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Gaming Guru

Chris Jones
 

Las Vegas Makes Pitch for NBA All-Star Weekend

15 April 2005

And J.M. Kalil

LAS VEGAS -- Las Vegas is in serious talks to host the National Basketball Association's All-Star weekend in February 2007, the first time the event would be held in a city without its own NBA franchise.

In addition to generating worldwide media exposure and pouring tens of millions of dollars into the local economy, the event arguably would represent this city's greatest success in its ongoing effort to do business with a major professional sports league.

"This is huge for Las Vegas, and it looks like the stars are aligning," Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said Thursday about 15 minutes before he met in his City Hall office with Ski Austin, the NBA's senior vice president of events and attractions; Palms developer George Maloof, whose family owns the Sacramento Kings, and Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority President Rossi Ralenkotter.

NBA Commissioner David Stern, a staunch opponent of legalized betting on the league's games, became receptive to the proposal after Goodman secured over the last 10 days assurances from Las Vegas' gaming companies that they would not accept wagers on the game, which would be played at the Thomas & Mack Center.

However, Stern told the Review-Journal on Thursday it's still too soon to say whether All-Star weekend will come here, though he expects to announce a decision before the NBA Finals conclude in June.

"It's certainly something that we are taking under serious advisement," Stern said of staging the game in Las Vegas. "(All-Star weekend) has become so big as a destination event that hotels, transportation and convention space have become significant.

"When a city presents itself, says it's conveniently located and is a destination our fans would love to go to, we decided that we would consider it."

The idea will be presented to team owners at a meeting Thursday. Should the city's bid for the 2007 weekend fail, Stern said Las Vegas could be in line to host the event in a subsequent year.

The Utah Jazz played some home games in Las Vegas in the 1980s in an effort to attract new fans. In fact, Los Angeles Laker Kareem Abdul-Jabbar set the career scoring record during a game at the Thomas & Mack Center in April 1984.

The effort to land the All-Star games began earlier this month when Maloof's brothers, Joe and Gavin, who oversee operations of the Sacramento Kings, contacted Goodman.

"They said they felt we had a good shot of getting the game," Goodman said. "I told them, 'Guys, it's never going to happen, because the commissioner doesn't like betting.' "

But Goodman then reached out to Southern Nevada's gaming companies and persuaded executives it would be in the city's best interest if they agreed to ban betting on the event.

"They agreed to take it off the board," Goodman said. "They were all very enthusiastic. They want to do what's best for the community, and this would be very big."

Said Stern: "In a funny kind of a way, this is our way of saying ... we have nothing against Las Vegas. It's a great city, a great entertainment destination and a growing area. We only have one issue, and if that issue is taken care of with respect for the All-Star game, we could consider it for the All-Star game."

Officials could ask the Nevada Gaming Commission for an order that would prohibit wagering on the game in any sports book in the state.

"The commissioner told me, 'Under the right circumstances, it could happen,' and I hope we've put together the right circumstances," Goodman said Thursday after the 30-minute meeting with Austin, Maloof, Ralenkotter and about five other people.

George Maloof said Thursday he's received positive feedback from local leaders who are interested in bringing the weekend event to Southern Nevada. He was more circumspect about the NBA's position on such a move, however.

"Everybody I've spoken to (in Las Vegas) is super excited," Maloof said. "It's all about the community, bringing one of the greatest events in the world to Las Vegas."

Maloof compared the game's buzz to a Super Bowl but said the NBA's pre-event activities, which include basketball clinics for kids and meet-and-greet opportunities for fans and players, expand the All-Star impact beyond a single weekend.

When asked to evaluate the league's response to Las Vegas' proposal, Maloof said only, "They didn't tip their hand."

Ralenkotter, whose task is to market Southern Nevada, said Thursday landing All-Star weekend would be an unprecedented opportunity to showcase the city before a global audience.

"This game can reach people around the world because of the international flavor of the NBA," Ralenkotter said. "It's a great event to mix our brand and the NBA brand."

This year's All-Star game was telecast in more than 40 countries, thanks largely to the popularity of foreign-born stars such as China's Yao Ming (Houston Rockets), Germany's Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks) and Argentina's Manu Ginobili (San Antonio Spurs).

Since the first All-Star game was played in 1951 before 10,094 fans in Boston Garden, the NBA has always held its mid-season festivities in cities that are also home to NBA franchises. The Feb. 20 contest was before a crowd of 18,227 at the Denver Nuggets' home arena, Pepsi Center.

Next year's 55th annual All-Star game is slated for Feb. 19 at Houston's 18,300-seat Toyota Center. A spokeswoman with the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau said Thursday that event will bring $60 million to $70 million to the city's businesses and tourism industry.

Las Vegas' dark-horse bid could be strengthened by contractual complications that recently halted efforts to bring All-Star weekend to the home of one of the NBA's most-storied franchises.

A story published in Wednesday's edition of the Boston Herald said that city's efforts to land 2007's All-Star weekend have stalled because Boston Celtics management has been unable to work out a lease agreement with TD Banknorth Garden, which owns the 19,600-seat FleetCenter. The Herald estimated All-Star weekend could bring up to $50 million to Boston.

In December, another NBA franchise, the Toronto Raptors, announced it was in the second phase of its bid to host All-Star weekend in 2008. Bob Hunter, executive vice president and general manager of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Raptors, said that event would bring $35 million in visitor spending to Toronto.

Ralenkotter said it's too soon to project All-Star weekend's economic impact on Southern Nevada.

When asked what criteria the NBA seeks when picking a host city, NBA spokesman Tim Frank on Thursday cited available hotel rooms and space to host the All-Star Jam Session. That interactive collection of basketball exhibits and activities recently occupied 350,000 square feet of space at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver.

Las Vegas has more than 131,000 hotel and motel rooms and three of the nation's 10 largest convention halls, as well as a few smaller hotel-casino convention facilities that could likely host such an event.

The highlight of an NBA All-Star weekend typically is a Sunday exhibition that pits 12 of the best players from the Western Conference against a dozen Eastern Conference stars. Big-name players such as Shaquille O'Neal, Allen Iverson and Tim Duncan are regular participants.

Friday's schedule features the Rookie Challenge in which leading first-year players battle a squad of second-year stars, as well as a celebrity basketball game that this year featured rappers Nelly and Ice Cube.

All-Star Saturday includes a slam-dunk contest; three-point shoot-out and a "skills challenge" in which players maneuver through an obstacle course that tests their ability to dribble, pass and shoot a basketball.

Goodman has long desired to bring professional sports to Southern Nevada. In 2001, he tried to lure the NBA's Vancouver Grizzlies to Las Vegas, though that franchise moved to Memphis, Tenn.

Last year, the mayor made overtures to bring Major League Baseball's Montreal Expos and Florida Marlins franchises to Las Vegas. The Expos instead moved to Washington, D.C., and became the Nationals, while the Marlins continue negotiations for a new stadium in south Florida.

Las Vegas in 1996 hosted the first six regular season games by Major League Baseball's Oakland Athletics while the team's home stadium was renovated.