Las Vegas was looking to make a great impression. They rolled out the red carpet and then some while hosting the 2007 NBA All-Star game. And to make it even more unique, this was the first time that the mid-season spectacle would be held in a city that does not call the NBA home.
Oscar Goodman, mayor of Las Vegas and former mob attorney, wanted to keep things in line while even more attention was on his city. "I don't want to see some gang bangers or hip-hoppers knocking over a jewelry store at Fashion Show mall," said Goodman prior to the weekend.
Everything seemed to be going as planned until later in the evening on Sunday night. Perhaps it was the letdown of a game that left a little to be desired. The West beat up the East, 153-132. Maybe it was the fact that all the pre-game parties were over and things had to return to 'normal' once Monday rolled around. Whatever the reason, there was not one, but two incidents that brought even more of a spotlight on 'Sin City.'
Rapper Nelly threw a bash at a club that went awry. Police apparently were called, which also was the case at a strip club that Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets attended where a large altercation took place. Two separate incidents that Goodman probably cringed over once he received the news.
For a city that is wooing an NBA franchise, Las Vegas did not need the bad publicity of violence breaking out twice in one night during their big weekend. The rumors flying around the circles are that the Sacramento Kings, Seattle SuperSonics or Portland Trailblazers are possible teams that may look to relocate to Vegas. Hopefully a great production was not smeared by isolated incidents.
Is Las Vegas prepared to call a team it's own? Minor league sports have done fine in the desert. Triple-A baseball, hockey, even Arena Football. But when it is a big league team from one of the four major sports, an entirely different spotlight will be on. It would be no question of the team being supported. A major attraction in a place where there are no minor attractions. They don't call it 'America's Playground' for nothing. Not even counting the 38 million tourists each year, the residents of Las Vegas would flock to a pro sports game. The population has tripled over the course of the last 20 years to 1.8 million people, and it is one of the fastest growing cities in the country. The economy? It is an incredible $72 billion annually.
The issue that is always following a discussion of a pro team in Vegas is integrity. With the gambling everywhere, including bets taken on all pro sports games, being right there, would athletes get involved in point-shaving and other illegal activities connected to the games? One solution is to have the sports books not take bets on the particular sport that lands a team in Vegas. Or that can be modified to that individual team. In reality, that would never happen. The amount of money gambled through legal channels in Vegas is astronomical (Over $2.5 billion in 2005). How could the casino owners agree up front to lose a large amount of money with rules such as that? And if there is a local team, they would probably get most of the action at the books just for the sake of placing a bet on the new guys in town. So that is something that needs to be rectified before serious discussions even begin to take place.
Looking at the indoor sports (with the heat in Nevada, it would probably make most sense to have an arena-based team), there are a number of teams in both basketball and hockey that could use a change of scenery. The aforementioned three NBA teams all could use a spark in attendance, and the Maloof Brothers, owners of the Kings, presently have stakes in Las Vegas casinos. The Blazers and Sonics both are in need of new arenas, with problems with public funding for new facilities in their present states.
In the NHL, the Pittsburgh Penguins are in dire need of a new building, with 'The Igloo' being terribly outdated. The financial situation there is not good, either. How bad could the NHL do in Las Vegas? That is a league that needs a boost and fast. Especially after losing the national coverage on ESPN and having to settle for Versus. A move for a team like the Penguins to a place like Vegas may reinvigorate some interest in a sport that has had some rough periods of late.
Holding the NBA All-Star game there was a major first step in getting a team out in Las Vegas. Even with the few wrinkles at the end of the weekend. Pro sports would be a big hit in the desert, you can bet on it.