Fearing an end to the Michael Jordan era, the NBA pulled out all stops during All-Star Weekend to promote its future.

Before NBC announcers Bob Costas, Bill Walton and Isiah Thomas force fed a national television audience its passing of the torch shtick concerning Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, the NBA had handed out nearly 2,000 copies of a new promotional video entitled "NBA 2000: Stars For the New Millennium" to media in attendance.The 50-minute tape profiled several young stars including the 19-year-old Bryant.

"I don't think it's necessarily too early to start promoting Kobe Bryant. I think he's terrific and seems to be a good kid," Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller said about the NBA's youthful marketing approach. "Am I concerned about the direction? In many respects, I am. To counter that you see the Grant Hills and Kobe Bryants emerge as true stars in the league and I'm pleased to see that."

A youth movement is sweeping the NBA. As evidence, check out the rosters for this year's All-Star Game. Of the 24 participants, four were 21 and younger, including Western Conference starters Bryant and Kevin Garnett of Minnesota. The other young guns were Boston's Antoine Walker and Tim Duncan of San Antonio.

"A year or two ago, other than Hill it seemed like there was a lot more bad guys than good guys," Miller said. "And so I'm feeling that is getting balanced out a little bit. I have a little more optimism toward the league's future because of that than I did before."

The future, however, has yet to arrive.

"I think right now we as younger guys are trying to be established first and get our feet wet," Garnett said. "We have a lot of veterans in the (NBA) and I think when they're all out of the league then that's where we pick up."

The NBA seemed bound and determined, though, to use the NBA All-Star Game as a changing of the guard. And veterans like Indiana's Reggie Miller took exception.

"I kind of looked over at M.J. and he had this look in his eye like `you're right, they are trying to plug this as Kobe going after Michael,' " Miller said. "We took that personal. You know, Michael really helped create the league where it's at and we took that personal."

Jordan went on to earn Most Valuable Player honors with 23 points as the East outdueled the West, 135-114 a week ago at Madison Square Garden.

It may have been the Bulls star's last hurrah, however, since he is considering retirement at season's end.

"If Michael (leaves) it will be real interesting to see who seizes that throne or that position of importance. I hope it's a guy with the class and integrity and the character that Michael has given that ambassadorship for so many years," Sonics coach George Karl said. "You had Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Julius Erving and before that a lot of classy situations. I think the league will produce another one, whoever that may be."

At the present time, the heir apparent wears Laker purple and gold.

"Only hard work is holding me back," said Bryant, the league's youngest-ever all-star. "I want success and I'm hungry for success."

He made a believer out of Jordan after scoring a team-high 18 points in the NBA All-Star Game. The MVP said he liked the youngster's approach. Others do as well.

"Everybody was saying that maybe he should have gone to college. The Lakers took him and now he's one of the best players in the league," said Hall of Famer Willis Reed. "When they come in like Kobe Bryant and are great role models, it's great for our league."

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

All-Stars: The Next Generation

This year's NBA All-Star Game saw two of the league's rising stars (Minnesota's Kevin Garnett and L.A. Lakers' Kobe Bryant) start in the midseason classic while two more young guns (San Antonio rookie Tim Duncan and Boston's Antoine Walker) got first-time All-Star nods. Is this the dawn of a new era?

Regular season stats

... AVG 3-Pnt.

Player G MIN FGM-FGA PCT FGM-FGA FTM-FTA PCT PTS AVG HG

Duncan 49 37.8 376-678 .555 0-6 147-247 .595 899 18.3 34

Garnett 47 38.9 341-673 .507 3-8 145-190 .763 830 17.7 29

Bryant 44 26.7 256-568 .451 48-131 219-281 .779 779 17.7 33

Walker 48 40.1 408-1010 .404 55-189 177-272 .651104821.8 49