And Kenny Walker, who won the Gatorade Slam Dunk Championship in 1989, is no longer in the league. He now plies his trade in Europe, after being released by the New York Knicks following last season.
Although the Atlanta Hawks' Dominique Wilkins won the slam-dunk competition in 1990, most of the heavyweights beg off the two major events of what the league refers to as All-Star Saturday (7 p.m. TNT), fearing injury or decrying the relatively meager payouts of $20,000 to the winners.
If past performance is any key, Hodges has to be considered a favorite. The 10-year veteran has won the last two shootouts and has the best two rounds in the six-year history of the event, including last year in Charlotte, where he hit 19 straight.
Challengers to Hodges include All-Stars Mitch Richmond (Sacramento Kings) and John Stockton (Utah Jazz) as well as the Charlotte Hornets' Dell Curry, Cleveland Cavaliers' Craig Eh
lo, the Kings' Jim Les and New Jersey Nets' Drazen Petrovic.
In the dunk competition, where flair is king, the favorite seems to be the Seattle SuperSonics' Shawn Kemp. He finished second last year to the Boston Celtics' Dee Brown, who is injured.
Kemp, 22, a three-year veteran, has an awesome array of slams, but said he considers the Phoenix Suns' Cedric Ceballos and New York's John Starks top contenders.
Also expected to challenge are former Nevada-Las Vegas teammates Stacey Augmon (Hawks) and Larry Johnson (Hornets).
The evening's proceedings kick off with the Schick Legends Game, featuring recently named Hall of Famer Connie Hawkins.