SI Vault
Jackie MacMullan
February 16, 1998
No VIP Treatment for an MVP Star-crossed
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February 16, 1998

The Nba

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If NBA veterans resent this teenage superstar, it was hidden on Sunday. Fellow Laker Shaquille O'Neal, who has yet to have his own All-Star moment, was prodded time and again by reporters to say something negative about Bryant's gunning, but Shaq insisted he was proud of the youngster—and happy for his family, too.

West coach George Karl, who kept Bryant on the bench for the fourth quarter, said the kid earns respect because he listens and learns. That acrobatic 360-degree tomahawk dunk didn't hurt either. Nor does his irrepressibility on the floor. Most All-Star newcomers would have wilted after Jordan pinned a turnaround jumper on them, with Steve Smith's exacerbating Bryant's embarrassment on the next play by forcing a weak turnover.

So what does Bryant do his next time downcourt? He heads for the hoop, naturally, then fires a no-look, behind-the-back bullet to Tim Duncan, who is so startled by the dish that he blows the easy basket. Bryant's first All-Star stat line: a team-high 18 points in 22 minutes on 7-of-16 shooting, with six rebounds and one assist. Said Jordan, "I was just trying to fend him off as much as I could."

Play of the Week
The Deliverin' Dutchman
East center Rik Smits, at 5:57 of the fourth quarter of the All-Star Game: The 7'4" Smits, barreling down the lane on the break, hit Nets center Jayson Williams with a textbook behind-the-back pass for a two-handed slam. As the East bench exploded, with Pacers coach Larry Bird leading the celebration, Smits thrust two fists upward. He later said, "I don't imagine you'll see that again."

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