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Vegas All-Star memories: The good, bad and ugly


February 19, 2017 08:29 AM

By Norm Clarke
VSiN columnist

George Maloof looks back at the legacy of the 2007 NBA All-Star Game and focuses on the positives, not the problems.

Maloof and then-Mayor Oscar Goodman hoped having the NBA’s showcase game in Las Vegas would speed the arrival of the NBA.

Instead, a decade later, the National Hockey League arrives in eight months and the NFL’s Oakland Raiders could get the greenlight to relocate in Arizona next month.

“We kind of connected pro sports to Las Vegas,” said Maloof, whose call to NBA commissioner David Stern got the ball rolling and led to Las Vegas becoming the first non-NBA city to land the league’s biggest event.

After pitching Stern, Maloof said “Oscar was one of the first people I called.” Goodman jumped on board because he wanted a downtown arena.

At the time, Maloof was the owner of the Palms hotel & casino and a part-owner of the Sacramento Kings. Now he’s a minority owner, along with his brothers, in the NHL’s newest team, the Vegas Golden Knights.

Yes, there were issues, Maloof acknowledges.

A rough element, referred to as gang-bangers from California, contributed to hundreds of arrests and had the city on edge. A shooting at an off-Strip adult entertainment ended with two security guards shot and fingers pointed at NFL problem child Adam  “Pacman” Jones for being an instigator.

“The Pacman thing put a black eye on the whole deal,” said Maloof on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Las Vegas NBA All-Star Weekend.

The harshest critic of what was billed as the “Biggest party in NBA history” was Terry Lanni, chairman and chief executive officer of MGM Mirage Corp.

He didn’t mince words, saying “The gang-bangers and other came for purposes other than attending the game, they weren’t very good for Las Vegas,” he said.

He blamed part of the casino’s disappointing first-quarter earnings on the rowdiness.

“Mr. Stern can keep his basketball franchises out of Las Vegas as far as I’m concerned,” Lanni told The Associated Press.

MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman quickly softened Lanni’s comments, saying he “only meant to refer to the All-Star Game.”

Maloof said that when he was getting the city’s top properties on board, “I told all the casino owners this is a special event but you’ve got to prepare for it.” Maloof said he told the top executives “it would be a good idea to go to Houston,” which was hosting the 2005 All-Star Game.

“Everybody went there except the MGM,” he said, adding “I loved Terry before the NBA weekend and loved him even more after it.”

Maloof said moving the Kings to Las Vegas “was never part of a plan. There was no arena. We were working on getting an arena in Sacramento. We were focused there.”

The Maloofs sold the Kings three years ago.

Did the incident-marred weekend delay Las Vegas’ chance of getting an NBA team?

“I think the events of that weekend were over-exaggerated,” said Maloof. “It will have nothing to do with Las Vegas getting a team.

“That was never an issue with the NBA.”

Apparently not with the NHL or NFL, either.

Jim Murren, who succeeded Lanni as MGM Resorts’ chief executive after the latter’s death in 2011, has hinted he’s confident Las Vegas will have an NBA franchise in the next five years, most likely a relocated franchise.

After opening the $375 million, 20,000-seat T-Mobile Arena last October, he told the Review-Journal, that when he arrived 18 years ago the idea of having major sports franchises here “was an impossible dream. Even 10 years ago.”

In Las Vegas, momentum changes quickly.

Here’s a running account of the 2007 NBA All-Star Weekend:

THE PARTY TO END ALL PARTIES

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban blogged that he had been to numerous Oscar parties but predicted Las Vegas was going to throw the glitziest bash ever.

"The biggest question,” wrote Cuban, “is whether the all-star game will be able to shut down the city," Cuban observed. "Complete, absolute gridlock. Sidewalk gridlock. Road gridlock. Free Buffet Gridlock. Two dollar slots gridlock. ... Will it shut down Vegas? Stay tuned."

SUPERSIZE IT

Up and down the Strip, huge ads covering the eccentric skyline of Las Vegas that features a pyramid, an Eiffel Tower and a Roman palace.  At Mandalay Bay, a supersized image of Dwyane Wade promoting T-Mobile 3 covered 28 floors.  180-foot-high adidas ad featuring the likeness of Gilbert Arenas of the Washington Wizards was on the MGM Grand.

TOUGHEST TICKET IN TOWN

Bellagio’s Fontana Room was the scene of maybe the second toughest ticket in town. Gathered outside was a long line of some of the most beautiful women a local star chef had ever seen. It wasn’t an audition for cheerleaders. “I’ve never seen so many hookers,” he said. They were there in hopes of joining Michael Jordan’s 44th birthday party.

WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE PARIS

On the same night that Jordan was celebrating his birthday, socialite Paris Hilton, an all-pro socialite, was spending her 26th as the celebrity host the Hard Rock Hotel’s Body English nightclub.

According to gossip reports, Nicole Richie snubbed her former BFF and Hilton had left another close friend, rising star Kim Kardashian, off the invite list. It was whispered they had a nasty falling out.

BEST SIDE SHOW?

Charles Barkley’s deep resume includes basketball Hall of Famer, analyst and humorist. He added pole dancer to the list when he joined some ladies on stage at Light nightclub at Bellagio while partying with Tiger Woods after the All-Star game. He was the life of this party. The day before won a charity foot race with Dick Bavetta, the 67-year-old NBA referee. Barkley backpedalled the last 10 yards or so before winning the three and a half trips down the Thomas & Mack Arena court.

WHEN IN ROME

Penny Marshall, who starred in the 1970s hit sitcom “Laverne and Shirley,” got into the spirit of Sin City when she climbed on a tables at Scores strip club and started dancing.

She was partying with Dennis Rodman, who warmed up the crowd by making it rain with $10,000 worth of $1 bills.

RUMOR MILL

Rumors flew that week.

Robin Leach of the Las Vegas Sun was convinced he had the Scoop of the Week when he blogged “last-minute negotiations are ongoing in a dramatic 48-hour countdown that might make Vegas history with official news of a NBA team getting approval for a move to our desert kingdom.

He added, “I’m reliably told that Gregg Anthony, a former UNLV Running Rebel is already lining up former NBA players and other investors for the new Vegas team.”

It was an air ball.

I briefly had what I thought was a major development. By briefly, I mean hours. My source told me Mayor Goodman was close to announcing a $10 billion downtown development that would include a sports arena.

Then Goodman called and demanded that it be removed from my new NormClarke.com website the Review-Journal had launched a week earlier. He insisted there was “absolutely no truth” to it. In an angry tone, he demanded a retraction, saying the story would cause great embarrassment.

“I wish it were true, but it wasn’t,” said Goodman.

Even though my source was adamant, I pulled the story but without running a retraction. I was certain something was up.

Imagine my surprise four months later, when a story appeared in the Review-Journal headlined “Another arena dream.” The story said City Council would be discussing a $9.5 billion downtown project with a proposed arena.

BEST LINE

Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated sized up the weekend this way: “There were about 150,000 wedged into Vegas for the game and only about 19,000 tickets. Sort of like sticking a marching band in a Starbucks.”

THE FINAL TALLY

The crime report for the long weekend: 362 people were booked into the Clark County Detention Center between noon on Thursday and early Monday morning. That number doesn’t include the routine number of arrests police make in a 48-hour period.

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