ATLANTA -- For a moment, it looked like the basketball gods were conspiring to make Michael Jordan the star of All-Stars one last time before he heads into retirement. Instead, they tapped Kevin Garnett on the shoulder.
A surprise starter, Jordan scored 20 points and hit a jumper in the first overtime to nearly win the 52nd NBA All-Star Game, the final one of his storied career. But the Western Conference rallied and Garnett scored seven of his game-high 37 points in the first two minutes of the second overtime, powering the West to a 155-145 victory last night at Philips Arena.
Garnett won the Most Valuable Player Award, spoiling a spectacular night for the East's starting backcourt of Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson, who combined for 64 points, not to mention ruining Jordan's last time in the NBA's midseason spotlight.
"I think these are times that we need to cherish," Garnett said. "Once he's gone, age is going to forbid him from coming back. So, me, myself, it's just sitting back, watching him continue to do the things he does and enjoy the game. I don't think it needs to be perceived any other way."
Jordan, who has announced that he will retire at the end of this season -- his 14th -- missed a last-second jumper over Phoenix's Shawn Marion that would have won the game in regulation for the East.
But he got a chance at redemption, with the ball again in his hands and Marion guarding him with five seconds left in the first overtime. This time, Jordan did what legends do, namely hit the basket, his signature turnaround jumper from the baseline, as the East took a two-point lead.
"I wanted to win the game," Jordan said. "I felt like we had a chance to win and I was a part of it. I think everybody wanted me to be a part of it."
So much so that Kobe Bryant, who was fouled in the corner with one second left in the first overtime as he attempted a three-pointer for the win, said a part of him didn't want to be on the free-throw line trying to make shots that could ruin Jordan's magical moment.
"I probably felt like I had a job to do because I'm in that situation that I need to make these free throws, but the other part of me was like, I just didn't want to do it, to be honest with you," said Bryant, who finished with 22 points.
Bryant hit two of the three shots to force the second overtime, and the West jumped out, behind Garnett, leading by as many as 11 points in the second extra session.
Garnett, in his seventh year in the league after coming straight from high school, paid tribute to Jordan for the example he's set for the current crop of great players.
"With greatness, you never rush it," Garnett said. "If Mike wants to sit around and play for another three, four years, I think he's earned that right. I'm in no hurry to see greatness leave."
In years to come, however, all that Jordan likely will want to remember about his performance last night is that shot in the overtime and that he passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the All-Star Game's career leading scorer.
The rest of the night went poorly for Jordan, who missed his first seven shots on the way to a 9-for-27 shooting game.
Jordan addressed the sellout crowd at halftime, after a tribute concert, thanking them for their support, then saying that he was leaving the game in "good hands."
"I have passed on the things that Dr. J [Julius Erving] and some of the great players -- Magic Johnson, Larry Bird -- have passed on to me," Jordan said. "I pass on to these All-Stars here, as well as to the rest of the players in the NBA."
Jordan, who had been selected as a reserve by the East coaches, got into the starting lineup when Toronto forward Vince Carter, a fellow North Carolina Tar Heel, surrendered his spot at the last minute.
Jordan had rebuffed previous requests from McGrady and Iverson to start in their places, then was talked into taking Carter's spot during a Saturday afternoon practice in which the East team insisted that Jordan start.
Carter had been criticized for accepting the spot voted him by fans despite playing in fewer than 20 games in the first half of the season because of injuries. Jordan said Carter approached him directly Saturday to ask him to start.
"I felt that I owed the fans the respect of being on that court," Carter said. "This is a storybook ending for Michael Jordan and I'm sure that I'll have an opportunity to be an All-Star again. This is how it's supposed to be. He's supposed to be out there on that court.
"I realized that later on and that's how I wanted it, but I felt that I needed to get my point across. I needed my fans and the people who voted for me to understand that. I was going to stick by my decision, but in the end he needed to be out there."
Said Jordan: "These guys went against my wishes. I felt like he [Carter] had taken a beating when he shouldn't have. He was being very respectful, which we all have been taught from our parents, to be very respectful for people giving you the opportunity and he wanted to do that and he was being criticized for that.
"I could have easily come off the bench and would have been proud to do this. I didn't want anyone to feel bad about anything that was happening this weekend. I didn't want a black cloud over this weekend for me."