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SUPERSTAR TRADES NO GUARANTEE OF TROPHIES OR RINGS

This being Christmas week and all, I hope visions of sugar plums and a full stocking hung by the fire are dancing through the head of Allen Iverson.

Allen hasn't been too happy lately. Larry Brown, his coach on the Philadelphia 76ers, has been cross with him and had the temerity to expect "The Man" to play some team basketball the way the coach plotted it.

Iverson went into such a snit that he demanded a trade. Since the 76ers haven't won anything since Iverson joined them, maybe they might be ready to unload their superstar. The Los Angeles Lakers once were perpetually in the market to make such a trade but these days the Lakers have too many superstars and not enough basketballs.

That's the problem with sports in the '90s. It's tough to redeem expensive superstars for championships.

Take the case of Ken Griffey Jr. In any contest over who is the best all-around player in baseball, Griffey wins easily. The problem is that his team, the Seattle Mariners, never made it to the World Series. So, when they were ready to auction off Griffey, another unhappy superstar, no one wanted to make a bid the Mariners could live with.

Cincinnati was the most interested, but its ground rules were: Sean Casey, our first baseman, and Pokey Reese, our second baseman, are untouchable in any package for Junior. Seattle gave up on Casey, the former Bison, but they persisted about Reese.

The Reds' hitting coach, a man named Ken Griffey Sr., had an interesting take on the negotiations. "If it were my decision," he said, "I wouldn't give them Pokey either."

So it appears Griffey will stay in Seattle and the Mariners, as usual, won't make it near the World Series.

Hockey offers another good example. Remember back in 1991, when the Quebec Nordiques, hoping the addition of a superstar would allow them to keep the franchise in their ancient city, made Eric Lindros the top pick in the draft?

Lindros refused to sign with Quebec, which was forced to trade him to Philadelphia. Consequently the Nords left Canada and became the Colorado Avalanche. Lindros scored a lot of goals and was a regular in the NHL All-Star Game, but the Flyers haven't won the Stanley Cup finals during his time.

The Avalanche, with some of the players they got in the Lindros trade, actually won the cup.

Since 1983 Dan Marino has been the starting quarterback for the Miami Dolphins and holds most of the NFL passing records. He went to the Super Bowl once, in his second season, where the Dolphins were clocked by San Francisco. He hasn't been back since.

The '90s also were the decade of free agency in both football and hockey. One of the first mega-million contracts was awarded to cornerback Deion Sanders by the Cowboys. It was so huge that Dallas could no longer afford some of its lesser-known but important players, and they tumbled out of serious contention.

This season the NHL free agent over whom teams panted was Colorado's Theo Fleury. He is a Westerner, born and bred, and the conventional wisdom was that he would never sign with an Eastern team. The New York Rangers showed conventional wisdom where to stick it. They have the money and they spent it by the yard to sign Fleury.

Fleury was barely visible on TV in the Rangers' 3-1 loss to the Sabres Tuesday night. He played like a minimum wage nonentity, just as he and the rest of the Rangers have been playing for most of the season.

In team sports, the best of the '90s were the New York Yankees and the Chicago Bulls.

The Yankees were a forest full of tall trees, none a giant redwood. In the last two World Series among the best performances were those by Scott Brosius and Chad Curtis, common-sized trees. Baseball is the most individual of team sports, the one that lends itself most to selfishness. These Yankees made themselves magnificent exceptions.

The Bulls had the tallest redwood of all, Michael Jordan, whose very glare demanded the best from his teammates. He was the most valuable superstar of all.

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