Richardson steals the show as game MVP, dunk winner


PHILADELPHIA - Golden State rookie guard Jason Richardson completed a pretty good day at the NBA's All-Star skills competition yesterday, first earning Most Valuable Player honors in the Rookies Challenge game, then winning the 17th slam dunk competition in the evening.

Richardson, who had 26 points in the game pitting selected rookies against second-year players, won the slam dunk competition over Sacramento forward Gerald Wallace.

Richardson capped the dunk competition with a move in which he caught the ball off a toss to a spot on the floor, faked a windmill dunk and went with a reverse two-hand smash.

"Gilbert Arenas [his Warriors teammate] told me to try something different," said Richardson. "That was only the second time doing that dunk. I think it worked out pretty good."

Former Maryland standout Steve Francis, widely considered the favorite after finishing as a runner-up to Toronto's Vince Carter in 2000, was a victim of small hands as he was eliminated in the first round of the competition.

Facing Wallace head-to-head, Francis, of the Houston Rockets, completely missed his first dunk attempt, barely pushed his second attempt through, then was eliminated when he was unable to duplicate a "Statue of Liberty" dunk first done by former Indiana Pacer Terence Stansbury in the 1986 competition.

Francis made his dunk, but scored poorly as he went baseline instead of straight-on as Stansbury did, because his hands were too small to palm the ball.

"As soon as I saw that dude palm the ball, I knew I was finished. I can't palm the ball," said Francis.

The NBA, in an attempt to revitalize the dunk competition, which has been criticized for staleness, required each competitor to attempt a "legendary" dunk as selected at random from a wheel.

"I was happy to be in it [the competition], but I might have to retire if they bring back the wheel. It's either me or the wheel," said Francis.

Looking abroad

NBA Commissioner David J. Stern declared that the league will move toward expanding into foreign markets by the end of the decade, but essentially ruled out expansion to a U.S. city for the foreseeable future.

Stern, who met for an hour with the media covering All-Star Weekend, said he expects the league to begin planning to move aggressively into foreign markets, either through expansion to Europe or Mexico City or by creating an NBA-sponsored league or affiliating with an existing league.

Stern said he expects the plans to be in motion by the end of the next television contract, which begins next season and runs for six years.

"I think we need a plan and we need to see what events are and I think three or four years out we should have a plan. It wouldn't surprise me by the end of the decade that there would be a very strong NBA international presence on the ground."

At the same time, Stern said the league, which last expanded in the U.S. in 1989, to Orlando and Minnesota, would not add domestic teams during that time.

"We're right now the professional sports league with the fewest number of teams [29] of the four majors," said Stern. "I don't see us looking to expand domestically."

Stern said the league, which has lobbied the NBA Players Association to make it more difficult for high school players to enter the league, said the NBA will not permit high school players who have not graduated to join.

LeBron James, a junior from Akron, Ohio, reportedly is considering making himself available to the league after this year.

In other developments, Stern and Russ Granik, the deputy commissioner, all but declared that the Hornets, who have applied to move to New Orleans, will leave Charlotte unless the city agrees to build the team a new arena.

Granik said he felt Michael Jordan's return to the NBA with the Washington Wizards has been positive for the league, and that Jordan has not overshadowed burgeoning new stars.

"I think his timing was terrific, because after the playoffs last year, people began embracing a lot of the younger stars," said Granik. "So the story has become more of Michael and how is he doing against a lot of the great players.

"Obviously, Michael is doing pretty well. But I don't think it's overshadowed the accomplishments of the other players, like Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd and Kevin Garnett and a lot of others."

Stojakovic goes distance

In the three-point shooting contest, Sacramento's Peja Stojakovic and Cleveland's Wesley Person went into a 24-second overtime before the Kings' forward won. Steve Nash of Dallas finished third.

Stojakovic made his last five shots in the first round, but was later tied by Person with 19 points, one ahead of Nash.

It made up for last year in Washington, when Stojakovic finished second to Milwaukee's Ray Allen.

"I felt much better than last year," said Stojakovich, who will play in his first All-Star Game today.

Asked if fellow Yugoslavs in the NBA put some pressure on him to represent them well, Stojakovic joked: "They said if I didn't win, I couldn't go back to Yugoslavia this summer."

Two of the favorites - Steve Smith of the San Antonio Spurs, who leads the NBA in three-point shooting percentage, and Allen - were knocked out after going cold in the opening round.

"I think I rushed a little too much," said Allen.

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