By CHRIS BROUSSARD
Ten years ago, the N.B.A. witnessed the best and the worst of Scottie Pippen. With Michael Jordan in his first retirement, Pippen averaged career highs in points and rebounds, won the Most Valuable Player award at the 1994 All-Star Game and led the Chicago Bulls to 55 regular-season victories.
But with 1.8 seconds remaining in Game 3 of the Bulls' Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Knicks, Pippen removed himself from a tie game because Coach Phil Jackson called the final play for Toni Kukoc, who made a game-winning jump shot.
Jackson's decision not to call the play for Pippen and Pippen's handling of the situation exposed the fine line between a star and a franchise player. Pippen was named one of the top 50 players in N.B.A. history and is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, but he was not cut out to be the Man, to carry the burden of a team.
Today, when stars are marketed even more than they were a decade ago, an All-Star-caliber player, with his endorsements, entourage and maximum-dollar contract, is often referred to as the Man. But several league executives, coaches, players and former players say there is a great divide between the two stations.
What does it take to be the Man?
First, it helps to be 7 feet tall.
Three contenders to be the Man — Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett — emerged in interviews with people associated with the league.
But O'Neal and Garnett each seem to lack one of the two qualities mentioned as necessities for the ultimate franchise player: a killer instinct and a championship ring.
"I don't know if Shaq has that killer instinct," said Steve Kerr, who witnessed the trait as a championship teammate of Jordan's and Duncan's. "But it's probably a good thing he doesn't because there would be a lot of dead people lying around the floor."
Obviously, O'Neal's combination of size, power and agility make him a clear exception to the rule. As for Garnett, who has never led Minnesota past the first round of the playoffs, his passion, intensity, professionalism and work ethic lead many of the league's coaches and executives to say he will eventually justify his position as the Man by winning a title.
Because of his calm, composed way of leading, Duncan is often accused of lacking a killer instinct, but Kerr, now an analyst with TNT, said Duncan's critics were being fooled.
"Tim has it," he said. "People just don't know it because of the way he carries himself on the floor. He's unbelievably competitive. It just doesn't show as much as other guys' because of his demeanor."
Exceptional height is not a requirement for a true franchise player.
The four players who perhaps most epitomized what it means to be the Man in the 1980's and 1990's — Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas — played on the perimeter. They also had an edge about them during games and in practices that could sometimes be mistaken for spite.
"You have to be a killer," Toronto Coach Kevin O'Neill said. "You have to be willing to kill people to win, and that's what separates franchise players from players who are just stars on their team. When it was time to play, Jordan and Bird played hard and tried to kill you. They wanted to take the last shot. They wanted to have the ball in their hands. They wanted to guard the best player on the last possession. All that."
In Vince Carter, O'Neill has one of the league's perimeter stars, someone who has the talent necessary to carry a team to great heights but who has been accused of lacking the necessary mentality. Carter, 27, only reluctantly accepts the idea of being the franchise player.
"He's a great team guy," O'Neill said. "I think as Vince matures and grows as a player and a person he'll embrace that role more. He's such a good guy, and he defers to so many people that for him, it's one of those situations where he's kind of caught in between.
"But his ability puts him in a position where he's not just one of the guys. He's the best player on our team, and as he grows older he'll be more acclimated to that."
But this might be wishful thinking. Even O'Neill admitted that the edge he wanted Carter to develop is often innate. "You either have it or you don't," he said.
Charles Barkley said Carter's mentality was unrealistic.
"When you have that much talent, you don't get to say, `I just want to blend in,' " Barkley said. "It's up to the great players to make the other scrubs better. It's up to Vince to put his teammates on his back and carry them. That's the responsibility of being a great player. Great players have to play great and they have to lead. You're not one of the guys. You're better than everyone else. That is why you're an All-Star and you get the highest salary. If you just want to be one of the guys, then cut your salary and make what the other guys make. They don't pay you a lot of money to blend in."
Kerr says that not wanting to be the Man assures that you won't be. "Michael and Tim understood that as the team's best player they had a huge responsibility, and they not only accepted it, but they embraced it," Kerr said. "Michael always loved the fact that he was the Man, and he knew that ultimately our success was mostly up to him and he enjoyed that. I think to be the Man, a guy has to really relish being in that position. When Michael left, it was hard for Scottie to take over that role because it was not really his personality."
Tracy McGrady left Toronto for Orlando four years ago because he wanted to get out of Carter's shadow and establish himself. He has certainly done that, leading the league in scoring last season and ranking in the top seven the previous two seasons. But he has found that being the Man can be draining. When Orlando lost 19 straight games earlier this season, McGrady seemed to shrink under the pressure, even admitting that thoughts of retirement had entered his mind. In Friday's game at Denver, he was ejected after twice punting the ball into the stands while disputing a noncall.
"When you're the star player and when things are not going so well, you're the guy that gets criticized for everything," McGrady, the league's leading scorer this season, said. "You just feel like everything is coming down on your shoulders. Mentally, it took a toll on me. But you have to take the bad with the good. If you don't want to be in this position, don't put up the numbers. Don't put up 30 points a night."
When asked if he had the killer instinct many believe is necessary to carry a team, McGrady said: "Different guys go about their ways of leading. Some guys are more outspoken than others. My way? That's not my personality. I'm real laid-back, and my teammates know that. They know that's me. What I do is lead by example because that's the kind of person I am. My personality is not to be outspoken. Getting on a guy — that's just not me. I know that as the best player on the team that's how I should be, but that's not my personality and that's not how I'm going to be."
Rod Thorn, the Nets' president, said most of the league's players could not handle the responsibility of being the Man.
"It's not only a mental pressure but also a physical pressure of getting whacked and beat up daily," he said. "Because once you start scoring 20-something points a night, every defense you face is set up to stop you. A lot of guys say they want to be the Man, but they couldn't do it."
Bird, the president of the Indiana Pacers, said: "Everybody's made up differently. Some players know they can go out on some nights and be the best player on the court. But they don't want the responsibility of being the best player every night. There are a lot of guys in the league like that."
Sacramento's Chris Webber has no problem piling up statistics nightly, but he has been criticized for not demanding the ball more in the fourth quarter. In the 2002 Western Conference finals, he not only deferred to his teammate Mike Bibby, but he also appeared not to want the ball. The absence of fear of failure may be necessary for a true franchise player.
Two perimeter stars who seem to have the mental makeup to be the Man are Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson. During games, Iverson exhibits the toughness to play through pain, the all-out effort, and the desire it takes to lead a franchise. But his poor practice habits and frequent absences hinder his ability to lead. Jason Kidd has also established himself as a strong leader with the Nets.
Thorn said that Bryant, whose mannerisms and moves are reminiscent of Jordan, possesses the same mentality as Jordan.
"If Kobe ever changes teams, he will probably go someplace where he can be the Man," Thorn said. "There is no doubt in my mind that if he played with a lesser team, he would average in the mid-30's, because he has that mentality. A lot of guys, if they get to 30, they ease off subconsciously. But if Kobe gets to 30, he wants 50. His mentality is more like Michael's than any of these other players."
If he leaves O'Neal and the Lakers as a free agent this summer, the challenge for Bryant will not be handling the pressure of being the lead guy, but of proving that, like Jordan, he can win at a high level without a dominant center.
While Bryant could someday become a throwback to Jordan, the rookies LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony could take it all the way back to Magic and Bird. Like Magic and Bird, they have lived up to their huge hype, proving to be immune to pressure, and while they often play with a smile, there appears to be a killer instinct beneath it.