ARLINGTON, Texas – To say that everything is bigger in Texas was an understatement Sunday night.
The NBA’s All-Star weekend had largely been a dud before Sunday. Kobe Bryant(notes) and Chris Paul(notes) couldn’t play because of injuries. The dunk contest nearly put the crowd to sleep. And everyone spent much of the weekend shivering from freezing temperatures and a day-long snowfall.
After it all, however, the NBA still delivered on its lone goal. The league threw open the doors to Cowboys Stadium on Sunday night and watched as 108,713 fans filed through to attend its All-Star Game, setting a Guinness World Record for the largest crowd ever at a basketball game. The All-Stars also put on an entertaining show befitting the crowd, with the East beating the West 141-139 on a pair of free throws with five seconds left by Dallas native Chris Bosh(notes).
Even the Dallas Cowboys themselves didn’t draw a crowd that large in their inaugural season here. Anyone with standing-room tickets could watch on the Cowboys’ 600-ton, $40 million TV screen.
“It was amazing, what an experience,” Suns point guard Steve Nash(notes) said. “I felt like I was on Battleship Galactica or something. It just felt like a huge spaceship there. It’s a beautiful arena. In some ways, there were so many people it didn’t feel like a game because you couldn’t see them because it was so big.
“Some fans were so far away from the floor that they were like at the greatest sports bar of all-time. They had the best big screen, the beer was cold and they could hear the crowd, participation and the action. I’m sure they had a blast, too.”
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who jointly arranged for the game to be played in the Cowboys’ new stadium, announced the record-setting attendance at the end of the third quarter. The league had initially hoped for a crowd in the low 90,000s, but by Sunday Cuban was fairly confident the game would draw more than 100,000.
The previous record crowd for an NBA All-Star Game was 44,375 during the 1989 game at the Houston Astrodome. The record for a basketball game of any sort was 78,129, set at Detroit’s Ford Field on Dec. 13, 2003, when Michigan State played Kentucky.
“Unbelievable. Wow. That’s all you can say,” Cuban said. “When people got here they said there were more than 10,000 people just waiting to buy tickets to get in. Unbelievable.”
What made the event even more memorable was that the game finished in exciting fashion – and with a little controversy. After Bosh gave the East a two-point lead with five seconds left, West coach George Karl of the Denver Nuggets said he drew up a play for a potential winning 3-pointer to be taken by either Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony(notes) or Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki(notes), the hometown hero. Nash, however, said the play wasn’t designed for Nowitzki. Utah Jazz guard Deron Williams(notes) inbounded the ball to Anthony, who, while being guarded by Dwyane Wade(notes), threw up a wild 3-pointer that didn’t fall.
“They disrupted the play pretty good,” Karl said.
Said Nash: “It wasn’t drawn up for Dirk. When you have 12 All-Stars over there, the ball can go to anyone. But it wasn’t drawn up for Dirk on that play. It was Melo or D-Will coming off [a screen].”
Nowitzki and Cuban, however, were so amazed by the event that they showed no disappointment with Karl’s odd play.
“I will always remember this,” Nowitzki said. “You know, 108,000 people is just great. And some of the guys came up to me before the game, and said, ‘This is unbelievable, this is amazing.’ So I think everybody was excited about this one.”
Dallas residents Maritza Maldonado and Demicia Braden were able to land $30 standing-room tickets that sounded like a good idea at the time. But after not moving for fear of losing their spot, not being close enough to see the court and having their view of the overhead screen obstructed by taller fans, they realized they got what they paid for. Spending more than an hour waiting for a cab in mid-20s temperatures afterward didn’t make them feel any better.
“There was a game going on?” Braden said. “What game?”
While not everyone was pleased, the NBA can at least say it made history.
“You grow up and you say you’re playing in front of a building at capacity, probably six or seven hundred people if you go to high school basketball games,” LeBron James(notes) said. “Growing up, you can’t even count to 100,000.”