Western Conference superiority is hardly hype: At the All-Star break only three Eastern Conference teams (the 76ers, the Knicks and the Heat) had winning records against the West, while only three Western teams (the Nuggets, the Warriors and the Clippers) had losing records against the East. How did the East become so depleted? Bad luck, big defections and a host of boneheaded trades. Here are the key events that created the imbalance of power.
1. July 11, 1996
The Lakers ship center Vlade Divac to the Hornets for the draft rights to Lower Merion (Pa.) High star Kobe Bryant, who had been taken with the 13th selection in the June draft.
2. July 15, 1996
To end the feud between point guard Rod Strickland and coach P.J. Carlesimo, the Trail Blazers send Strickland, then 30, to Washington in a trade for second-year forward Rasheed Wallace, 21.
3. July 18, 1996
In an acquisition that ranks alongside those of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson, the Lakers lure free-agent Shaquille O'Neal from the Magic with a seven-year, $120 million deal.
4. May 18, 1997
Though the Celtics, with two top picks, have a 36% chance to win the '97 draft lottery, the Spurs beat the odds and select Wake Forest senior center Tim Duncan with the No. 1 choice.
5. May 14, 1998
Hoping to gain veteran leadership, the Wizards acquire Mitch Richmond, then 32, and Otis Thorpe, 35, from the Kings for often-troubled forward Chris Webber, 25.
6. June 22, 1998
Eight days after winning its sixth championship, the Bulls dynasty ends when coach Phil Jackson resigns; Michael Jordan exits soon afterward. Two years later, Jackson's Lakers win the title.
7. June 24, 1998
In a scarcely noticed swap of draft rights, the Mavericks get the No. 9 pick, Dirk Nowitzki of Germany, as well as Pat Garrity, from the Bucks for the sixth choice, Robert (Tractor) Traylor.
8. Oct 3, 2000
During Heat center Alonzo Mourning's routine physical, doctors diagnose a kidney ailment. After undergoing further tests, Mourning decides to sit out the 2000-01 season.