Las Vegas Sun

October 23, 2019

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Thomas & Mack Turns 25:

No. 6: Team USA calls Las Vegas home

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.

When the U.S. national basketball team won gold in Beijing in August, it owed plenty to Las Vegas.

So much, in fact, the point guard Jason Kidd gave his gold medal to Elaine Wynn, wife of hotel and casino kingpin Steve Wynn.

Team USA had used Las Vegas as its training headquarters for three summers. It used a sixth-gear, run-and-gun style to endear itself to a Las Vegas hoops-mad audience that has always favored high-tempo action.

When the Americans failed to qualify for the 2008 Summer Games in China at the World Championship in Japan in 2006, a series of events were triggered to secure the top spot on the global hoops hierarchy.

That meant the U.S. had to fare well in the FIBA Americas Championship. When Venezuela defaulted on a guarantee, to host the tourney, Las Vegas quickly moved into the picture.

Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo, a longtime Arizona resident and sports figure who has always been a fan of Las Vegas, helped secure the Thomas & Mack Center for the FIBA event.

And the U.S. rolled over 10 foes. Wasn’t even close. Kobe Bryant drew howls and raves, transforming his image. That carried over to China, where he learned about his global appeal.

In the team’s last tune-up on American soil before flying to the Far East, it obliterated a weak Canadian national team.

Joel Anthony, a former UNLV hoopster from Canada, scored the first basket of the game. The Canadians weren’t heard from again.

The red, white and blue, most likely, will be seen and heard again in Las Vegas. Colangelo likely will return in his role as the team’s coordinator, and look for him to tap New York Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni to coach it.

Moreover, look for Colangelo to continue a relationship between the U.S. national team and Las Vegas for years to come.

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