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NBA in Vegas: 2007 All-Star Game a ‘disastrous weekend’

He helped Las Vegas develop an artistic presence: The Smith Center for the Performing Arts broke ground in 2009. He also helped land a medical research facility: The Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health opened in 2010.

But former Mayor Oscar Goodman was not able to achieve the third major goal on his short list when he was elected in 1999. He could not lure an NBA team to Las Vegas, settling instead for the All-Star Game in 2007 and everything that came with it.

“It was a disastrous weekend,” said Goodman, Las Vegas’ mayor until 2011. “The game was great, but what took place was everybody was hot to trot.”

The NBA descended upon Las Vegas that February for its annual All-Star Weekend, playing the game at the Thomas & Mack Center and holding interactive fan festivities and service events throughout the community.

The West won 153-132, as Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant scored 31 points and was named the MVP. The day before the game, Boston Celtics wing Gerald Green won the dunk contest, and Miami Heat wing Jason Kapono won the 3-point contest.

But the weekend was marred by the chaos that ensued after the game on the Strip. More than 400 people were reportedly arrested. Bouncer Tommy Urbanski was shot — and paralyzed from the waist down — outside Minxx Gentleman’s Club and Lounge by a member of an entourage that included former NFL cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones.

“We had one bad night where we didn’t have enough police force in the right areas,” said former Sacramento Kings owner George Maloof, who ran the team with his brothers — along with the Palms — and was instrumental in bringing the game to Las Vegas.

“It happened. It was messy,” he added. “But we moved on from that. The NBA moved on. The city moved on.”

The pitch

In the weeks after assuming office, Goodman visited NBA Commissioner David Stern in New York and lobbied for him to bring an NBA franchise to Las Vegas.

Stern was vehemently opposed and “said over his dead body would he ever allow an NBA franchise to come to Las Vegas as long as there was betting on sports events,” Goodman said. But “like a little dog nipping at a guy’s ankles,” the mayor kept in touch with Stern, slowly changing his perception of the city as the two formed an amicable working relationship.

They even toured Europe together, watching basketball games in Barcelona, Paris and Rome.

“I would set a line for the games,” Goodman said. “I think Stern wanted to strangle me. At the same time he got a kick out of me. Las Vegas) was a growing community with potential that no other city had. It’s a big sports town. We had UNLV championship teams. We showed that we could support basketball. We had the Summer League.”

Maloof also proposed to Stern that the NBA bring its All-Star Game to Las Vegas and feature for the first time a market that did not have a franchise. Stern didn’t immediately buy Maloof’s pitch, but he didn’t dismiss it, either — leaving room for the game to come to the valley.

Goodman eventually met with Stern in the mayor’s office and received his approval for the city to host the All-Star Game — provided he could convince the casino owners that they wanted the game. The deal was announced in August 2005

“It kind of gave you some hope that an NBA team might show up here, like, ‘Oh, maybe this is the start of it,’” said lifelong basketball fan Vildan Buric, who was 15 when the All-Star Game came to town and a participant in the fan festivities. “It was exciting that they were bringing another aspect of the NBA to Vegas.”

The weekend

Christine Zimmerman began working at the MGM Grand in 1993 and remembers many wild nights involving sporting events in Las Vegas. But nothing, she says, compared to All-Star Weekend.

“I just don’t think at this point, looking back, that people were really prepared for what happened,” said Zimmerman, who worked as a bartender that weekend and left the MGM in January after 26 years with the company. “That was really a profound moment for the history for sports gatherings in Las Vegas because it was really the first time things had lost control.”

Visitors flooded the city and overwhelmed casino security and local police. Stories of debauchery include public urination and a body falling from the top of a casino parking ramp.

Patrons didn’t tip service workers and walked out on cab fares. People were walking in the middle of the street on the Strip.

“I remember calling every single (casino) owner, and I laid it out to them,” Maloof said. “And I said, ‘Great for the community. But you might have extra precautions, more security on certain nights because you’re going to get a (expletive) load of people.’ … They weren’t ready. It was their fault. Not the league’s fault.”

The game itself was a hit, and players were generous with their time, appearing at local events and engaging fans in a city rife with enthusiasm for basketball.

It is still the only All-Star Game played in a city without a franchise.

The Maloofs almost moved the Kings to Anaheim or Seattle, but eventually sold the team in 2013. George Maloof said he would have seriously considered relocating the franchise to Las Vegas had an NBA-caliber arena been available.

T-Mobile Arena opened in 2016.

Maloof is now a minority owner of the Golden Knights and knows firsthand that professional sports can excel in Southern Nevada. He said he thinks “ultimately there will be an NBA team here, I assume at some point.”

All-Star Weekend now is but a distant memory.

“It changed everything,” Zimmerman said. “(Las Vegas) figured out they had to step everything up. … They finally realized that we’d been put on the map. Vegas changed around that time. I think (the All-Star Game) brought it to a different level.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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