Whether Kevin Johnson's shot was going in, or whether it wasn't going in, the Jazz's Karl Malone knew this after Sunday's 41st All-Star Game: He wished he'd left it alone.
"I don't know what I was thinking," said the Jazz All-Star. "When the shot was taken, it looked good, but it was my reaction to jump up and try to rebound it. It was the last second, the last shot, and it was just my reactions. I guess it was a pretty crazy thing to do."Johnson's shot, a three-point try, came with less than three seconds remaining in a two-point game. Johnson and Malone's West squad trailed the East All-Stars by 116-114, and this was their best shot to turn that score around.
"All you want in that situation is a decent shot, and then you live with it," said the West's Magic Johnson, who added, "From my point of view, it looked like it was going in. It looked perfect. Karl just kinda jumped."
Stationed just in front of the basket, Malone leaped above the rim and knocked the ball from its course as it was approaching the hoop.
Magic Johnson described the scene as Kevin Johnson released his shot and Malone went airborne: "It was like, `Yeah, yeah, yeah, OK . . . What . . . is . . . he . . . doing?"'
The good news for Malone was that it was an All-Star Game, where winning isn't the only thing.
After the goaltending call that effectively ended the game, Kevin Johnson ran to Malone and kicked him from behind. He smiled, but he still kicked him.
"Should have kicked him twice," said Johnson later, in the locker room.
It was Johnson's personal contention that the ball was headed for the bottom of the net, and then the Hall of Fame.
"It was the game," he said. "I could have been a hero."
"I don't think he realized he was right in front of the basket," the Phoenix guard continued. "He must have thought it was short. He blew it." Others also thought the shot may have been short. Including John Stockton, Malone's Jazz teammate.
"I thought it was short and Karl tried to make a nice tip on it," said Stockton, who added, smiling, "but that doesn't mean I said that to him."
Stockton said his teammate was not spared verbal commentary as the West team filed to its locker room.
"He might have gotten a few shots here and there," he said.
Replays of Johnson's shot, and Malone's tip, were inconclusive about whether the ball was going to go in. TV commentator Rick Barry, in particular, argued that the shot would not have been good.
"In or out, it's still the shot you take to try and win the game," said Magic Johnson.
Phoenix forward Tom Chambers, who was sitting on the West bench at the game's finish, took the same tack as Stockton - he sided with his teammate, in his case Kevin Johnson.
"It was in. Yeah, it was in," said Chambers. "It looked good as gold to me."
"I just wanted to run and hide after I did it," said Malone in the interview room. After which he did run and hide. He didn't bother to return to the locker room but instead went directly from the interview room to his hotel.
It was an exit in sharp contrast to the last time Malone was in an All-Star Game, two years ago. On that occasion, in Houston, he scored 28 points in 26 minutes and had nine rebounds to fuel the West's 143-134 win. For his performance he was named the game's Most Valuable Player.
"I think Karl was in disbelief of what he did," said West center David Robinson. "It was really a weird way to end a game."
Malone scored 16 points in 31 minutes, with 11 rebounds and four assists. His rebounds were team-high, his points tied for team-high and his assists were second best on the team.
Ironically, if Johnson's shot had gone in, Malone would have demanded MVP consideration. The East's Charles Barkley, with 17 points and 22 rebounds, got the award.
Stockton played 12 minutes and had four points, one rebound and two assists.
"I enjoyed the weekend," said Stockton. "We knew it wouldn't be a long stint (of playing time) because of all the guards (the West had seven guards on its 12-man roster). The coaches did a nice job of getting people their minutes."