Last All-Star Game not must to Jordan

For `young kids,' Wizard is willing to step aside

Pro Basketball

January 14, 2003|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - The NBA All-Star Game and the surrounding weekend have been one of Michael Jordan's prime stages, whether to win a dunk contest, shine brightest in the ultimate star gathering or launch a new shoe line.

For next month's contest, Jordan would greatly prefer another role, that of not-so-involved spectator, saying yesterday that he wouldn't be averse to sitting out this year's game in Atlanta.

"I've played in enough All-Star Games to know what it feels like," Jordan said after a Washington Wizards practice. "I'm not opposed to letting the young kids go in and do things. It would be great relaxation for me and my family that week. I'm not opposed to that."

Jordan's stance is far from that of former San Diego Padres shortstop Garry Templeton, whose famous declaration about the baseball All-Star Game was "If I ain't startin', I ain't departin,' " but, rather a realization that, at 39, and with 12 of these contests in his dossier, there's not much more for him to accomplish.

"I'm not going to campaign for it," Jordan said. "I've had my experiences with All-Star Games. It's great. It's good to represent the fans, and if I get a chance to do that, I will do that. But if I don't, there will be no remorse, no ill feelings, no animosity, none of that. I'll enjoy my week. I'm pretty sure I could find myself a warm climate somewhere. It wouldn't bother me."

The problem for Jordan is, absent an injury, the choice may be out of his hands.

Jordan, who is averaging 17.6 points, has announced that this season, his 15th, will be the last of his storied career. In the most recent Eastern Conference fan balloting, Jordan, a three-time All-Star Most Valuable Player, was third among conference guards, trailing Orlando's Tracy McGrady and Philadelphia's Allen Iverson.

If Jordan does not catch Iverson, whom he trailed by about 100,000 votes in the most recent balloting, then the decision to select him to one of the seven reserve spots would be left to the Eastern Conference coach, who is still to be determined. Fan balloting concluded Sunday, and the starters will be announced next week.

Because Jordan and San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson have announced their retirements after this season and because each was selected as one of the 50 greatest players in league history, there has been talk the NBA may add a position for both conferences so the pair can be honored on a league-wide basis one last time. TNT, which will carry the All-Star Game for the first time, has promoted Jordan's potential appearance at the event.

However, Jordan seemed more interested in getting out of the way of the new breed of NBA superstars, rather than taking one last bow.

"Things are changing. Players are changing," Jordan said. "A new generation is coming in, and fans want to see a new generation in new situations. That doesn't bother me at all. I welcome that, because I think that's how the league is going to survive. It's a different era. It's time for me to step aside and let some of these kids do it."

Jordan's selection might cost Jerry Stackhouse, who leads the Wizards in scoring (22.5), an All-Star slot. As it is, Stackhouse will miss tonight's home game against the Toronto Raptors with a left groin pull, and he is listed as day-to-day, the team said yesterday.

Forward Bryon Russell will likely start for Stackhouse, and rookie guard Juan Dixon, who has not played in the two games since he was activated from the injured list, will probably play as the Wizards try to make up for Stackhouse's absence on the offensive end.

"Collectively, I think we have to pick up for the loss of Jerry Stackhouse for that one game," Jordan said. "I know everybody is going to focus on me, and that's natural. What my job is is to involve everybody else. I think it's going to be a good test for this team to play without Jerry for this one game. I'm looking for a nice little surprise from some of our guys to step into the forefront and show the type of professionals that they are."

Wizards tonight

Opponent: Toronto Raptors

Site: MCI Center, Washington

Time: 7

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WTEM (980 AM)

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