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Carter's dunk off backboard just one of Sunday's highlights

2/22/2005

DENVER -- Shaq had dance moves for the crowd, a cell phone
in his shoe and hugs for pretty much everyone except you-know-who.

The big fella kept things light Sunday night, adding a bit of
comic relief to an otherwise nondescript All-Star Game, a 125-115
victory for the East.

"You smile, you act crazy and silly. And I think people like me
because I'm different," said Shaquille O'Neal, who finished with
12 points, six rebounds, three steals and three blocked shots.
"I've always been a class clown type of guy. It comes natural."

During pregame introductions, O'Neal strutted into the spotlight
and did a little dance that included a funky, wavy break-dance move
with his arms.

Before the opening tip, he had handshakes and hugs for all of
his Western Conference opponents. All except Kobe Bryant, that is.

The former Lakers teammates didn't acknowledge each other and
only came in contact twice during the game -- once when Bryant made
a nice, left-handed shot over O'Neal and once when Shaq knocked the
ball away from Bryant, but got called for a foul.

Bryant finished with better numbers -- 16 points, seven assists,
six rebounds and three steals -- and was the most intense player on
the court during the fourth quarter.

But this show was clearly not his. In fact, he was the only
player booed during pregame introductions, likely a residual
effect both from rape accusations made against him in Colorado two
summers ago -- charges were dropped last September -- and from his
fractured relationship with O'Neal.

"You know, I'm really not going to make this weekend about
myself and Shaquille," Bryant said. "That's just not fair. That's
not basketball."

The All-Star Game is -- well -- only sorta basketball.

At what other game, after all, does a player do a television
interview from the bench where he shows off a cell phone imbedded
in his size 22 shoe?

"It's big, you can take it anywhere, make people look at you,"
O'Neal explained. "And it prevents muggers. Kick them right in the
[behind] with that Shaq shoe phone."

And at what other game would the big guy put his hand on his hip
and stick out his fanny before shooting one of those ugly,
one-handed free throws? He missed, of course.

"I think it would be a boring game if everybody was the same,
just like it would be boring if you guys asked the same dumb
questions," O'Neal said.

Among those who did take the game seriously was Allen Iverson.

Iverson finished with 15 points, nine assists and five steals to
win his second Most Valuable Player award at the All-Star Game. His
last MVP came the last time the East won, 111-110 in 2001 when
Iverson scored 15 points over the last nine minutes to lead his
team back from a 21-point deficit.

This time, there was no need for such drama, and no need for
Iverson to pour in 60 points the way he did earlier this season for
the struggling 76ers. All he needed to do was play defense,
distribute and let his teammates do their thing.

"I'm playing with the greatest players in the world and I'm
playing with four other All-Stars," Iverson said. "So, I mean, in
a game like this, you just let it come to you."

Iverson teamed up with LeBron James on the prettiest play of the
first quarter, an alley-oop slam by the 20-year-old Cleveland guard
who became the second-youngest All-Star starter in NBA history.

Bryant wowed the crowd late in the second quarter by reaching
behind his head to catch an alley-oop pass from Steve Nash and
slamming it through.

Two players threw alley-oop passes to themselves -- Vince Carter
and Tracy McGrady, who each slammed the ball off the glass, then
jumped, caught and dunked for a couple of the most exciting moments
of the night.

Dwyane Wade had a breakaway reverse dunk early in the final
period to put the East ahead 102-93. After Bryant hit a pair of
3-pointers to close the West to 110-105, Shaq bounded off the bench
and returned. The West never pulled closer, though, and the game
ended with O'Neal getting to attempt a 3-pointer.

It clanked off the rim, but it didn't matter. The showman
finished the night the way he started -- in the spotlight.

"It's not with just his scoring or his passing ability or his
rebounding or anything like that," Iverson said of the difference
O'Neal makes. "It's his presence."

Game notes
Bryant will miss the Lakers' practice Monday to fly to
Philadelphia after the death of his paternal grandfather, Joe
Bryant. The Lakers' next game is at home Tuesday night against
Boston. ... Iverson dedicated his MVP award to his best friend,
whose mother passed away recently. ... The NBA paid tribute to
former Denver Nuggets greats during a timeout. Among them were Doug
Moe, Alex English, Kiki Vandeweghe and Fat Lever. Former player,
coach and general manager Dan Issel didn't attend.