The Seattle SuperSonics and Storm are taking over the 2003 All-Star Weekend, to be held Friday through Sunday in Atlanta. The action starts off Friday night, when Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird
will play for “Team Smith” in the All-Star Celebrity Game. On All-Star Saturday night, the Sonics will take center stage. Gary Payton
leads things off in the inaugural 989 Skills Competition. Later on, Brent Barry
will attempt to outshoot the league in the 1-800-CALL-ATT Shootout and Desmond Mason
will try to bring back the trophy he won during his rookie season in the Sprite Rising Stars Slam Dunk. On Sunday, Payton will participate in the weekend’s main event, playing in his ninth straight All-Star game.
This Saturday in Atlanta, Sonics guard Barry has the opportunity to become the first player in NBA history to win both the Slam Dunk contest (he won it as a rookie in 1996 while with the Los Angeles Clippers) and the 1-800 CALL ATT Shootout, which he'll compete in for the first time this season.
Yet that's not what Barry's really looking forward to this weekend. "My brother Jon lives down there," says Barry of the Atlanta area, "and we're looking forward to playing some golf first and foremost." Only after mentioning his "tentative" tee time does Barry bring up the official reason for his trip - shooting threes.
Barry will be competing against a strong field headlined by the event's defending champion, Sacramento Kings forward Predrag Stojakovic. "He's a tremendous three-point shooter," says Barry of Stojakovic, who is generally considered the favorite. Amongst the rest of the competition, Barry tabs a pair of Eastern Conference power forwards to keep an eye on. "Probably, the surprise pick for me would be Pat Garrity," he says. "He's a four man who can stroke the three a bit." As for Boston Celtics forward Antoine Walker, Barry jokes, "He shoots 25 threes in a half, so it will be no big deal for him." Also in the competition are New Orleans Hornets guard David Wesley and Memphis Grizzlies guard Wesley Person.
As usual, Barry remains low-key in the days before the event, noting that he's just looking to have fun and is honored to be a part of All-Star Saturday night. Barry also downplays the notion that competing in the Shootout after previously being Slam Dunk Champion demonstrates his unique offensive talents. "I think these are skill competitions," he explains, "set up for the fans to enjoy the skills of what I think are some of the greatest athletes in the world."
Barry does admit to harboring one ambition for this weekend. "Maybe we can bring back both trophies," he offers. The other trophy Barry refers to goes to the champion of the Sprite Rising Stars Slam Dunk, which Sonics swingman Mason will be competing in for the third straight season. During his rookie season, Mason became the first Sonics player to win the competition. Last year, rules changes hurt Mason, and he was unable to advance beyond the first round of the competition.
This year, things should be different. Another year has brought a new set of rules, and teammate participation is no longer involved, meaning the dunk Mason used as a springboard to victory in 2001 - jumping over the back of teammate Rashard Lewis - and reprised last year with Earl Watson is now impossible. What Mason will use instead has not yet been determined, he says. "Both times I've been in dunk contests, I just went out and performed, had a good time. I don't practice. I don't try to come up with a routine."
Desmond Mason won the Slam Dunk contest with dunks like this in 2001
Mason is not the only Slam Dunk competitor who has experience winning the contest, as Golden State Warriors guard Jason Richardson
will look to defend his title. "Richardson's won it before, I've won it before, so a lot of people know what we can do," comments Mason. Also competing are Phoenix Suns rookie forward Amare Stoudemire
, whom Mason describes as "very athletic" and Richard Jefferson
of the New Jersey Nets, Mason's sleeper in the competition. Overall, "It's going to be a tough dunk contest," Mason concludes. He also strongly disagrees with critics who think the Slam Dunk contest has lost its luster, saying, "I think it's not fair to say that."
In fitting with the new name of "Rising Stars" Slam Dunk, the NBA has not invited any players with more experience than Mason, in his third season, to this year's contest. If that form holds, this will be Mason's last chance to compete. He plans to go out with a bang. "I will compete," he says. "I'm looking to come out of there with a win."
In addition to Mason and Barry, the Sonics will have a third player competing on All-Star Saturday night, Payton. Payton will square off against three other point guards - New Jersey's Jason Kidd, Phoenix's Stephon Marbury, and San Antonio's Tony Parker - in the inaugural 989 Sports Skills Competition, which leads off the evening's festivities. The players will pass, dribble and shoot their way through a timed obstacle course. As usual, Payton will also be participating in Sunday's main event, the All-Star game itself. It is his ninth straight All-Star appearance.
In addition to the three All-Star Saturday participants, the Sonics and Storm organization will also be represented by Storm guard Bird in Friday night's All-Star Celebrity Game. Bird is part of "Team Smith", which will be coached by TNT analyst Kenny Smith against a team led by TNT's Charles Barkley.
All-Star Weekend Schedule
Friday, Feb. 7
All-Star Celebrity Game featuring Sue Bird - 5 p.m. Pacific
Saturday, Feb. 8
got milk? Rookie Challenge - 1 p.m. Pacific
989 Sports Skills Challenge featuring Gary Payton - 5 p.m.
Jeep All-Star Hoop-It-Up
1-800-CALL-ATT Shootout featuring Brent Barry
Sprite Rising Stars Slam Dunk featuring Desmond Mason
Sunday, Feb. 9
All-Star Game featuring Gary Payton - 5 p.m. Pacific
All events televised on TNT