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All-Star Game is Dan-tastic

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Since 1997, Dan Burke has occupied a courtside seat for all things good, bad and ugly regarding the Indiana Pacers.

Through it all, the 54-year-old assistant coach has managed to be part of three Eastern Conference coaching staffs at the annual NBA All-Star Game.

Sunday night’s event in New Orleans is No. 4.

Burke’s All-Star lineage is somewhat unique in that current Pacers head coach Frank Vogel is the fourth different Indiana coach awarded the right to lead the Eastern Conference.

New York’s Madison Square Garden hosted in 1998, with former Pacers coach and current team president Larry Bird calling the shots. Then came 2003 in Atlanta, with Isaiah Thomas, and then again in 2004, assisting Rick Carlisle at Staples Center in

Los Angeles.

If ever tempted to put an asterisk next to any of his previous All-Star Games, Burke would opt for 2003.

“When Isaiah went in 2003, he had his staff, and I had already made vacation plans with my family,” Burke said. “He basically told me I was going to the All-Star Game. He had me in the team pictures and stuff like that, but NBA-wise I wasn’t recognized. I sat behind the bench.

“He wanted me there. I fought him a little bit, but he said, ‘Come on, you’re one of my guys.’ So I went and it was fun. It was a fun weekend.”

Burke’s All-Star record: 1-2.

Known more for its lack of actual coaching, the NBA All-Star Game is little more than a glorified pickup game involving the world’s greatest basketball players.

Nonetheless, it remains among the highest of honors for those who are recognized.

Burke recently sat down with Daily Journal sportswriter Mike Beas to share memories of those first three All-Star experiences:

MB: What were the differences between going with Larry and going with Rick? Or were there any differences?

DB: Going with Larry, you know how he is, hiding his emotions, but it was in New York. That was something special, and at the time it was supposed to be (Michael) Jordan’s last one, and that added a little twist to it. In fact, in that game, Glen Rice came in and hit four 3’s. It was never said, but I had the feeling like, “Well, we better get Jordan back in there so he can get MVP in his last All-Star Game.” It ended up not being his last All-Star Game. In fact, his last one was the one Isaiah did. Rick was the same thing. Level. Even keel. We just approached it like we were going to have fun. It was in L.A. Two big cities. A lot of excitement. The league did it right. (Former Pacer) Fred Jones won the dunk contest, and we had a good time. (Allen) Iverson missed two free throws, so we didn’t win that one. We enjoyed it for what it was. The practice ... you know, Larry was Larry. No nonsense. This is how you pick-and-roll and just play and have fun.

MB: Are All-Star Games more of a sightseeing trip for you?

DB: I enjoy just sitting back and watching these guys come together and interact. Who interacts with who, and they’re all there to enjoy it. There might be some sharing of notes, but most the time we’re just wall flowers.

MB: I know your kids are grown. When they were younger did you ever think, ‘I would really rather be doing something with my family and having this time off?’

DB: Oh, yeah. In 2003 we had plans to go to Sanibel (Fla.) and were really looking forward to that. My wife in 2001, she had breast cancer, and she was done with her chemo and we thought, “Let’s get out of here and have some fun.” The kids were at a good age, 8 and 6, but we had fun in Atlanta, too. We all visited Martin Luther King’s tomb, his museum. We took advantage of it. We had a good time, and we appreciated Isaiah wanting us to be part of it.

MB: NBA coaches have pride and ego, or they wouldn’t be in the position they’re in. How do you take somebody like coach Vogel, who seems pretty laid back, to treat this like a Pacers game if it’s close in the final minutes?

DB: There’s always that winner’s share. You get paid a little more. You get that attitude like, “Well, we’re here. We might as well win it.” So then it becomes bragging rights. I remember when Iverson missed those two free throws ... you know, it was funny because, before the game, he was so fired up, and then he missed those free throws. Someone said, “He just cost us some money.” All of a sudden it became serious.

MB: What do you coaches sit and talk about during the All-Star Game?

DB: Mostly we watch minutes to make sure everyone gets a fair shake. I’m teasing Frank right now, saying (LeBron) James and (Dwyane) Wade should get 48 minutes, and we rest our guys. Let’s just run those two guys down.

MB: Is there good-natured joking that goes on, especially with the Heat-Pacers rivalry being what it is?

DB: I probably will. I can’t ever keep my mouth shut. It’s fun to watch guys. ... It will be interesting to see how they do approach it. It was a pretty quiet locker room in ’98 with Jordan, and (the Pacers) were up and coming. In fact, that March we pounded (Bulls) pretty well in Chicago, and I think they’re going, “Man, this team is actually pretty good,” and we ended up seeing them for seven games that spring. Everyone lets their guard down just enough to enjoy the weekend. But I’m sure there will be a little ribbing.

MB: Is there anything you want to see in New Orleans, other than a win by the East All-Stars?

DB: I’ll probably take my wife out to a couple of restaurants that she’s seen on TV or something like that.

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