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Chris Jones

Las Vegas Bid for NBA Game No Long Shot

25 April 2005

NEW YORK -- Las Vegas' bid to host the National Basketball Association's All-Star weekend received a major boost Friday when representatives of the league's 30 franchises voiced no opposition to bringing the popular sporting event to the Thomas & Mack Center in February 2007.

In addition, NBA Commissioner David Stern hinted that major convention destinations such as Las Vegas could be considered to host All-Star exhibitions regularly because the event's escalating popularity could become too much for some NBA cities to handle.

"Because of its size and the stress that we put on hotel stock and transportation, convention space, restaurants, even movement, it may get to a place where a smaller number of cities can -- or will want to -- deal with" hosting All-Star weekend, Stern said. "That has left us open to the proposition that we would consider non-NBA cities."

And at the moment, Las Vegas and its 131,000 hotel rooms appear poised to become the first such All-Star host in 55 years of play.

Though Stern refused to say whether Las Vegas is the leading candidate to host the 2007 event, the city cleared a significant potential obstacle Friday when none of the league's 30 franchise owners opposed its All-Star bid during the NBA's semiannual Board of Governors meeting at The St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan.

"It was well-received, very businesslike and matter-of-fact," Stern said of the Las Vegas discussion, which took less than 10 minutes. "I would say there was a general acceptance that this was a good idea, that if it could be worked out, (Las Vegas) was something that we should put on the list of potential All-Star sites."

Did anyone offer a reason not to bring the game to Las Vegas?

"No," said Stern, adding he did not know what other cities, if any, also are interested in All-Star weekend 2007.

Shortly after the NBA gathering concluded in New York, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority received the NBA's formal request for a bid. Rossi Ralenkotter, president of the authority, said local leaders will examine the 30-page document and expect to return a formal request to the NBA by midweek.

"As a destination, we're very excited to bid and believe we'll put together an excellent proposal," Ralenkotter said.

A final decision, which will be made by a committee of NBA executives, will occur before the conclusion of the NBA Finals in mid-June, Stern repeated Friday.

"I did tell the owners that I thought the media, players and owners would probably turn out in large numbers" should Las Vegas be awarded All-Star weekend, Stern said.

Most NBA owners quickly scattered after Friday's meeting, but Sacramento Kings executive Gavin Maloof told the Review-Journal that he was pleased his fellow NBA owners were amenable to the Las Vegas proposal.

"I can't speak for the commissioner, but I'm optimistic the game will happen" in Las Vegas, said Maloof, whose family owns the Kings in addition to the Palms. "And I think it will be the biggest thing Vegas has ever seen."

Because the NBA features dozens of foreign-born players, including All-Stars Dirk Nowitzki of Germany and China's Yao Ming, Maloof said All-Star weekend would showcase Las Vegas before billions of basketball fans around the globe. He also hopes the city can host additional All-Star weekends beyond 2007.

"When the owners see what a great job this city can do with a major event, maybe it will go away and come back every second or third year," Maloof said. "That's what we hope to have happen."

Ralenkotter wants the same.

"We're looking forward to a long-term relationship with the NBA and a long-term relationship with the NBA All-Star game," said Ralenkotter, who estimates All-Star weekend would produce up to $100 million in visitor spending.

Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn agrees that All-Star weekend would be a boon for both the NBA and Las Vegas.

"I believe that this is a tremendous opportunity for the city of Las Vegas to garner national and international exposure through its association with one of the world's most popular pastimes," Guinn said in a statement Friday afternoon.

"There is no doubt in my mind that Las Vegas is ready, willing and is quite able to host many of the world's finest athletes in a weekend that puts an important spotlight on the host city. ... The decision should be a slam dunk for Las Vegas," he said.

Despite the All-Star progress, Stern said the NBA would not put a team in Las Vegas unless state gaming officials prohibit betting on its games at the state's legalized sports books.

For the moment, however, the point is irrelevant because the league does not plan to expand or move an existing franchise, he added.

Casino operators already have agreed not to accept wagers on All-Star events in Las Vegas, Mayor Oscar Goodman said.

"I'm just keeping my fingers crossed," said Goodman, who added he was encouraged by Friday's developments in New York.

The bulk of the Thursday and Friday meetings centered on what Stern called "a very intense discussion on collective bargaining." The league's current labor contract with the National Basketball Players Association expires at the end of June, and parties on both sides still hope to avoid another lockout such as the one that shortened the 1998-99 season to 50 games rather than the usual 82.

"Every day we don't make a deal at this point is a cause of concern for us," said Stern, who was flanked at Friday's media session by Russ Granik, the NBA's deputy commissioner. The two plan to meet with Billy Hunter, the Players Association's executive director, within the next 10 days or so to continue negotiations, Stern said.

Review-Journal writer J.M. Kalil contributed to this report.