The NBA All-Star Game serves as a showcase for the best players and a storehouse for the hottest rumors, with the Feb. 20 trade deadline fast approaching.
The main gossip involved a three-team swap that would send Philadelphia 76ers forward Charles Barkley to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for forward James Worthy and center Elden Campbell. The 76ers then would send Worthy to the Charlotte Hornets for guards Kendall Gill and Rex Chapman.
Barkley has been subject of persistent trade rumors, even encouraging them while criticizing his owner, Harold Katz, for his failure to improve the 76ers.
"Wherever I play, I'll play well," said Barkley, a perennial All-Star who leads the 76ers in scoring and rebounding. "I'd rather stay in Philadelphia, but that is not my decision." If Barkley goes, it will be because of Katz's impatience with his superstar's impetuous ways.
Worthy, who has played with the Lakers his entire nine-year NBA career and teamed with Magic Johnson on three championship teams, would be welcomed back to North Carolina, his home state where he starred for the Tar Heels.
"A few years ago, I wouldn't be able to sleep if I heard a trade rumor," Worthy said. "But now I can handle it better."
The Washington Bullets had discussed a possible Harvey Grant for Charles Oakley swap with the New York Knicks, but it is reportedly no longer on the table.
"We haven't been presented with anything that's exciting," said Dave Checketts, president of the Atlantic Division-leading Knicks. "Right now, we're not shopping anybody."
The Knicks, however, have been courting Charlotte's Dell Curry and the Dallas Mavericks' Rolando Blackman, seeking a consistent outside shooter. The Mavericks are asking for a first-round draft pick for Blackman, while the Hornets are sorting through a number of offers for Curry, their "sixth man" specialist.
Washington, seeking a solid rebounder, also has made inquiries about the Portland Trail Blazers' second-year center, Alaa Abdelnaby. But the Trail Blazers have put a high price tag on the former Duke star, viewed as the heir apparent to Kevin Duckworth in the pivot.
Moving target: Surprisingly, Larry Brown, the former UCLA, Kansas, Carolina Cougars, Denver Nuggets, New Jersey Nets and San Antonio Spurs coach, has been employed by the Los Angeles Clippers a whole week and has yet to ask for a "vote of confidence."
When he was introduced by the Clippers, Brown said, "I'm not going to compare myself with the past Clippers coaches, except that I'm standing here, and I'm going to be the Clippers coach." And then, he added, "Obviously, I've stood up in a lot of different places."
In joining the Clippers, Brown has been reunited with forward Danny Manning, who led his Kansas Jayhawks to the 1988 NCAA title. But Manning and Brown reportedly had a volatile relationship in college, almost leading to Manning skipping his senior year to opt for the pros.
Negative vibes: After watching his Nets lose seven straight and drop from playoff contention, New Jersey center Sam Bowie said: "It's almost like we need to start a rumor regarding a coaching change or player being traded. Whenever controversy is thrown in our face, we buckle down and go to work. But right now, we're back to square one."
Money talk: Detroit's Isiah Thomas, who has no great affection for Michael Jordan, took a swipe at the Bulls' superstar for forbidding the NBA to use his likeness on league apparel. Jordan says Nike has its exclusive use. Thomas, president of the NBA Players Association, noted that a percentage of the money the league makes from sales goes to the players pension fund.
Said Thomas: "People who made it possible for me to make the money I command didn't have this opportunity. I have to respect the guys who came before me."
But a number of players already are following Jordan's example. According to a league public relations director, 89 player reps sent letters saying they would not permit their client's face to appear on league items.
Unanswered prayers: Atlanta general manager Pete Babcock would not allow Buddhist monks to issue a special prayer Feb. 2 at the Omni for the speedy recovery of Hawks forward Dominique Wilkins, sidelined for the season with a ruptured Achilles' tendon.
Said Babcock: "If their prayers worked, what would we do with our medical staff? Besides, we have enough trouble dealing with players' psyches."