If Dunk-Free Saturday had opened on Broadway, the drama critics would have been breaking out their sledgehammers.
The NBA's annual All-Star eve gimmickfest went over like a lead balloon Saturday night, playing to a sellout crowd so non-transfixed that thousands - despite paying $100 per ticket - left early.
"They should have had the slam-dunk contest," said Spike Lee, an avid Knicks fan and courtside regular at Madison Square Garden.
Instead, the crowd sat silently through the debut of 2ball, a shooting skills contest won by Clyde Drexler of the Houston Rockets and Cynthia Cooper of the Houston Comets.
The buzz didn't build during the rookie game, either, which was won 85-80 by the East as Zydrunas Ilgauskas of the Cleveland Cavaliers won the Most Valuable Player award.
And the fans - or what remained of them - were lingering at the exit ramps as the 3-point shootout went down to the final round and Jeff Hornacek of the Utah Jazz defeated Hubert Davis of the Dallas Mavericks.
"I know they wanted to give publicity to the WNBA, but they could have kept the slam-dunk as part of it. I think the players really wanted to have a dunk contest," Lee said.
At least the evening wasn't totally non-jammin.
Ilgauskas had four dunks during the rookie game on his way to scoring 18 points, Tracy McGrady of Toronto, at 18 the youngest player in the league, had a spectacular windmill jam to start his string of three straight stuffs and Bobby Jackson of Denver was the hands-down winner of Dunk of the Night for catching an alley-oop pass from Rodrick Rhodes off the backboard and - despite being 6-foot-1 - going big-time airborne for a windmill finish that may have been the individual highlight of the night.
"It put a little excitement in the game. Everybody wanted to see a little razzle-dazzle," Jackson said.
Saul Holcman of New York, a former guidance counselor and current househusband, came sort of close to making the million-dollar shot. The 40-year-old, attempting a two-handed overhead shot, seemed to lose his balance right at the point of release.
His shot was a little short and to the left, making million-dollar shot contestants 0-for-4 in All-Star Saturday history.
"I noticed that in the 2ball game a lot of pros didn't make a lot of 3-pointers either, so it's OK," Holcman said.
The 2ball competition seemed to confuse the crowd, which didn't know the rules and didn't know how many points each team had scored until the public address announced it long after each pair of competitors had finished.
2ball was the event that replaced the dunk contest, which league officials felt had gone stale. They signed up several of the league's best-known stars to pair with WNBA players from the same city, but only the participants seemed to have an idea of what was going on.
"It was a hard thing to do in front of the New York crowd because they don't make a sound unless you say thword `New York,' " said Lisa Leslie of the Los Angeles Sparks.
Cooper, the MVP in the WNBA's inaugural season, and Drexler defeated Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz and Tammy Reiss of the Utah Starzz, 73-61, in the final round.
Hornacek defeated Davis 16-10 in the final round of the 3-point shootout, tying the lowest final-round winning score in the event's 13-year history.
That tidbit didn't seem to matter to Hornacek's two young sons, who ran onto the court and embraced their dad immediately after he won.
"That was their whole thing all year. They wanted me to get into the contest," Hornacek said. "I just wanted to get into it so we could come to New York and have a little family vacation. We'll take the win, too, I guess."