DENVER -- The last time George Karl coached the All-Star Game, in New York in 1998, his West team was led by a 19-year-old Kobe Bryant. Karl remembers the Lakers' guard, who, at the time was the youngest player in All-Star history, waving off Utah's Karl Malone during a pick-and-roll so Bryant could take somebody one-on-one.
Malone, ticked off by Bryant's decision, approached Karl on the sideline and told him to "get me the hell out of this game." When asked about the incident a few weeks later, Malone essentially said that when players start waving him off a pick-and-roll, it's time for him to stop playing in the games. After the incident with Bryant, however, Malone even threatened to stop attending All-Star Games.
On Wednesday, Karl revealed yet another interesting tidbit from that All-Star Game: "I was accused of taking Kobe out of the game because Michael Jordan wanted to win MVP," the Nuggets' coach said.
Karl did not say who made the accusations, but it's safe to surmise that the teenager who was eager to prove his merit against Jordan was the one who lacked perspective.
"We were down 25 points," Karl recalled. "I was just rotating players in and giving guys minutes that they deserved. That the team losing by 25 had a player with a chance to win MVP is [absurd]."
The East won that game 135-114, and Jordan did in fact win the MVP after scoring 23 points. Bryant led the West with 18.
Now, by nature I am a conspiracy theorist, and so that part of me wants to say that Karl is bringing this up now to get some digs in at Kobe for when the two teams ultimately meet in the postseason. But I also think that Karl has reached an age where he doesn't worry about being politically correct anymore.
Beyond that, who didn't know that the young Kobe Bryant was a brash, obnoxious kid who cared only about advancing his own cause? Even Bryant would likely admit that his desire as a 19-year-old to out-MVP Jordan was a tad ridiculous.
Karl will get the opportunity to coach Kobe and the West team this year -- his fourth All-Star Game -- because, even though the Lakers have the best record in the conference, Phil Jackson coached the team last year and became ineligible.
As always, Karl has his own thoughts on the game.
"I'm a believer that if they really went after the game, it would be a hell of a game," he said. "I mean, if the All-Star Game was played with a playoff intensity, it would be a very interesting basketball game. But it has become a celebration. And that's OK. I have no complaints with it being a celebration. It's an entertaining game of dunks and lobs and athletic moves."
Karl's point is well taken. The affair usually lacks the intensity of any regular-season game and is rarely nothing more than players' running up and down the court waiting for an occasional spectacular dunk and a high-five with some celebrity sitting courtside.
But there was the game in Washington in 2001, when Allen Iverson led the East back from a 21-point deficit for a 111-110 victory, and the double-overtime game in Atlanta two years later, Jordan's final All-Star Game, which the West won 155-145. And in Houston in 2006, the East won 122-120 in a game that actually had defense because so many Pistons players were on the roster.
So there has been the occasional interesting game. But how much of it does a coach actually control?
"I think as it gets later in the game and it's close, you can make some coaching moves and some strategy: call a timeout, run one or two plays, that type of thing," said Karl, who is 0-3 as All-Star coach. "Put in the strategy of pick-and-rolls and double teams and rotations and things like that."
Such strategy may be easier for Karl now that his own point guard, Chauncey Billups, has been chosen to replace the injured Chris Paul on the West roster. In truth, given what Billups has helped the Nuggets achieve, he probably should have been placed on the team from the start. He is averaging a career-high 19.2 points, 6.1 assists and, more important, has helped the Nuggets win even without Carmelo Anthony, who's missed 11 of the past 17 games because of various injuries.
"Chauncey should have been on the All-Star team from Day One," Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said. "He is such a glue guy for them. And to be able to lose the leading scorer in the league and go 7-3 [before the Nuggets lost to the Suns without Anthony on Wednesday], that means everybody is playing together great and that starts with him."