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Welcome home, Kobe

"You Gotta Be Kidding!"©
by Mickey Charles CEO, sportsnetwork.com

First Union Center
Philadelphia's First Union Center was host to the 2002 NBA All-Star game.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -- They descended upon Philadelphia from everywhere and numbered among the visitors were the best the NBA had to offer, familiar faces from the world of music and Hollywood and a show spectacular that the king of the realm, David Stern, wants to eventually turn it into a Super Bowl extravaganza that lasts a week. What took place in the erroneously dubbed "City of Brotherly Love" this past weekend was a gala that made "Animal House" look like a church social.

Journalists with blinders, earplugs and a view so jaundiced and prejudiced that they could all have been employed by Enron and the Republican Party took up the baton of joy to proclaim the NBA All-Star weekend a rousing success. It was anything but that. The city with fans as fraudulent as you will find everywhere, that proclaim themselves to be knowledgeable, impartial and appreciative of outstanding performances, held true to the reputation that they have nationally...and they reveled in it. Philadelphia loves the renown it has achieved, the reputability of being a second-class sports town. They cloak themselves in it and parade it around for all to see...in this case, millions on national television. Why waste the opportunity, right?

Then they cap it off at the game itself by booing a stellar performance by one of their own, born, raised and where he developed the game that is so pure now, Kobe Bryant. He was the MVP, and deservedly so, but jeers rained down on him every time he touched the ball and cascaded into a flood when the trophy was awarded at game's end.

The crowd was sullen because the local hero, Allen Iverson, was reduced to a state of mere mortality during the game. He became just another explorer in the forests of seven-footers, unable to wend his way to the basket, as he does during the regular season, garnering whistles and fouls as soon as he looks toward the basket. On this night, he was Allen Iverson, guard. Nothing more, nothing less.

It was so gaudy as to be offensive, which Iverson was not. The memories of this game are best forgotten while local journalistic pundits, currying favor with their hardwood heroes, talk of history in the making. Really? Then why has Ed Snider, he who is in control of the 76ers, vowed never to seek the game again?

NBA All-Star Logo
Thereupon the city, through writers, talk show hosts and fans, went into an instant state of denial. "It wasn't us!" they crowed and protested. "It was all of those out-of-towners that the NBA brought in, the folks who took our seats. We were only 3,000 of the 20,000 whose derrieres were parked at the First Union." They are upset that Kobe shot the ball so many times without recognizing how many times it found the bottom of the net. I always thought that the object of the game was to give the ball to the hot hand. Hmmmmmmmm, not in Philadelphia, I guess, where only Iverson can shoot more than anyone else on the planet regardless of an incredibly poor success percentage.

Bryant talked the talk and then walked the walk. To condemn him for that is ridiculous. Denial does not work.

Four national anthems, crowed one journalist of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Give it a rest! Elton John did fine with Philadelphia Freedom, but I never knew that it was a national anthem of any sort. Patti LaBelle was her usual brilliant self in her rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. O Canada was destroyed by another rock/hip-hop/rap star that believes distortion is the better route to success than doing anything the way it was intended, America the Beautiful was not exactly Ray Charles.

Julius Erving, one of the classiest players to ever don a uniform, had to play to the game, the crowd and the sport, no doubt choking back the bile that rose in his throat over what he was watching. Michael Jordan was, after all, Michael Jordan even if the errant dunk that recoiled back to mid-court from the back of the rim brought smiles and appreciation for the instant where even the great can misstep.

The same crowd that taunted and disdained Kobe also ridiculed and heckled a 15-year old rapper, Lil' Bow Wow, during the slam-dunk competition the night before the game. That slam dunk contest, for what it is worth, belongs in the archives, a matter of history never to be dredged up again.

The Lakers took the Sixers to task last season and also took the title on this very court. It was then that the Los Angeles-based team celebrated in their visitor's locker room at the First Union Center to avoid facing the less than objective fans of Philadelphia. This is the very same city where a promenade and procession takes place every New Year's Day, where they tout pageantry as men in honky-tonk and tawdry outfits, with floats that are not, being loud and disorganized as a parade. In any other city the Mummers Parade would be dubbed a riot.

Michael Jordan did not show up for the media, as planned, but that was a matter of history and expectation. Iverson joining him and paying the $10,000 fine was the pretender to the throne emulating the king come out of retirement for a brief reign to breathe oxygen into the not so healthy body of the NBA.

Kobe Bryant plays to win and he does it with class and aplomb. He is loaded with talent and knows how to use it. His team is likely to take home the championship once again this year while Philadelphia watches on television. The 76ers wish they had him but they do not. Iverson might be trying to change his image somewhat but his goal is clear - talk about team but play for Allen. He will never lead this team to a championship.

Pete Rose
Pete Rose once said, "[Philadelphia] is a town that would boo a crack in the Liberty Bell."
The same city that booed Santa Claus, cheered when Dallas Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin suffered a neck injury and about whom Pete Rose said, "This is a town that would boo a crack in the Liberty Bell," outdid themselves at the NBA All-Star Game. It was a deplorable exhibition of lack of sportsmanship, knowledge of the game and appreciation for a great performance. The sad part is that it is no longer the isolated few, it is the majority. The indictment is deserving.

Now David Stern is speaking of expanding into Europe, Mexico, Asia and probably Jupiter, Saturn, Pluto and Mars. And, well he should. Michael has helped but he cannot save the NBA and will only grace us with his presence for a season or two. Attendance is down, TV ratings are down, you have to get a second mortgage to take your family to a NBA game. The pros think nothing of going into the nursery for their stars, bypassing any schooling whatsoever. The WNBA, predictably, is heading south, slowly but surely, and the new National Basketball Development League, the minor pro circuit affiliated with the NBA, is not drawing enough people to convince the vendors to hang around.

So, Stern looks to Europe, South America, Asia and elsewhere in the universe. Will that bravado convert to reality while we struggle to enjoy the game we used to love? You gotta be kidding!