Las Vegas Sun

September 18, 2019

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No. 11: NBA All-Star Game full of glitz, glamour and grime

Editor's Note: In conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the Thomas & Mack Center's opening on Nov. 21, 1983, the Sun is celebrating the building's colorful history with a top 25 countdown - to No. 1 on Nov. 21, 2008 - of the biggest events held inside the arena located on UNLV's campus.

Kobe Bryant led everyone with 31 points, earning him MVP honors, in the West’s 153-132 victory over the East.

That was the nitty-gritty of the NBA All-Star Game played here Feb. 18, 2007.

It was the first time the NBA played its marquee, mid-season game in a non-NBA city, and the first time it was staged inside a primarily collegiate building.

Twenty-one months later, there are no signs that playing host to that game has edged Las Vegas closer to securing an NBA team.

In fact, it might have been damaging to both sides.

At a press gathering before the game, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman absolutely beamed and crowed about his tight relationship with good friend David Stern, the commissioner of the NBA.

Stern was within earshot. So was anyone on either coast. Stern didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. He rolled his eyes in a telling motion that, uh, this is one over-the-top hizzoner.

The atmosphere of the surrounding events associated with the game, and the Strip, was way more gritty than nitty.

The All-Star Game brought in something like $27 million in non-gaming revenue, but the element it attracted to Las Vegas was thuggish, dangerous, crude and rude, depending whom you talked to.

One longtime pit boss – yes, he’s been here too long to consider himself a PC-ish “floor supervisor” – said he had never seen such unruly intimidation inside the MGM Grand.

His memories are not of Kobe Bryant or pre-game singer Wayne Newton or halftime entertainer Christina Aguilera.

They are of snarling hangers-on, many, many of whom were not gaming yet expecting – no, demanding – cocktails that are provided for patrons who actually sit at blackjack or roulette tables and wager.

The Strip had a certain air (see: marijuana) about it.

“I don’t care if you were black or white, it was an intimidating environment,” wrote Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock. “You always felt like anything was a possibility.

“And I don’t think white people saying that is an expression of racism. There was loud cussing, they were loudly using the N-word, smoking lots of marijuana, talking disrespectfully of anybody they felt like.”

A Whitlock friend who is a Florida police detective said Las Vegas police did the right thing to back off and only intervene in major disruptions.

“That was probably the best game plan,” Whitlock wrote. “I mean, the arrest numbers could have been astronomical – but if they had been? You’d have had a riot.

“There were just way too many people who looked like legitimate thugs or were legitimate thugs.”

The NBA, maybe it’s not so fantastic.

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