SAN ANTONIO -- Who would have thought that Michael Jordan could stand on center court of an All-Star Game and be booed? That Jordan could be considered somehow undeserving basketball acclaim?
It wasn't the kind of reaction that Jordan could have imagined receiving in making his first All-Star appearance in three years. But then again, Jordan didn't figure on winning the Most Valuable Player award either after sitting out the final 16 minutes last night as the East easily beat the West, 129-118, at the Alamodome.
Jordan's night wasn't bad: He had 20 points, hitting eight of 11 shots in 22 minutes. But even Jordan admitted that the award easily could have gone to Shaquille O'Neal, who scored 25 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in 28 minutes.
"As far as the voting, I don't have anything to do with it," Jordan said, when asked about the boos from the crowd of 36,037, many of whom remember O'Neal from his San Antonio high school days. "I was very surprised that I won. I felt kind of strange standing out there with the trophy and the crowd making their own selections."
If Jordan felt strange so did O'Neal, who had a sheepish grin on his face while watching Jordan receive the award. O'Neal, who ** complained two years ago after being double- and triple-teamed in the All-Star Game, tried to downplay the voting. But it was clear he was disappointed.
"I'm not going to play next year," O'Neal said, before winking. Later he added: "I played well. But nothing ever disturbs me. I'm going to get some respect the second half of the season."
Jordan, who didn't return after leaving with 3:55 left in the third quarter, won by a 4-3 vote of seven journalists that was taken several minutes before the game ended.
Jordan left the game shortly after his driving dunk gave the East an 88-71 lead. The East outscored the West 41-22 in the third quarter.
"We didn't play particularly well," said Sacramento Kings guard Mitch Richmond, last year's MVP. "We wanted to try to keep the game very close and we didn't do that."
It sure wasn't close going into the final quarter, with the East leading 102-80. That's when the West, which trailed 61-58 at halftime, tried to get back in the game. When Richmond took a feed from David Robinson and scored on a layup with 4:10 left, the West was within 111-103.
But Anfernee Hardaway (18 points, seven assists) answered with consecutive three-pointers, the second increasing the lead to 117-103 with 3:22 left.
And it was all East from there, with O'Neal putting an exclamation point on the win with a driving dunk over Robinson of the hometown Spurs with 40 seconds left.
"That was awesome," said Charles Barkley, who, bothered by a touch of bronchitis, scored eight points in 16 minutes. "I don't know what David was thinking. He just lost his mind."
In fact the dunk was one of the few highlights in a game that, for the third year in a row, lacked excitement and drama. The crowd booed O'Neal loudly on the dunk because it came over Robinson, who received the loudest ovation during opening introductions.
"This crowd has been supporting us for seven years now and when we walked out there, I just got those butterflies in my stomach again," said Robinson. "I think I was more nervous before the game than I have been since my rookie year."
Robinson played well, registering team highs of 18 points and 11 rebounds in 23 minutes. Robinson had 10 points during the fourth-quarter rally and just might have settled the MVP controversy had his team won.
But that honor came down to Jordan and O'Neal. And Jordan, the league's top scorer, played well in his first All-Star Game since 1993.
"I'm just amazed at how intense he plays basketball for someone who has been playing for so many years," West coach George Karl said. "It seems like since he has been back, he actually plays harder and with more intensity now than he did a couple of years ago."
But there was quite a lot of sentiment for O'Neal.
"I think Shaq still deserves it," Barkley said. "But let's not leave this All-Star Game on a negative note. Shaq's going to get his in his career."
Many felt "his" should have came last night.
"Shaq could have easily been chosen MVP, and probably deserves it," Jordan said. "If it's going to make him mad in the second half of the season, he can have it."
And would Jordan go as far as giving him the trophy?
"I might do that when I get back to the locker room," Jordan said. "This is something a young person can utilize to move him closer to the legendary figure that he is going to be. It's a great honor to be considered, and a great honor to win. I certainly don't have a problem with presenting it to him."
L O'Neal's response, when he was told that: "I don't want it."