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Sunday, February 9, 2003
Updated: April 15, 4:22 PM ET
Are we ready for U.S. vs The World?

By Marc Stein
ESPN.com

ATLANTA -- It's not an original idea, but it's available for claiming off the waiver wire. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman dumped the World vs. North America format for hockey's All-Star Game, after a five-year run, teeing up his mentor David Stern to import it.

Trouble is, there's still at least one pretty significant obstacle.

Turns out that the World, NBA division, doesn't really think it's ready.

Yao Ming and Shaquille O'Neal
In a U.S. vs. The World format, we'd see more of this: Yao battling Shaq, left.
Several of the NBA's international stars surveyed at All-Star Weekend conceded that, as a 1-to-12 group, they're not quite at All-Star level, even after Yugoslavia, Argentina and Spain helped relegate the United States to a humbling sixth-place finish at last summer's World Championships. Much as they expect to get such questions now, with league officials and participants (and mouthy observers) perpetually searching for means to inject the weekend with intensity and excitement, the best players from abroad are realistic about the idea.

Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks, working in tandem as always, shot it down simultaneously. As Nowitzki simply shook his head in the negative, Nash said: "There aren't enough exceptional international players yet, once you to get to the 10, 11, 12 spots. We'd be taking away All-Star spots from more deserving Americans."

San Antonio's Tony Parker agrees, and he's one of those still-emerging overseas talents who'd probably have to make the World squad as Nash's backup.

"Maybe in five years we'll have the team to do it," Parker said.

If it ever came to pass, a takeoff on the NHL's experiment would have to be tweaked for NBA means. Team World would need its Canadians in this sport, so the basketball version would take shape as a Rest of the World vs. United States matchup.

Kevin Garnett, meanwhile, suggests two more musts.

"You'd have to go (to a roster of) about 15 players," Garnett said. That would reduce the number of Yanks excluded -- or snubbed, if you must -- to nine instead of 12.

And ...

"It'd be hot," KG said, intrigued by the idea. "But we got to play it over here. There's too much stuff going on over there."

Of course, 15-man rosters would make it even tougher for the World to field a representative team. To which Garnett quickly added: "I don't think the world's that deep." Tim Duncan said basically the same thing -- "I don't know if they're deep enough yet" -- to unintentionally back the World's case that it clearly needs Duncan (born in the U.S. Virgin Islands, remember) more than the Yanks do.

World beaters?
ESPN.com's Marc Stein offers his hypothetical All-Star roster for a Rest of the World team, based on this season's performance (NBA team and native country are listed in parentheses):

Starters
F Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas/Germany)
F Peja Stojakovic (Sacramento/Yugoslavia)
C Yao Ming (Houston/China)
G Toni Kukoc (Milwaukee/Croatia)
G Steve Nash (Dallas/Canada)

Reserves
F Pau Gasol (Memphis/Spain)
F Andrei Kirilenko (Utah/Russia)
F Vladimir Radmanovic (Seattle/Yugoslavia)
C Zydrunas Ilgauskas (Cleveland/Lithuania)
C Vlade Divac (Sacramento/Yugoslavia)
G Tony Parker (San Antonio/France)
G Hedo Turkoglu (Sacramento/Turkey)

NOTE: Although the NBA lists Tim Duncan (U.S. Virgin Islands) as a foreign-born player, he represents the United States in international competition.

Said Seattle's dissenting Gary Payton: "I think it would take away from the game to me. The 24 guys that have played well during the first half of the season should be put on the team." Added Boston's Antoine Walker: "We all play in the same league. I just don't think it works."

Sacramento coach Rick Adelman, serving as the West's coach here, came up with maybe the best argument against the concept. He actually sees such a game as divisive and too competitive, given the short turnaround time before players return to their teams. And Adelman is certainly fit to speculate, standing alongside Dallas' Don Nelson as the coaches who've benefited most from international talent.

"I wouldn't want to see that," Adelman said. "This is the time for the best players to showcase their skills and play with each other without the constant scrutiny and winning-at-all-costs mentality. It's an All-Star Game, and these guys are all All-Stars.

"If you did that (Rest of the World vs. United States), you'd have to change it a little bit. You'd have to give (players) four or five days off. I think that game would be a lot more serious. Although I think this (current format) is very competitive, you're not going to go home and think about it if you lose.

"We're the NBA. (Foreign players are) part of the NBA. Why would we want to separate? I just don't think that's the way to do it. I've seen our three guys (Vlade Divac, Peja Stojakovic and Hedo Turkoglu) integrate with our team and they're just like anybody else. They're so close with everyone on the team.

"Plus they've proven they can play. These guys are All-Stars now. They're playing with the American players and they're just as good. If you separate that, you separate them again. It happens enough in the summer when you have to play things like the World Championships."

The NHL adopted the North America vs. World plan in 1998, to coincide with the first wave of NHL participation in the Olympics. The NBA's worldly types take sufficient pride in the fact that Sunday's All-Star Game will feature five imports -- nearly 25 percent of the talent on show.

"If somebody would have told you that 10 years ago, nobody would have believed that we could have five All-Stars," said Cleveland center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, a first-time selection for the East All-Stars. "We'd probably end up losing if we played the Americans, because they still have the best players ... but we wouldn't be bad, either."

"I liked it when the NHL was doing it," said Utah's Andrei Kirilenko, another blossoming Euro who would have to be rushed into All-Star status to fill out a World squad. "These guys here this weekend are the real All-Stars, but in my opinion this also isn't the perfect system. In the West, you have four or five great power forwards and four or five great point guards. In the East, you have four or five great (shooting guards and small forwards). So there's no perfect system."

Which is why this will come up next February, too.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, send Stein a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.