LAS VEGAS – One of Mike D'Antoni's assistants tried to pass him his clipboard in the third-quarter huddle and the Western Conference All-Stars head coach simply laughed, waving it away. "Guys, I'm out of stuff," he confessed.
A little later in a timeout, on a Shaquille O'Neal dare, Gilbert Arenas launched himself off a trampoline during the Flying Elvises' dunking routine and flew through the air for a dangerous rendezvous with the rim. High over the Thomas & Mack Center court, Agent Zero got to thinking, "If I get hurt, I'm in a lot of trouble."
No, this wasn't a weekend to be considering the consequences of much in the NBA. The league wanted Vegas and it sure got all of it – all that flash on Friday and Saturday, so little substance on Sunday night. On one of the most unforgettable All-Star weekends in league history, the NBA delivered one of its most forgettable All-Star games.
So much of the players' sharpness and steel was left back on the Strip in a Sunday night performance born of stars who too often looked like weekend duffers grinding through that seventh straight full-court run at the downtown Y.
The league was willing to trade a level of professionalism for this party as an entree into the city. This had been a party of unprecedented proportion, the best basketball players in the world on an around-the-clock orgy of VIP parties, high-roller blackjack tables and rented Hummers stalled in gridlock on Las Vegas Boulevard.
The MVP award didn't belong so much to Kobe Bryant in the West's 153-132 victory as it did the Strip itself. It never stopped working this weekend, never rested and never stopped selling its candidacy for a franchise of its own. Where else but a Vegas All-Star weekend can you share a press room with Robin Leach, bump into Manute Bol at the dollar slots and fight back the giggles with East coach Eddie Jordan in the Palms' PlayStation suite as Hulk Hogan's bleached-blonde wife and daughter flaunt themselves for photographers?
After the game, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, the former mob lawyer, marched into the middle of the players' interview room while flanked by his cartoonish showgirls and guranteed that, "We're going to have an NBA franchise."
The league hasn't done the necessary studies to determine where the NBA will find its corporate and fan base here. Just because Vegas used to be a Runnin' Rebel town in Jerry Tarkanian's glory days doesn't translate into an assurance that this would be a thriving NBA metropolis. It's one thing to have the staying power for one of college basketball's glamour programs, and it's all together another to assure that a Vegas arena would be populated for that nothing December date with the Charlotte Bobcats.
To think that Vegas could ever be as dedicated and devoted of an NBA city as Sacramento is unrealistic, but rest assured, Sacramento Kings fans should leave All-Star weekend the most unsettled of all. Because the Vegas bid gathered momentum over this past week, the Kings' future in Northern California grows more tenuous with commissioner David Stern saying that he would no longer let the gambling issue stand in the way of a franchise coming here, if it was the will of his owners. The Maloofs themselves, who own the Kings, insist that "time is running out" on finding a solution for a new arena in Sacramento, and more and more, it looks like an eventual path is getting cleared to Vegas.
"They're businessmen," one NBA official said of the Maloofs this weekend, "and their business is here." Still, one member of the Board of Governors told Yahoo! Sports this weekend: "How in the world can David sign off on the move of a franchise that's got the longest sellout streak in the league?"
Within the league, the possibility of expansion has almost assuredly been ruled out. There appears to be no interest in the financial and basketball dilution that would come with adding a 31st team. Everything comes back to where the inspiration for an All-Star game in Vegas started, and that's Joe and Gavin Maloof, the owners of the Palms Casino Resort.
Throughout the weekend, the Maloofs made themselves synonymous as the faces of the NBA to the nation. As public relations images go, the Maloofs played it perfectly until they let Barry Bonds bum a seat with them at the game on Sunday night.
Truth be told, this was Vegas on steroids – all hyperbole and excess this weekend. Las Vegas proved itself as a party host, but moving an NBA franchise here is still something this city has to show it has the staying power to do. Goodman marched around with those showgirls and kept yelling that Las Vegas was going to get an NBA team, and all the people drinking his town's booze and betting on its tables kept cheering him on.
At the end of the weekend, you were left thinking this: It isn't just that maybe Vegas can't handle the NBA, but maybe that the NBA can't handle Vegas?
The party is over here and now Vegas goes to work even harder on getting a team here for good. Once the league sleeps this weekend off, it has to take a good, long look at itself and see if it's ultimately willing to disrupt one of the most devoted markets in the sport, Sacramento, for a city that has still only shown it knows how to throw one wild party.
- Las Vegas