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A weekend of stars, with some basketball

Oh yeah, the game.

Happily, in all the revelry that surrounded the NBA’s breakthrough visit to this city of our dreams and nightmares, they remembered to play it.

The West won, for what that’s worth. As Sacramento Kings and Palms Casino co-owner Gavin Maloof, whose family lobbied the other casinos to take it off their boards, noted beforehand:

“If you bet the NBA All-Star game, you might as well get a life.”

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The All-Star game is now just the final act of All-Star weekend, and in the case of this glitz-covered-partied-out-traffic-snarled weekend, hardly the most memorable part.

It was wall-to-wall Vegas, starting with a welcome by Siegfried and Roy (with subtitles on the scoreboard TV screen because of their German accents), segueing into Wayne Newton with the Folies Bergere showgirls in sequins and headdresses doing “Viva Las Vegas,” “Orange Blossom Special,” and “Danke Schoen.”

By then, the pregame show was nearing half an hour, including a video tribute by Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to “our partners,” reading off a list of 19 corporate sponsors from Adidas to T-Mobile. They even included Spalding, maker of that notorious killer basketball.

Of course, if you want a lot of electricity in an arena full of corporate partners, they may need to hire someone to cheer for them. Usually, you have 10,000 actual fans, mostly season-ticket holders of the home team. In the absence of a home team, this game proceeded amid a respectful silence.

Not that it was dull, but remember when everyone was concerned about the dunk contest?

These days the dunk contest (Boston’s Gerald Green vaulting over New York’s Nate Robinson to win) is better than the game.

On the other hand, you have to love a game that ends with videos of James, Wade, Shaquille O’Neal, Yao Ming, Steve Nash, et al, in huge Elvis Impersonator wigs, trying to sing “Viva Las Vegas.”

The weekend was really about being here and the possibility of returning. Suggesting things are looking good for putting a team here, Commissioner David Stern said Mayor Oscar Goodman will make a formal proposal this spring.

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Stern, who had been insisting that the casinos would have to stop taking bets on NBA games, said it’s now “for the owners to decide.”

To anyone who knows how the NBA works, this meant: “OK, I’ve got that settled, what’s next?”

Just being here seemed to erase four bumpy months (the basketball controversy, the fight, the incidents outside clubs, the John Amaechi revelation, the Tim Hardaway rebuttal.)

Stern’s Saturday news conference was one of the least eventful on record, even if Stern, perhaps defensive about giving up the high moral ground on the gambling issue, let his trademark petulance out for a romp.

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In a normal news conference, the media members ask questions and the commissioner answers them. In the NBA, the media asks questions and Stern instructs them in their responsibilities.

Asked about his concern about a point-shaving scandal, Stern said, “If you’ve been around long enough, you know that what you described has nothing to do with anything I’ve been saying for the last three years or every day this week in Las Vegas....

“I’m not worried about games being fixed and I’m surprised that you asked the question.”

To a Spanish reporter who said the owner of Real Madrid told him he signed an agreement that could lead to his club joining the NBA, Stern replied, “You know better than that because he said he never said that. And so that’s the game that the Spanish media plays.”

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Perhaps because I like to live on the edge, I asked if Charles Barkley’s gambling losses could be the tip of the iceberg, adding, “We hear anecdotally that there’s lots of guys betting lots of money.”

Stern: “That’s not fair to say that you hear anecdotally. Is there some specific allegation you’d like to make before the assembled group?”

Me (wondering what I got myself into): “No.”

Stern: “Then I don’t want to respond. I’m too busy dealing with anonymous sources already.”

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It was a logistics nightmare but if you like crowds, it was great. All-Star Saturday, normally the league’s contribution to trash sports, was enlivened not just by the dunk contest but the Barkley-Dick Bavetta race.

Barkley told the 67-year-old Bavetta he respected old people “because I want to be one one day.”

Said TNT’s Ernie Johnson: “Then maybe you’d shouldn’t do this tonight.”

In an upset, Barkley not only survived but won and, in the nicest note of all, kissed Bavetta on the lips. If people remember anything about the 2007 All-Star weekend, other than where it was, happily, that may be it.

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mark.heisler@latimes.com


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