Generation X and O

NBA: This year's All-Star Game -- featuring nine first-timers -- reflects the league's youth movement from experienced veterans to flashier kids on the block.

February 13, 2000|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Generations don't last long in the NBA. Five years ago, Grant Hill was supposed to be heading up the next class of superstars. Now 27, he is considered middle-aged in a league that turns over its headliners nearly as quickly as the Washington Wizards do their coaches.

Consider tonight's 49th All-Star Game here at The Arena in Oakland. There are nine first-time players, the second most in history. Miami center Alonzo Mourning is a virtual dinosaur compared to the rest of the Eastern Conference starters, having turned 30 last week.

"It is kind of a transition period," Hill said. "I don't feel old, just more seasoned."

Not that Hill will have any trouble keeping up with the run-and-gun the perimeter-oriented Eastern Conference team expects to play to stay with a Western Conference team that will be feature a frontcourt with 6-foot-11 Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves at small forward, 7-footer Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs at power forward and 7-1 Shaquille O'Neal of the Los Angeles Lakers at center.

Hill is also welcoming of the NBA's newest group of All-Stars. He will be joined in the starting lineup by first-timers Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers and Vince Carter of the Toronto Raptors. None of the Western Conference starters is making his All-Star debut, but Kobe Bryant of the Lakers is 21 and Garnett is 23.

How does that make Indianapolis Pacers guard Reggie Miller, a five-time All-Star, feel at 34?

"I don't feel like an old fogey, but an elder statesman? Yes," Miller said.

Karl Malone isn't the oldest player in this year's game -- Utah Jazz teammate John Stockton, who'll turn 37 in July, has Malone by nine months -- and he is not winding down his Hall of Fame career quietly. Malone complained last week that the NBA has forgotten its veteran players in favor of its young stars.

Malone initially said that he planned to spend the break at his ranch in Arkansas to allow nagging injuries to his back and the middle finger on his shooting hand to heal, and he missed Friday's news conference and yesterday's practice.

Chosen along with Stockton as reserves by Western Conference coach Phil Jackson, Malone is expected to be here for his 12th All-Star appearance today. "Karl's a proud guy," said Jazz owner Larry Miller. "He feels underappreciated by the league."

League officials disagree.

Asked yesterday about Malone's assertions, NBA commissioner David Stern chuckled and then delegated the job of answering the question to his deputy, Russ Granik.

"I think Karl Malone has been twice the MVP, including most recently [last season]," Granik said. "There's no question he's getting as much promotion and attention as anyone else and deservedly so."

Joked Jackson: "Karl? Karl who? Karl Marx?"

This is not the first time Malone has griped about younger players getting more attention, or not showing enough respect. Two years ago, Malone tried to set a pick for Bryant during the All-Star Game in New York, and Bryant waved him off. Malone fumed.

But even Hill admitted that he feels a bit overlooked now that most of the attention is going to players such as Carter, Garnett, Bryant and Duncan. "Maybe when I was younger I got too much attention, and maybe now I don't get enough," Hill said Friday, repeating a line he has used many times this season.

Yet Hill and Miller are a little more tolerant than Malone when it comes to the league's decision to promote its young stars.

"Karl has had a wonderful career, but the league is about survival," Hill said. "The game is bigger than me or Karl or anybody else."

Said Miller: "You've got to promote the young guys. But you can't forget the older guys. There's not too many of us left."

Today's game will reflect that generational shift.

Iverson, never shy, promised that he will turn the Coliseum floor into his private schoolyard.

"I just want to run up and down the court, bring my whole playground game and show [the fans] a true All-Star Game," he said.

Said Carter: "They've had their chance, this is ours."

Stern said that the line of demarcation between the last generation of Dream Teamers and the next generation was set last year, when there was hardly a season after the lockout and no All-Star Game.

"Like it or not," he said, "this is the post-lockout, post-Michael [Jordan] coming-out party tomorrow."

Jason Kidd of the Phoenix Suns, who along with Gary Payton of the Seattle SuperSonics will be returning to their hometown, doesn't mind the attention paid the younger players. In fact, he still considers himself one of them.

"I think it's exciting," Kidd, 26, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "Everyone was kind of sitting back to see how could the NBA be successful without Michael. Well, there's a group of us that's carrying the torch."

Regardless of whether he feels a bit slighted, Hill knows that even this generation of stars will not stay in the headlines that long. Certainly not for a generation.

"There are kids in the seventh and eighth grade who are getting ready to take our place," he said. "This league was here long before I started playing in and it will be here long after I retire."

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