The game wasn't the only thing for the 16 stars at The Game
To say that 16 star players played an exhibition game in Atlantic City last Saturday night just to show solidarity with their union (or to assault the craps tables) is simplistic. Many of them had ulterior motives. Consider Magic guard Anfernee Hardaway. In December 1997, Hardaway underwent a second operation in 13 months on his left knee and felt betrayed by Orlando's front office, whose remarks he felt minimized his injury. If the 1998-99 season ever gets started, Hardaway knows he might be traded, and he used the charity event—The Game on Showtime, as its organizers called it—to show interested parties that he's not damaged goods.
"For me, the lockout has been both good and bad," Hardaway said before the exhibition at the Atlantic City Convention Center. "It gave me a chance to rest my knee and put some distance between me and all the controversy of last season. The bad part is, I haven't been able to prove to people I'm fine."
Hardaway accomplished at least that much last Saturday. Though he scored only three points on 1-for-6 shooting, he appeared fit and energetic. When he becomes a free agent next summer, Hardaway will want a bundle—say, $15 million a year, assuming a new collective-bargaining agreement will allow teams to pay a player that much. He prefers to stay in Orlando, but he doubts that the Magic owners will break the bank for him. "The reason they left me out there on an island with this injury was because they didn't want to pay me," Hardaway said, "but I can put that behind me."
Penny was overshadowed in Atlantic City by the other Hardaway—the Heat's Tim, who scored 33 points, including 19 in the fourth quarter, to lead his team to a 125-119 win. He knocked down seven three-pointers and goosed the fans with a killer crossover that left even the man guarding him, Penny, grinning.
A crowd of 9,526, seemingly a generous count in the 12,000-capacity arena, greeted the players warmly. With the exception of Cavaliers forward Shawn Kemp, who looked to be carrying an extra 20 or so pounds, the stars were in good shape.
The most sobering aspect of the game was that it may have been a preview of NBA All-Star Games to come: Michael Jordan wasn't in uniform—or even in the building. Instead, he was honoring a commitment he had made a year ago to play in a celebrity golf tournament near Palm Springs, Calif. According to Charles Barkley, who coached the winning team, the reason Jordan didn't attend was because he has been retired for months. "Why do I have to keep telling you people the same thing over and over?" asked Barkley. "Michael has done his part. It's over for him now. Can't y'all just leave the man alone?"
Not all the players were so understanding of Jordan's absence, particularly after he had participated in collective-bargaining negotiations and vowed to remain committed to the union cause, regardless of whether he plays this season. "I'm disappointed he's not here," said Karl Malone. "His agent [ David Falk] is the one putting this game on. It would be like my guy, Dwight Manley, having a game in Vegas and me not showing up. There are other things I could be doing, too, but once I make a stand on something, I'm not going to do it halfway. It's my duty to be here. If Michael is retired, then fine, I can handle that. But if he's not...."
If he's not, it will thwart Malone's bid to become the NBA's signature star, a quest that in part prompted him to make the trek to Atlantic City. The Mailman acknowledged that he has thought a great deal about wanting to assume that lofty position, if, in fact, Jordan has played his last game.
Spurs in Pursuit, Heat Listening