The most dramatic moment of the rookie game, played before a sellout crowd of 19,023 on Saturday in the America West Arena, occurs at halftime. A 16-year-old kid from Strongsville, Ohio, named Mike Hoban was selected from six million entries in a Foot Locker contest to have one chance at a three-point shot for $1 million. He learned about his chance two weeks ago and has been practicing ever since, with time out for a trip to New York to appear on the David Letterman show.
"We practiced this morning," Mike's father, Chuck, says. "We were over at the Jam Session. At the finish we went for the best of five. First time around, he hit five of five, and the second time, he hit four of five. Then, again, this one shot is different."
It is, indeed. Everything is wrong. Mike has to wait in a runway for the first half to end, sitting next to Phoenix Sun guard Dan Majerle, his celebrity instructor, surrounded by cameras. A boom mike is held over their heads to pick up conversation. Then there is a delay as the court is cleared, and then he is led between long, purple velvet ropes to even more cameras and a standing ovation. The focus is directly on his head. By the time Mike's introduction is finished, the rookie teams have returned, and they join the circle around him. One shot. A million bucks. He takes his time. He misses everything. Air ball.
I follow him as he is escorted back between the purple ropes, down a hall and through a practice gymnasium to an interview room. His eyes are red. His sister is crying. His mother is crying. His father also has cried. "When I shot the ball, it felt as if my arm fell off," Mike says sadly. "I was just overwhelmed by everything. I had no idea it was going to be that bad out there. All those cameras. I didn't have room to breathe. I practiced—I could have practiced forever—but how can you practice for something like that?"
Mike's mother, Marilyn, tells him he is worth more than a million dollars to her, always has been.
I watch the end of the rookie game. A man points to the scoreboard, which shows an image of Rush Limbaugh sitting next to Sun coach Paul Westphal. The same man pointed during the national anthem to Jesse Jackson standing next to Sun president Jerry Colangelo while a 16-year-old named Brandy hit the high notes. The White team beats the Green 83-79 in overtime. Or does the Green beat the White? Somebody wins.
I see Glen Rice of the Miami Heat edge Reggie Miller 17-16 in the finals of the three-point shoot-out. Harold Miner, also of Miami, wins a dispirited dunk contest as Sinbad, the comedian, shouts into a microphone, "That's what basketball is all about." Huh? I talk with Jo Jo White, 48, winner of the legends three-point shoot-out for the second straight year. He says he still plays basketball five times a week. I see a basketball game played by men on in-line skates, not a pretty sight. I watch the mascots dunk contest. I do not talk into the wolf's neck/mouth again. He is not the winner, anyway.
I watch the Stay in School Celebration. One of the emcees, Greg Lee, calls the crowd of deserving students "my stay-in-school posse." Uh-huh. I do not buy any trading cards. I do not buy any shoes, not even the ones Judy Tenuta wears.
I talk with an 11-year-old kid named Michael Kosak, who has won a contest to write a newspaper sports column during the weekend for the Arizona Republic. I ask what he has learned. He says he has learned that Mutombo's hand is "big enough to cover my whole head" and "these players are like skyscrapers, not so big on the horizon but bigger and bigger the closer you come." I suppose those are good lessons.
The official 1995 NBA All-Star logo is a cactus, sort of leaning toward the right, arms extended to a Southwestern sky. I study the logo. The cactus seems to be cheering. Or maybe it is spinning. Or maybe both. Or maybe it is not a cactus but Gumby, reaching toward the sky, happy to be in a warm-weather site and cheering for some bit of foolishness. Hard to say.