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NBA banks on new generation

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 11, 2001

WASHINGTON -- Michael Jordan is the host. Shaquille O'Neal isn't playing. Alonzo Mourning and Grant Hill haven't been on the court in months.

So much for the biggest star of the last generation and three of the biggest names of the current one.

As for what remains, the NBA hopes there's still enough to make the 50th All-Star Game intriguing to a public that seems to have lost interest.

Will people tune in at p6:30 tonight to see the best of the rest of the new generation of stars? Or will they tune out the likes of Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Allen Iverson and Latrell Sprewell because they haven't really connected with the NBA since Jordan left nearly three years ago?

In a way, it'll be another barometer All-Star Game for a league still working its way through the middle stages of a post-Jordan, post-dynasty comedown.

The bad news is that O'Neal and Theo Ratliff won't play because of injuries. Nor will Hill and Mourning, who were voted in as starters by fans despite being out for the season.

The good news is that Bryant and Vince Carter will play, their nagging injuries notwithstanding.

"It used to be the same people all the time," said the Nets' Stephon Marbury, one of six first-timers. "Now you really have to earn your spot. There's so many great players."

Ten of the 12 Eastern Conference participants and four of the West's 12 will play in their first or second All-Star Game.

"There's still a lot of talented players," said Sprewell, a four-time All-Star making his first appearance as a member of the New York Knicks. "Although it won't be quite the same, there's still enough talent for a good competitive game. It should be entertaining."

Whether it will be competitive is debatable.

Some believe the All-Star Game will mirror what's happened during the regular season, with the West being bigger and stronger than the East.

"If it was keep-away, I'd love our chances," Eastern Conference coach Larry Brown said.

Adelman said the strength of the Western Conference doesn't necessarily mean his team will win.

"The teams are so different this year," he said. "We're big and they're small, but that's not going to make a difference when you see the stars who are out there.

"It's not any easier just because the West has a lot of the best teams. That doesn't translate to the All-Star Game."

Television ratings for last year's game were the lowest ever, continuing a five-year trend -- evidence that the NBA has a strong base of fans who enjoy watching the league evolve, but its attraction to the casual fan is fleeting.

"We've come into a state of parity," Heat coach Pat Riley said. "People don't see greatness shining every night, but they see developing teams having a real opportunity for the first time."

Successful teams are well-represented among the All-Stars, with only three players -- Marbury (Nets), Dikembe Mutombo (Hawks) and Jerry Stackhouse (Pistons) -- from teams with losing records.

* * *

East vs. West, 6:30 tonight, MCI Center, Washington. TV: Ch. 8.

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