Then those Things ran about
With big bumps, jumps and kicks
And with hops and big thumps
And all kinds of bad tricks.
-- The Cat in the Hat, by Dr. Seuss
Just because you enjoy having guests doesn't mean you have to invite everyone. Every organization has its Things. But why is it that NBA players always seem to perform more than their share of bad tricks? The ten starters for this year's All-Star game are no different.
Questionable character isn't the only trait the players have in common, either. They all have money, too -- more than anyone else. Coincidentally, nine of the NBA's ten highest-paid players are All-Star starters, according to Forbes.
But are they the best? The numbers say only in a narrow, flashy sort of way. Four of the top scorers, for instance, were big vote-getters, whereas only two of the top ten players in assists and field-goal percentages are represented -- and none rank in the top fifty in free-throw percentages.
Below, an alphabetical accounting of money, performance and character of your NBA All-Stars. Earnings per minute are approximate and based on the number of minutes each star plays per game in an 82-game season:
Estimated 2004 earnings: $26 million
Earnings per minute played: $7,550
Sponsors: Ditched Adidas for Nike. Dumped by McDonald's and Nutella.
Stats: Not terrible. Out of four marquee categories -- field goal percentage, rebounding, assists and points-per-game -- Bryant is exceeding his career averages in three of them. The exception: his shooting percentage is down substantially, to .406 from a lifetime average of .451.
Embarrassing fact: Gosh, where to begin? Is it more shameful that Kobe had his way with a hotel receptionist while in Colorado for a medical appointment, that he got busted and sued for it, that he lied about it, that he fingered then-teammate Shaq (see below) for being just as bad, or that he bought his wife a $4 million ring to make up for it? You make the call. There's no wrong answer.
Estimated 2004 earnings: $20 million
Earnings per minute played: $7,000
Sponsors: Nike and Gatorade. Some Nike dough pays off Puma, the company he ditched.
Stats: A mixed bag. Carter is slightly beating his career averages in field-goal percentage (.447 versus .441) and assists per game (4.2 versus 3.9). But average points per game (21 versus 23.5) and rebounds (4.8 versus 5.2) are down.
Embarrassing fact: If it seemed at times like Carter wasn't giving his all, there's a reason: He wasn't. "In years past, no," he told an interviewer when asked if he tried hard all the time.
Estimated 2004 earnings: $14.5 million
Earnings per minute played: $5,070
Sponsors: Adidas and Sprite.
Stats: He's a nice guy. A real talent. A team player. And he's having an off year. Compared with his career averages, Duncan is down in all headline categories. Slightly down, but down.
Embarrassing fact: Has led such an exemplary (read, "dull") life that he's never done anything bad (that is, interesting).
Estimated 2004 earnings: $30 million
Earnings per minute played: $9,333
Sponsors: Ditched Nike to sign a lifetime deal with Adidas.
Stats: More than any of the other All-Star starters, Garnett is actually having an All-Star year. He has jacked up his 2004-05 stats over career averages in every relevant category: field-goal percentage (.498 versus .489), rebounds per game (14.2 versus 11), assists per game (6 versus 4.5) and points per game (22.4 versus 20.2)
Embarrassing fact: Hazing or a race-based conflict? Who knows? Garnett refuses to discuss the shadowy high school incident that left a white student with a broken ankle and Garnett and four other black classmates charged with lynching. Garnett was let off the hook.
Estimated 2004 earnings: $26 million
Earnings per minute played: $9,200
Stats: The china-boned Hill is having a frankly terrible year compared with past performances. While his field-goal percentage is up very slightly over his career average, his 2004-05 rebounding (4.6 per game versus 7.5), assists (3.7 versus 5.9) and total points per game (18.6 versus 20.8) are all down dramatically.
Embarrassing fact: Hill's blown-glass left ankle. First shattered in 2000 when he played for the Pistons, the bum hinge caused Hill to miss 86 percent of games in the next four years.
Estimated 2004 earnings: $20 million
Earnings per minute played: $5,800
Sponsor: Iverson, who has way too much street cred for most advertisers, enjoys a lifetime contract with Reebok.
Stats: Half and half for The Answer. Field goal percentage and number of rebounds per game are both lower than his career averages. Still, his assists and points per game are up.
Embarrassing fact: It's less a matter of finding painful incidents from Iverson's checkered past than it is narrowing down the list. He was arrested in 2002 after a domestic dispute in which he allegedly flashed a gun (charges dismissed). The same year, he defended his lousy attendance at practices by saying that he really shouldn't have to be there. "We're sitting here, and I'm supposed to be the franchise player, and we're talking about practice," he complained.
Estimated 2004 earnings: $21 million
Earnings per minute played: $6,170
Sponsors: Coke and Nike -- which James signed a $90 million deal with in high school.
Stats: Along with Garnett, one of only two All-Star starters who is having a better-than-career year. (Caveat: It's only his second year.) James is shooting more accurately (.495 versus .445), rebounding better (7.2 versus 6.1 per game), dishing more efficiently (7.6 assists per game versus 6.5) and scoring more (25.3 points per game versus 22.5) than last year.
Embarrassing fact: For his eighteenth birthday, James received as a present from his mother an H2 "Hummer" outfitted with three TVs and video-game hookups. Its suspicions raised by a $50,000-plus gift to a high school student from a mother who'd been destitute her entire life, the Ohio High School Athletic Association questioned James's amateur status. He was cleared after Gloria James, who'd previously lived with LeBron in condemned buildings, produced documents showing she'd taken out a bank loan for the car.
Estimated 2004 earnings: $19 million
Earnings per minute played: $5,480
Sponsor: Lifetime deal with Adidas.
Stats: Like most All-Star starters, T-Mac is having a mediocre year, for him. His assists per game and points per game are both up (5.7 versus 4.3 for the former; 25.8 versus 21.8 for the latter). But his shooting percentage is down (.423 versus .444) and his rebounding is merely the same (6.3).
Embarrassing fact: A former employee sued McGrady because the star's Rottweiler allegedly bit the man's nose off. "It's a vicious dog," McGrady acknowledged, "but I didn't think he had it in him." Bonus fact: À la Carter and Iverson, McGrady has admitted that at times last season, he might not have actually worked very hard for his paycheck.
Estimated 2004 earnings: $16 million
Earnings per minute played: $6,136
Sponsor: Hijacked the McDonald's gravy train from Kobe.
Stats: So-so. While the center is scoring more points per game than in previous years (18.3 versus 16.1) and shooting slightly better (.531 versus .516), his assists are way off -- .8 per game this year versus 1.4 per game in earlier seasons. His rebounding remains at about 8.6 per game.
Embarrassing fact: Internet voting + population of China = Slightly above average Chinese player receiving more All-Star votes, by far, than any other player.
Estimated 2004 earnings: $32 million
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Earnings per minute played: $11,120
Sponsors: Starter, Nestle, Radio Shack.
Stats: Shaq is having an unremarkable year. His field-goal percentage (i.e., how successfully he dunks) is up to a league-leading .603, versus a career average of .578. But he is rebounding less often (10.7 versus 12) and scoring fewer points (23.2 versus 26.9 per game) than in years prior.
Embarrassing fact: Kobe claims Shaq may have paid more than seven figures to women to ensure silence after he had sex with them.