No-shows put NBA showcase in a jam

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON - If tomorrow's NBA All-Star Game is the main course, consider tonight's All-Star offerings the appetizers, made so by what's missing.

Potential participants have been steering clear of tonight's events like a bad shrimp puff, and their absence has taken a bit of luster off the festivities.


No event's image has been hurt worse than the Slam-Dunk competition, traditionally the most eagerly anticipated of the All-Star Saturday events. The dunk competition, which was dropped for two seasons, returned with a flourish last year, with Toronto's Vince Carter winning with a collection of remarkable efforts, including one in which he brought the ball up through his legs in flight, then slammed it home.

Carter, however, has begged off defending his title this year, citing a knee ailment. Los Angeles' Kobe Bryant, who won the 1997 contest, also declined to participate this year. Houston's Steve Francis, the runner-up to Carter last year, took a pass for tonight, which is surprising since he is a native of the Washington area and was a star at Maryland.


"If my ankle wasn't really bad, I think I would [take part in the dunk contest]," Francis said. "But right now, I know it's best if I just participate in a 40-minute game and get ready for the second half of the season."

As a result, the dunk field has been reduced to a collection of largely unknowns, headed by former Duke player Corey Maggette, now with the Los Angeles Clippers, and Charlotte's Baron Davis.

Instead of dunking, Francis will join 17 other players, including co-Rookie of the Year Elton Brand of Chicago and Washington's Richard Hamilton in a game pitting some of the league's best second-year players against rookies, the first of the day's skills competitions.

"There will be no slowdown [today]," said Orlando rookie Mike Miller. "It's going to be up-tempo. It's going to be up and down. There's going to be good guard play on both ends. It's going to be one of those games where there's going to be a lot of action."

The evening session will begin with the three-point shooting competition in which eight contestants shoot from five points around the three-point circle in 60 seconds, with the winner taking home $25,000.

With two-time champion Jeff Hornacek retired, the field is wide open. All of the competitors are shooting at least 39 percent, with Orlando's Pat Garrity leading the field at 46 percent. Milwaukee's Ray Allen, the only contestant who will play in tomorrow's All-Star Game, finished third last year and may emerge as the favorite, based on his experience in the contest.

"I hope to have a good showing," Allen said. "You have to be strategic about it. You have to conserve your energy, but at the same time you have to shoot for it. Everybody could get hot at the same time, but I hope that the person that gets hot is me."

Two Dallas Mavericks, guard Steve Nash and forward Dirk Nowitzki are entered, and teammate Michael Finley, an All-Star, thinks either has a decent chance.


The final event will be the 2-ball competition, which pairs NBA and WNBA players from the same city in an event in which the two trade shots over 60 seconds. Hornacek and Natalie Williams from Utah won last year's title, but Hamilton and Nikki McCray of the Washington franchises could be this year's favorite.

In an All-Star Game update, Toronto's Antonio Davis, Miami's Anthony Mason and Minnesota's Kevin Garnett were named as starters, replacing players who can't play.

Davis and Mason will open for the Eastern Conference team in place of Miami's Alonzo Mourning and Orlando's Grant Hill, both out for the season. Garnett will start for the Western team, replacing Shaquille O'Neal, the Los Angeles Lakers' center, who has a foot injury.

All-Star data

What: NBA All-Star Game

Site: MCI Center, Washington


When: Tomorrow, 6:30 p.m.

TV: Chs. 11, 4

Inside: Other All-Star events this weekend. [Page 5c]

All-Star Weekend


NBA Jam Session, Washington Convention Center, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Rookie Challenge, MCI Center, 4 p.m., TNT


All-Star Saturday Night (2ball, three-point contest, dunking competition), MCI Center, 8 p.m., TNT


NBA Jam Session, Washington Convention Center, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.