- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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Editor's note: As part of "The Stein Line" every Monday, ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein gives his take on things in "Slams and Dunks."
The debate about Michael Jordan's start-worthiness for Sunday's All-Star Game is the perfect illustration of the difference between a guy who's hot and guys who are not.
Hot Guy Tracy McGrady has been generally lauded for his willingness to let Jordan start in his place in Atlanta.
Allen Iverson, by no means a Hot Guy, has received comparatively little praise since MJ revealed that AI made the same offer in a private phone conversation nearly a week earlier.
Vince Carter, meanwhile, is the antithesis of hot and couldn't have soothed the public no matter what he did. Bashing Vince has become such an international pastime that there's no doubt he would have been accused of a shameless PR stunt had he gone the T-Mac route. McGrady's status as a lead adidas pitchman, extending goodwill to the face of Nike, spared him any heat.
Kudos to Jordan for a) letting everyone know of Iverson's gesture, which was undeniably grand of the little guy, and for b) telling Iverson and McGrady that they should start because they're who the fans picked. Best thing about all of it: Jordan is better off a sixth man anyway. His old buddy Isiah Thomas can send Jordan to the scorer's table solo, to check in as a sub, and MJ will get an even louder ovation going into the game by himself. Don't worry about the Philips Arena crowd, either. The league is flying one in.
Just so we're clear, Cleveland's Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Indiana's Brad Miller are on the East's All-Star bench because the East coaches wanted them there. Not because they had to pick at least one true center as a backup.
A few days before their votes were due, the coaches were reminded by league memo -- as introduced last season -- that they could pick seven forwards as reserves if they wanted.
Coaches are asked in the official instructions to name two guards, two forwards and a center among their seven reserve selections, but they are also encouraged to list any player at any position the coach "thinks is most advantageous for the All-Star team, not necessarily the one he plays most often during the season."
East coaches went completely the other way, burning two reserve spots on centers (Ilgauskas and Miller) to squeeze out lots of swingmen (Rip Hamilton, Jerry Stackhouse, Ray Allen, Jalen Rose, Ricky Davis), at least one power forward (Kenyon Martin) and a couple of more psuedo-centers (Kurt Thomas and Brian Grant).
Larry Brown's annual moment of deep introspection -- "I've been here going on six years?!?" -- sets up a nice test for our theory that the Sixers have been getting along too well. The feeling here is that they need an invigorating dose of angst and tension to arrest a slide that reached 10-19 with Sunday's loss at Minnesota. If there's no turnaround for Larry ... there's always UCLA. Or the Nuggets.
Pursuant to the recent discussion about Yao Ming trying to become the first franchise player in NBA history at 7-foot-4 or taller, Yao has one clear advantage over all his predecessors.
Advantage: Center play in the NBA has never been more non-existent, which can't hurt Yao's degree of difficulty.
Rik Smits is the most successful member of the 7-4 Or More club to date, by virtue of production and durability, but he had to play against a much deeper crop of quality big men: Moses Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Shaquille O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Tim Duncan and even a glimpse of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at the end.
Yao? When Shaq leaves, at this rate, beastly big men will be exclusive to Texas.
If he'd given his spot to MJ or kept it, Vince Carter would've lost the battle of public opinion.