Without question, the National Basketball Association boasts some of the world's most talented and exciting athletes. But even though many of them displayed their incredible talents in last Sunday's NBA All-Star game, the contest was missing one important ingredient -- defense. Making baskets often seemed too easy, the offenses too run-and-gun. The final score, while not as high as in some years, was still an inflated 140-129 in favor of the West. The next day one paper ran the headline ``Star bores'' to describe what 43,146 spectators, the largest crowd in league history, had witnessed at Indianapolis's Hoosier Dome.
Defense is not really a lost art in the NBA. It's just poorly refined in these glorified exhibition games, where players never really have an opportunity to coordinate their defensive efforts. Consequently, players like Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson seem to flow to basket. The fact that no one particularly wants to risk life or limb drawing a charging foul may aid their cause.
The player who made the most of this latest showcase, however, was 7 ft. 4 in. Ralph Sampson, the MVP with 24 points and 10 rebounds. Sampson demonstrated that he is the sport's most versatile seven-footer with his combination of inside power and outside finesse. Rivals cringe to think of the offensive devastation he might wreak if the Houston Rockets ever acquire an assist man of Johnson's caliber.
Taken as a group, the players who participated in the All-Star game are perhaps the richest in sport. They also chose to be among the most humanitarian, putting their paychecks toward relief efforts.
The idea grew out of Alex English's desire to help the famine-stricken people of Ethiopia. His fellow all-stars agreed to donate their game fees ($2,500 for winning team members, $1,500 for the losers) to the Interaction Ethiopian Fund, which coordinates the efforts of 23 volunteer organizations.
At last year's Winter Olympics, European ski aficionados were shocked to their senses by what two Americans, Debbie Armstrong and Bill Johnson, accomplished. The theme was repeated at the recent World Alpine Championships in Bormio, Italy, where Uncle Sam trotted out three more surprise medalists, Diann Roffe, Eva Twardokens, and Doug Lewis. In recent years, the skiing community has come to expect big things from certain American stars, namely Tamara McKinney, Christin Cooper, and the Mahre twins, Phil and Steve. But when these lesser-knowns emerge from a snow bank, people tend to look a little puzzled.
Not long before she won her gold medal in the Olympic giant slalom, Armstrong was still skiing on the US junior varsity, or ``B'' team. The brash Johnson, meanwhile, wasn't really considered in the same league with the Swiss and Austrian downhillers prior to winning his specialty at Sarajevo.
Johnson finished 14th in Bormio, but Lewis came seemingly from nowhere to take third in the downhill. And in the Americans' best showing of the championships, B teamers Roffe and Twardokens took first and third, while Armstrong just missed winning a medal. McKinney, the only one of the aforementioned superstars still competing this year, earned the only other US medal, a bronze medal in a combined category. Credit her with an assist in the giant slalom, though, since she radioed valuable course information to her teammates after she missed a gate on the first run.
Perhaps one reason virtual unknowns sometimes emerge at the big events is that so little is expected of them. They have nothing to lose in going for it, and consequently can achieve the proper relaxation so vital in attacking a course. Then, too, the finest of lines separates many ski racers, which means that improving even a second can make a sizeable difference in where one finishes.
Some teams spend hours and hours practicing free throws. The value of such practice is usually clear in games, but Columbia University's team didn't find that the case against Delaware. In what may be some sort of first, Columbia went the entire game without a foul shot. Delaware committed six fouls, but none of the shooting variety, as Columbia lost 65-62 on its home court. Relying on a packed-in zone defense, Delaware basically let Columbia fire away from outside. After just one season, college football has rejected the rule that brings the ball out to the 30-yard line when a kickoff goes through the end zone on the fly. The rule's intent was not to discourage superfooted kickers, but to generate more runbacks. A better solution would be to move the kicking team back from the 40- to the 35-yard line, as the pros have done.