The Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan, left, and the Los Angeles...

The Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan, left, and the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, right, chase a loose ball in the first quarter of the 1998 NBA All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden. Credit: Getty Images / Henny Ray Abrams

Larry Bird walked onto the court, about to coach at practice, and was told that one of his players was missing.

Back at the hotel, still in bed, was Michael Jordan.

It was the eve of the NBA All-Star Game in 1998, the last time Madison Square Garden hosted the star-studded event, and Jordan had the flu.

Bird, the former Boston Celtics superstar then in his first season coaching the Indiana Pacers, was coach of the Eastern Conference All-Stars. That meant, for just one day, he would coach Jordan, the Chicago Bulls superstar -- who was listed as questionable for the game.

When Bird boarded the team bus on the morning of the game, Jordan, ill as he was, was on it. But shortly after tip-off, Jordan got the remedy he needed. It was 19-year-old Los Angeles Lakers phenom Kobe Bryant, who was being hailed as the next Jordan.

"It was interesting because Michael wasn't feeling well on the way over there on the bus," Bird recalled in a phone interview with Newsday. "But once he got there and got going, it was pretty interesting to watch how he played against Kobe."

Jordan suddenly didn't resemble someone who spent the previous day in bed with a 101-degree fever.

Bird had stressed ball movement, but Michael versus Kobe stands as one of his favorite memories from that game.

Bryant was making his debut, becoming the youngest All-Star in NBA history. Not yet a starter for the Lakers, he was voted into the starting lineup for the West.

"Kobe was trying to go after Michael early," Bird said. "And Michael started going back at him."

Though Bryant won the crowd with his 360-dunk and thunderous alley-oop off a lob from 21-year-old Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Jordan was named the game's most valuable player. Relying mainly on his turnaround fadeaway jumper, he had 23 points and eight assists to lead the East to a 135-114 win over the West. His status initially was in doubt, but he ended up playing more minutes than any other player.

"I can remember there was a lot of talent," Bird said. "It's an All-Star Game, but there was a lot of talent on both squads."

That included seven of the current top 18 scorers in league history -- Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz, Bryant, Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal of the Lakers, Garnett, Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs and Reggie Miller of the Pacers.

"I can't say I was intimidated or a little nervous about it," Bird said of coaching so many stars. "Just going along with business as usual."

The Knicks were a playoff team when the Garden last hosted the All-Star Game, though they didn't have any representatives. This time, the game will be played in the home of the team that currently has the worst record in the league (10-41).

"Rebuilding is not an overnight deal," Bird said of the current state of the Knicks. "It takes time. If you are going to rebuild, you can't Band-Aid it as you go along. Phil [Jackson] has had great success. He has been very valuable to our league over the years and I think he'll get it right."

On Sunday, Golden State's Steve Kerr -- who turned down the Knicks' coaching job over the summer -- will lead the Western Conference All-Stars. He'll be the first rookie coach to guide an All-Star team since Bird did so in 1998. Any advice from Larry Legend?

"You try to get them to play together, play hard," Bird said. "You are there to put on a good show, but you definitely want to win. Being in any All-Star Game, and especially in New York, you want to play well."