ATLANTA — Mike and Isiah, together again.
As it was in Michael Jordan's first All-Star game in Indianapolis in 1985, so it is again, he and Isiah Thomas against the West, even if there were some hard feelings in the intervening 18 years.
In that first game, Jordan showed up, clad head to toe in his own Nike line of gear, in the days before players had their own lines of gear. There was muttering among the veterans and reports afterward of a plot led by Thomas to freeze Jordan out during the game.
There may have been more muttering than actual plotting and Thomas always denied the fix had been in, but Jordan believed it and, with the ultra-physical Chicago-Detroit rivalry just beginning, he made it known he had no use for Isiah. Thomas reportedly lost the spot he deserved on the original Dream Team in 1992 because of Jordan's enmity.
But that was then and this is now. Thomas is 42 and the East coach. Jordan is 39 and in his All-Star farewell.
"I think it's ironic," Jordan said Saturday. "I think in our first experience, unbeknownst to me, [there] was a wedge or ill feelings between the two of us.... I understood or I heard through the press that it was some kind of animosity there and I never knew it until then.
"From that point on, we were kind of off the same level....
"I think over the years, we have competed in competitive environments [where] there wasn't much love, a lot of hate.... Since then, we have had dialogue, conversations and, I think, the beginning of a friendship has been established....
"Will we ever be best friends? I can't honestly say that. I imagine he would say the same. But I think it will be a friendship to a point where we can be in the same company and have dialogue about certain things. And it is ironic that in my last All-Star game, we have come complete circle."
Jordan apparently means he would say hello to Thomas if they passed on the street, although it's probably too late to get Isiah on that Dream Team.
All is love now. Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson, voted to the team ahead of Jordan, who was named as a reserve by the coaches, offered Mike their starting spots. Paul Pierce said if he had been a starter, he'd have done the same thing.
Said Jamal Mashburn of Jordan: "He hit us with 45 a couple of weeks ago when he was going to be 40 years old. That's tough for some players who are 20 years old. He's amazing. He's a gift from God. Everyone should salute him because he's the NBA."
Of course, as a matchup, this game leaves a little to be desired, with the West again fielding a huge squad (7-foot-5 Yao Ming, 7-1 Shaquille O'Neal, 6-11 Tim Duncan, 7-0 Kevin Garnett, 7-foot Dirk Nowitzki) while the East starts 6-8 Ben Wallace at center.
"We really don't have good matchups because all the centers and the forwards are on the West and all the guards are on the East," Pierce said.
"I know everyone would have loved to see Shaq and Yao Ming go against each other, but they're on the same team now."
Of course, the West doesn't win all these lopsided-looking games. Two years ago in Washington's MCI Center, the East came back from 19 points down in the fourth quarter to win 111-110, with a lineup of four guards plus Dikembe Mutombo.
As in Jordan's oft-interrupted-and-resumed career until now, it isn't over till it's over.
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*--* The All-Sta r game perform ances of Michael Jordan, who will be playing in his final NBA All-Sta r game today: Year Site FG-FGA FT-FTA Reb Ast Pts 1985 Indianapolis 2-9 3-4 6 2 7 1986 Dallas Did not play -- injured 1987 Seattle 5-12 1-2 0 4 11 1988 Chicago 17-23 6-6 8 3 40 1989 Houston 13-23 2-4 2 3 28 1990 Miami 8-17 0-0 5 2 17 1991 Charlotte 10-25 6-7 5 5 26 1992 Orlando 9-17 0-0 1 5 18 1993 Salt Lake 10-24 9-13 4 5 30 1996 San Antonio 8-11 4-4 4 1 20 1997 Cleveland 5-14 4-7 11 11 14 1998 New York 10-18 2-3 6 8 23 2002 Philadelphia 4-13 0-0 4 3 8 Totals 101-206 37-50 56 52 242