An NBA All-Star Game for the masses

Basketball history was made Sunday night. Never before had so many paid so much to watch from so far away.

Putting a memorable stamp on what would have been another high-scoring, forgettable game in an increasingly forgettable series, the East beat the West, 141-139, in the greatest All-Star game in NBA history . . . at least, attendance-wise.

With 108,713 in Cowboys Stadium, at premium prices up to $500 for however many of the field-level seats that weren’t given to corporate sponsors, it was the biggest crowd for any game, or exhibition, in basketball history.

An NBA source said 20% of the house was “comps” -- complimentary tickets -- but the gate could still reach $8 million . . . or about what the NBA made from the last four All-Star games.

Actually, the source was the proud host, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, once Commissioner David Stern’s archenemy, now one of his leading revenue producers.

“Did I oversell it?” asked Cuban before the game, marveling at the scene as players were introduced between Usher performances and dazzling light shows.

“This is going to be in our hearts, our minds and our thoughts a long time,” the East’s Dwyane Wade, voted the most valuable player after a 28-point, 11-assist, six-rebound performance, said afterward.

“First, it felt like you [were] on stage. We went out to warm up, you should have seen the looks on our faces.

“We were all amazed, like wow! We were like kids. We were giddy.”

It was a perfect marriage, the exhibition everyone wants to attend but is bored with by halftime, in this airport of a stadium with the upper deck that may be in a different ZIP Code, where fans can watch players looking like colorfully dressed ants, or follow the action on the 176-feet-from-corner-to-corner video screens.

By the third quarter, when the East led by 16 points, the show seemed to be winding down, but Chauncey Billups led a late rally, scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter as the West tied it.

It ended, anticlimactically enough, with Chris Bosh, fouled on a drive, making two free throws to put the East back up, 141-139, with five seconds left, and the West’s Carmelo Anthony missing a three-pointer at the end.

Wade, thought to have mixed feelings about sharing a stage with LeBron James on a permanent basis -- both will be free agents this summer -- certainly enjoyed it Sunday.

“You see the connection we both have,” said Wade, “especially going to the basket, lobs finding each other.

“I’ve played with him a lot of years, All-Star games, the Olympics, and he makes it easy for his teammates. You see that in Cleveland. I get the opportunity to be his teammate for one day and I’m going to enjoy it. . . .

“It’s great playing with L.B., man, and it always will be.”

And the prospect of playing with him on a permanent basis?

“I was wondering what took so long for that question,” said Wade, smiling.

“Yeah, we can dream, can’t we?”

On the other hand, the game is the last thing anyone in it will remember, either.

“It was incredible, first, when we walked in just off the bus today to see the size of the place and the scoreboard and everything,” said East Coach Stan Van Gundy.

“But then when you walk out before the game and all those people are there, I mean, you’re just not used to seeing that for a basketball game. It was a very unique atmosphere and a phenomenal experience, I think, for everyone involved.”

“We were doing it the whole game,” said Anthony. “When we were on the bench, we were just looking around, talking about how many people it is and how excited we were, just to be a part of that situation.

“We were on the court during free throws, waiting to come back from timeouts, we were looking and we were just amazed by everything that was going on.”

So they finally found out what works in the modern All-Star game.

The dunk contest is an anachronism and there is no Magic Johnson versus Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas et al. rivalry to keep everyone interested.

Now the venue is the star, and the bigger, the better.

Next year: Max Yasgur’s farm?