NBA's All-Star weekend even includes basketball

EXTRAVAGANZA:The first All-Star game to be held outside an NBA city competed with a heady brew of gambling, sex and hate speech as Las Vegas prepared for today's clash


Sun, Feb 18, 2007 - Page 8

There was all the usual Las Vegas talk on Friday about gambling and sex.

As far as the basketball, the best of that came from Scottie Pippen, who let it be known he's looking for a job in the NBA -- as a player.

It was a strange start to the most unusual All-Star weekend in NBA history, where the best kind of veteran knowledge was how to handle one of the many temptations this gambling mecca has to offer.

"I just know don't hit on 17," Lakers star Kobe Bryant said.

Some locals are calling today's All-Star game the biggest event ever to hit Las Vegas, and the players realize they are only a small part of that.

"I think this weekend is bringing the excitement back and Las Vegas is the reason," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said.

The casinos were packed, traffic on the Strip slowed and brokers were asking thousands of dollars in anticipation of the first All-Star game held outside an NBA city.

"I think it's a good match," Bryant said.

"Basketball is the greatest show in the world. Everybody loves watching, and what better place to have a great show than Las Vegas?" he said.

Still, the NBA still could not escape all its problems.

The first half of a season that began with the controversial switch to the new ball ended with the anti-gay remarks by former player Tim Hardaway, who was here representing the league in various functions.

But the league sent Hardaway home after he said he hated gay people, a week after John Amaechi became the first former NBA player to say he was gay.

Gavin Maloof, whose family owns the Sacramento Kings, said he wouldn't allow a player on his team who shared Hardaway's views.

"What he said was wrong," Maloof said. "I'm sure he's apologized but the damage has been done and he never should have said it."

Maloof's presence showed just how different this weekend is. His family also owns the Palms, the casino where the players are staying.

He and his brother, Joe, helped make this event happen by acting as the go-betweens between the NBA and Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman, and their casino also hosted Friday's player interviews and the announcement of the Hall of Fame finalists.

Stranger still was the proclamation from Pippen, who was on hand to participate in one of last night's events.

The 41-year-old former All-Star has been out of the NBA since playing 23 games in 2004 for Chicago, where he helped Michael Jordan lead the Bulls to six NBA championships.

"I know that I have the skills, it's just about me going about polishing them," Pippen said. "I think it's sort of been on my mind the last couple of months."

Also on Friday, Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni confirmed that Dirk Nowitzki would replace the injured Yao Ming (姚明) in the starting lineup for the Western Conference. Nowitzki or Steve Nash of the Suns were the likely choices, but Nash had to pull out of the event because of a shoulder injury. D'Antoni said he had been leaning toward Nowitzki, anyway.

That was about it for the basketball talk. Players were asked if they thought Las Vegas should have a team, which is naturally the biggest topic of discussion here. The city desperately wants a pro franchise, but Stern had previously said he would never put a team here as long as there is betting on the league in the casinos.

"Our rules are you can't gamble on the game, you can't bet on games and you can't bet against certain players," Shaquille O'Neal said. "But roulette and blackjack, I play that all the time."