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NO CALMING FANS WITH FAULTY MEMORY

Dominique Wilkins' jersey was recently retired by the Atlanta Hawks. The fans displayed their adoration for a player who scored 26,668 points in 15 seasons by filling Atlanta's Phillips Arena to capacity, its one and only sellout of the last two seasons. Then they tainted the ceremony by booing Stan Kasten off the court before he could properly introduce The Human Highlight Film who tried in vain to calm them down with hand motions.

Clearly, Atlanta's basketball community has yet to forgive the team president for trading Nique midway through the 1993-94 season to the Clippers for Danny Manning, who signed with the Suns that summer. Both forwards were free agents-in-waiting at the time of the exchange.

Equally clear was the forgetfulness of the fans. They conveniently failed to remember the extenuating circumstances that gave Kasten no other choice but to deal Wilkins. LA-based agent Steve Kauffman orchestrated the trade to a team that had salary cap room by demanding "Larry Johnson money" (still outlandish by this market's standards) for his 33-year old client.

Nique could probably average 15 a game in today's pointless NBA, but there's no denying his offensive splendor never regained its brilliance as his career wound down in LA, Boston, Greece, San Antonio and Orlando.

Fans are fans. I understand. Nobody expects them to think clearly, or remain objective or dispassionate in the wake of losing the city's biggest hero, to the Paper Clips, of all teams. It's perfectly feasible they would target Kasten for abuse. Imagine how they'll react when Steve Smith's number ultimately is retired!

Still, you'd think at least one person in Atlanta's media would have a memory that could go back further than '94. You'd think somebody, who's supposed to know a thing or two about a thing or two, might've recalled the guy who traded Wilkins is the same guy who acquired him from the Jazz in '82 after he'd been selected No. 3 in the draft.

Soon after Wilkins was chosen behind James Worthy and Terry Cummings, he announced he had no intention of playing in Utah. Since the Jazz were in economic trouble, and Kasten and Jazz coach Frank Layden enjoyed a friendly working relationship from their brief time together with the Hawks, they attempted to solve both problems at once.

After negotiating all summer, the Hawks were given the opportunity in early September to acquire Wilkins' rights for John Drew, Freeman Williams and, oh, yeah, one million dollars. Chump change in our devalued world, but a franchise-saver for the Jazz, owner Sam Battistone later admitted. At the same time, the 76ers were offering Darryl Dawkins in a similar deal.

A Hawks board meeting was convened and it was decided Wilkins, who played at Georgia and was from the area, would be a flawless fit. In attendance was Ted Turner, his chief financial officer, team President Mike Gearon and Kasten, then the GM.

"Ted turned to his finance guy and asked if we could get a million bucks," Kasten recounted. "We were a small company back then and there were lending restrictions.

" 'I don't think so,' the guy replied.

"Turner then looked at Kasten and said, 'Go do it!' "

Rim shots

The honeymoon is officially over. The Wizards squandered an 11-point fourth quarter lead and dropped a four-point decision to the Magic. It snapped a five-game winning streak. It was also the team's first loss since George W. Bush took office and Michael Jordan realized he had one.

In a last-ditch effort to fix his image, Allen Iverson has arranged for the Clintons to pay his $5G fine.

It was a tough Friday for The Answer, whose 47 points and 54 minutes weren't enough to stop the Sixers from dropping a double-OT homer to Orlando. Iverson hoisted 35 shots, missing 20, including what would've been a game-winner at the end of regulation.

To put Iverson's night in perspective, the only person to get off more rounds answers to Puffy, er, Shine.

Don't look now, but on the heels of two great personnel moves (M.L. Carr following Rick Pitino out the fire escape), the Vitamin C's have strung together an improbable five-game winning streak, the last without Antoine Walker.

Final Thought: If Rasheed Wallace gets two games for throwing in the towel, then the Nets and Byron Scott should get the chair.

(Peter Vecsey is an analyst on NBC's NBA coverage and a columnist for the New York Post.)

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