If the NBA keeps forcing Charles Barkley to play in the All-Star Game, there may come a time when his opponents would just as soon the league leave him alone.
Barkley scored 17 points and grabbed 22 rebounds to lead the East to a 116-114 victory over the West in Saturday's All-Star Game.This was after the Philadelphia 76er made noises like he would rather be at home resting the stress fracture of his left foot - and after the NBA advised him Charlotte is nice in February and he ought to make the trip.
"My foot hurts and it's going to hurt," Barkley said. "And I'm going to come back from my injury."
Barkley wanted to miss the 1990 All-Star Game in Miami due to another injury. But the league urged him to attend and he complied, becoming one of seven players to score in double figures.
This time, he had 11 rebounds in each half to grab the most rebounds of any All-Star since Wilt Chamberlain had 22 in 1967, but five short of Bob Pettit's 1962 record. It was enough to earn Barkley the most valuable player award, right in the backyard of favorite son Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls.
"Charles won the MVP and I'm happy for him," Jordan said. "We deserved to win the game. Charles is certainly an all-around player. He's what I call a utility man."
Barkley might not have won the award - indeed, the East might not have won at all - except for a bizarre ending to a close game.
There were 20 lead changes and 17 ties, the last change giving the East the lead after an 8-0 run. Patrick Ewing scored four of the points in that spurt as the East moved in front 103-100 lead with 7:24 left.
But in the last three minutes of the game, the West thrice was within a basket of the East, the last time after Chris Mullin's two free throws with 95 seconds left. It would be the last time the West would score, but not for lack of trying.
With 36 seconds remaining and a chance to tie the score, David Robinson threw a cross-court pass in the direction of Kevin Johnson. The pass went left, Johnson went right.
Was it a bad break for the West?
"No, no, no," Robinson argued. "I started throwing it toward Kevin and the guy hit my arm and it started going the other way."
"And you still didn't get a call!" Johnson yelled, hoping Robinson would go into a tirade about the officiating.
Robinson came right back to force a jump ball, then won the tip.
After a timeout, the West worked the ball around to Johnson, whose 3-point attempt was touched by Karl Malone, who was called for offensive interference. That gave the ball to the East with 2.9 seconds left and Jordan ran out the clock.
"It was game. Could have been a hero," Johnson said of the shot that almost was. "It was money, no doubt, no doubt."
Ewing had 18 points and 10 rebounds for the East, which increased its lead in the series to 27-14. Jordan scored 26 points, but committed 10 turnovers.
Robinson, Malone and Magic Johnson led the West with 16 points each, and Malone had 11 rebounds. But Kevin Johnson was still thinking about the game-winning shot that wasn't.