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Chris Jones

Las Vegas Mayor Steals Some of the All-Star Show

20 February 2006

HOUSTON -- To jump-start the worldwide hype for next February's NBA All-Star events, Las Vegas marketers considered a massive advertising blitz around this week's All-Star festivities in Houston.

Those plans quickly were abandoned when the National Basketball Association and Las Vegas honchos deemed it best to let this year's host enjoy the attention it deserves.

But no one kept Las Vegas' unofficial ambassador from hopping a plane to Texas. And like it or not, Mayor Oscar Goodman unwittingly has stolen some of Houston's thunder simply by showing up.

"I can't help myself," Goodman said Sunday. "I had two martinis Friday night, started handing out (flashing Las Vegas) pins.

"By the end of the night, we had every cocktail waitress in the place blinking."

For three days in Texas, Goodman has basked in the spotlight, handling interviews with national media outlets promoting what could be his city's biggest sporting event ever come February 2007.

An NBA Entertainment camera crew even followed Goodman for an hour Saturday as he toured the NBA All-Star Jam Session, an interactive fan event at Houston's George R. Brown Convention Center.

That video will air throughout the year.

Goodman has been recognized all over town. On Friday, a Chinese woman named Shan Jiang approached Goodman with a camera. In broken English, she asked to take his photo.

Vince Alberta, a Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority executive who witnessed the exchange, asked how a young woman from Shenyang, China, would recognize Goodman. "She said, 'Everybody knows the mayor. He's the mayor. Very cool,'" Alberta said.

That evening, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban spotted Goodman at the hotel bar. Cuban shouted, "He's my hero. I'm ready for Vegas, baby."

And with each encounter, Goodman sang the praises of Las Vegas. "I don't want to demean Houston because it's put on a great show. But they're all talking about Las Vegas," he said. "Dr. J (Julius Erving) said he's coming out; so did Clyde Drexler.

"What am I supposed to do? Say I can't talk about it?"

When Goodman's flight landed Friday afternoon at Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport, a limousine scheduled to drive him to the Four Seasons hotel failed to show up. But Goodman was recognized by the wife of TNT sportscaster Marv Albert, and she shared her vehicle with the mayor.

Hours later, Goodman attended a reception at the Toyota Center hosted by NBA Commissioner David Stern. There Goodman was greeted warmly by Yao Ming, the Houston Rockets' 7-foot-5-inch Chinese star, as well as perennial All-Star Shaquille O'Neal and ex-Boston Celtics great Bill Russell.

After the reception, Goodman & Co. watched the NBA's T-Mobile Rookie Challenge from front-row seats along Toyota Center's midcourt line.

He returned to those seats for Sunday's All-Star Game, having enjoyed Saturday's events from a luxury suite.

Goodman passed Stern a note that showed his bets on the slam dunk contest, three-point shootout and skills competition. The mayor successfully tabbed winners in two of the three events.

"That's big money," Goodman said. "(Stern) told me, 'You can't do that.' And I said, 'Next year I can't do it.'"

The NBA required Nevada sports books to ban All-Star bets in 2007 as a condition of staging its event in Las Vegas.

Even Stern seems to be playing along with Goodman's schtick. On Thursday, the commissioner jokingly told the Review-Journal that his biggest challenge in planning All-Star 2007 is figuring out how to incorporate Goodman and his showgirl sidekicks into the show.

Two days later, Stern again poked fun during a reception to promote this fall's NBA Europe Live presented by EA Sports tour, an event co-sponsored by the convention authority.

"Mayor Goodman is here, suffering withdrawal symptoms because there are no showgirls," Stern joked.

Good-natured barbs aside, there's little doubt that Goodman's connection with Stern was vital to Las Vegas' successful All-Star bid.

"The NBA wants to go to places where it feels confident and comfortable," said George Maloof, whose family -- which owns the Palms and NBA's Sacramento Kings franchise -- deserves much of the credit for last year's successful All-Star bid.

"Oscar's relationship with David Stern made things a lot easier," Maloof added.

"When my brothers (Joe and Gavin) and I first raised the idea of hosting All-Star week, Oscar felt so confident about everything that the first thing he wanted to do was call David and get his ideas."

Goodman and Stern developed an amicable relationship about six years ago when Goodman accompanied San Diego Padres owner John Moores on a visit to New York.

The pair met with NBA and National Hockey League leaders to discuss the viability of a sports franchise in Las Vegas.

"Over the years we've talked to each other. He calls me when he's on the West Coast and I can call him when I'm in the East," Goodman said. "I consider him a friend."

Both men made their professional names as high-profile attorneys; they share a Jewish heritage and hail from large metropolitan areas on the East Coast. But beyond those obvious similarities, Goodman said he and Stern relate so well because he enjoy's Stern's honesty, direct approach to business and dry sense of humor.

"We're day and night as far as our positions are concerned," Goodman said of Stern, referencing their well-documented discord on sports betting. "But our personalities are very much alike."

Stern need not worry much about finding a place for the showgirls, either. Goodman's already on it.

The mayor will today fly back to Las Vegas with a ball used in Sunday's game.

He'll be met by showgirls at McCarran International Airport, symbolically showing what many in Houston already know: The All-Star ball, figuratively and literally, is now in Las Vegas' court.