The All-Star starters will be announced today and it is expected Kobe Bryant will be included and Shaquille O'Neal, for only the second time since 1993, will not.
The most recent balloting showed Bryant as the league's leading vote-getter. The birth of his daughter Sunday, rather than at or after the Feb. 2 due date, will allow Bryant to play. The game is Feb. 9 in Atlanta.
O'Neal, selected as a starter but unable to play because of injury twice in the last four years, by all appearances will finish second to Houston's Yao Ming among Western Conference centers.
Though hounded for more than a week by racism charges related to Yao, O'Neal was gracious regarding his apparent All-Star defeat long before his controversial remarks were publicized. On Wednesday night, O'Neal said, "It'd be nice," if conference coaches named him to play in the game behind Yao. The reserves will be announced next week.
If the honor once meant something to him, O'Neal has seemed willing to let it go, and Phil Jackson said he suspects O'Neal is sincere.
"I don't think it bothers him in the least," Jackson said. "He understands fully the NBA has put out four forms of [ballots in] Mandarin, Cantonese, Pekingese and also Hong Kong-ese to allow the Chinese voters to vote on the All-Star ballot, which probably skews it a little bit."
For clarity purposes, Mandarin and Cantonese are languages. Pekingese and Hong Kong-ese are not. In fact, Peking is now called Beijing, and most people in Hong Kong speak Mandarin or Cantonese.
"I think players know it is a popularity contest," he said. "Everybody loves a new face. Yao Ming has great presence. He looks like a sweet guy and he's made a big impression. I think it's good for the game. As long as it's a popularity contest, it doesn't reflect on who the best player is."
Bryant, who no longer does the slam dunk contest on All-Star weekend but once said he wouldn't mind trying the three-point contest, will not compete in that either.
The defending champion is invited, as are five others who are identified through a statistical formula.