Game and parties soon forgotten

All-Star events swallow up actual competition

February 14, 2010|By Mark Heisler | Tribune newspapers

DALLAS - Help!

Er, welcome to Dallas, where the annual showcase comes to Cowboy Stadium, where 90,000, most of whom came for the parties, are expected to get a chance to see the NBA's biggest All-Star Game since ...

Last year?

It's hard to tell because I can't remember back that far.

Oh, yeah, that was Phoenix where Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, playing on the same team for -presumably - the last time, just happened to be co-MVPs!

You may have noticed that if the entire All-Star Genre isn't dead, it's getting stiff fast with even the NFL's Pro Bowl now on cable.

Trying to stay relevant, Commissioner David Stern now takes his All-Star Game where it has never gone before, like Las Vegas in 2007, which seemed like a good idea at the time.

Stern was even willing to come here, home of the Mavericks and maverick owner Mark Cuban, who can be seen as the first one who not only hosted the game but funded it with $1.7 million in fines levied by Stern.

Of course, with Cuban, you get equal parts bombast and candor.

Claiming this would "blow away" the Super Bowl, Cuban recently conceded the football game is actually "bigger on TV," or in other words, real life.

"But just in terms of a big time party weekend, the All-Star (Game) blows it away," Cuban told ESPN Radio's Waddle & Silvy.

"I mean, people go to the Super Bowl for their team, and it's the most important game of the year. People come to the All-Star game specifically for the party. The game itself is kind of secondary."

Asked how important the All-Star Game is, Cuban noted it's not "necessarily important for the popularity across the board, but I think it's important in terms of how we deal with our sponsors, getting into the community where the game is held, and getting players involved."

Exactly.

In other words, it's the usual corporate schmooze, just with a venue big enough to accommodate local season ticket holders, most of whom used to be SOL - So Out of Luck - but also people just flying in to party, too!

For years, the NBA had to choose among cities with enough hotel rooms willing, which leaves out hotbeds like Portland and Sacramento, and big markets with owners like Cuban and Philadelphia's Ed Snider, who didn't want the hassle with their season-ticket owners.

Now, Momma, we're home!

Just what Dallas is getting remains to be seen.

With today's players willing to go only so far to showcase their league - James wouldn't even appear in the dunk contest after announcing he would - the event now tends to be remembered for anything but the game.

The NBA Players Association was born at the 1964 game in Boston, All-Star players refused to play until the owners gave them a pension plan.

Not that the owners weren't used to such things but with all the players in one dressing room, Laker owner Bob Short pounded on the room door, demanding his players, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, come out.

Baylor went to the door, chilled Short out and the players wound up getting their pension.

In similar fashion, half of this year's All-Stars, including LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony accompanied union leaders to a meeting here with the owners that NBAPA director Billy Hunter called "contentious" and Stern called "theatrical."

The union says the owners "tore up" their draconian proposal, which called for banning guarantees and modifying existing contracts.

It was a great victory - assuming, as Hunter said, the NBA wants a deal before July 1 when the big free agent class goes on the market.

Wrong, said Stern Saturday, making it clear he wants major concessions, as opposed to a quick deal.

In other words, Stern, the master showman, just dropped his bombshell to get the players' attention.

At the appointed hour, the NBA can be expected to go from Draconian to merely harsh.

That moment, of course, is next spring when the present deal runs out.

Even if the players' stand wasn't historic, they enjoyed it. mark.heisler@latimes.com

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