LOSERS NEVER WIN
DESPITE dropping eight of its last nine ( Boston) and 18 of its last 25 ( Memphis), neither team lands one of the top two draft picks. Losing does benefit the T-Wolves, though. If Minnesota had beaten Memphis in the season finale (above), it would have forfeited its first-round pick to the Clippers as a result of the Sam Cassell trade.
JUST DON'T MENTION SAM BOWIE
ON MAY 22 Portland lands the top pick in the NBA draft and the right to select Ohio State man-child GREG ODEN (below). It's the highest pick the Trail Blazers have had since 1984 when they selected Sam Bowie (with the No. 2 pick) ahead of someone named Michael Jordan.
LAUGH AT YOUR OWN RISK
VETERAN REF JOEY CRAWFORD (left) is suspended by the NBA for challenging the Spurs' Tim Duncan to a fight during a 91-86 loss to Dallas. Duncan is on the bench when Crawford hits him with a technical for arguing a call. Duncan laughs at another call a minute later, and Crawford T's him again, which means an automatic ejection. Thrown out for laughing. It inspires David Letterman's Top Ten Signs Your NBA Referee Is Nuts.
THE RISE OF THE KING
PERHAPS THE biggest story of the playoffs is LEBRON JAMES (right) reaching the NBA Finals in just his fourth season, partly on the strength of a 48-point masterpiece in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. Thanks to the Spurs, however, it will be at least one more year before King James can wear an NBA crown.
THE ART OF THE FLIP-FLOP, PART I
SAYING HE'D rather "go play on Pluto" than stay in Los Angeles, KOBE BRYANT (above) states his desire to be traded in a morning radio interview on May 30. After he receives a phone call from coach Phil Jackson, Bryant gives another radio interview in the afternoon and says that he wants to stay with the Lakers "more than anything." The next day Bryant speaks with Lakers owner Jerry Buss, who assures his petulant star that he will do everything possible to improve the team. Buss then leaves for a month-long vacation in China.
THE ART OF THE FLIP-FLOP, PART II
ONE DAY after signing a five-year, $27.5 million deal with the Orlando Magic, Florida coach BILLY DONOVAN (above) has a change of heart and decides to return to Gainesville. Adding insult to injury, after the Magic hires its second choice, deposed Miami coach Stan Van Gundy, Heat president and coach Pat Riley demands compensation from Orlando.
A KING-SIZED PARTY
VIVA LAS VEGAS WAS NOT WHAT MOST PEOPLE WERE saying when they left Sin City after All-Star weekend in February. With approximately 150,000 people packing the Strip and only about 16,000 tickets for the game, most of the jams were seen not on the court but in the streets. Hotel rooms were overbooked—largely because the festivities coincided with Chinese New Year, one of Las Vegas's most popular events—and police made twice their usual number of arrests for a weekend.
As usual the game, dominated by Kobe Bryant and the other West starters (below, right), was secondary to the entertainment. Headliners such as Christina Aguilera (below) and Mary J. Blige, as well as Las Vegas regular Wayne Newton (below, left) performed at the Thomas & Mack Center. Fans at the Elton John concert witnessed two 50-foot-high inflatable breasts. Gary Payton held a party at the club OPM and a jeweler was out front making sure guests' diamonds were real—the night before 100 people had been denied entry for the sin of zirconium.
Charles Barkley—whose 3�-lap footrace against 67-year-old referee Dick Bavetta (won by Barkley) was a spectacle in itself—summed up the weekend best, saying it was "like 100,000 vegans having their first steak."