Niche sports still something to behold in Las Vegas

Is this anything?

Before he self-exiled to Montana and grew a Dallas Keuchel-style beard, David Letterman did this standing bit on his late night talk show. He would raise the curtain, and there would be a girl doing Hula-Hoops, and another making sparks by turning a grinder onto her metallic costume. And maybe a guy doing handstands after bouncing off an exercise ball.

Dave would ask bandleader Paul Shaffer if that was anything.

Until the advent of the Golden Knights and Raiders’ relocation, that pretty much described the Las Vegas sports scene when UNLV wasn’t playing or the 51s weren’t giving away refrigerator schedule magnets. It was a veritable horn of plenty, a wide world of sports that would have made Jim McKay’s head spin like Linda Blair’s in the “Exorcist.”

It was back over the weekend.

Or maybe it never went away.

Perhaps we just lost track of the barrel jumpers and the cliff divers over a growing concern about where to park before watching Derek Carr throw touchdown passes.

In the niche of time

A congratulatory call to Las Vegas Events president Pat Christenson on the release of his new book “Rock Vegas: Live Music Explodes in the Neon Desert” was made Saturday, during which the caller mentioned attending the U.S. Masters international darts tournament at Tropicana Las Vegas. And how even if 14-time world champion Phil “The Power” Taylor did not attend due to illness, that still seemed like something.

Christenson said it was the allure of Las Vegas that filled the giant ballroom and hundreds of hotel rooms for the burgeoning but still niche sport of international darts.

But the (Phoenix Suns?) gorilla in the room was the NBA Summer League at Cox Pavilion and the Thomas & Mack Center.

These were meaningless games as the shoe contracts haven’t yet been divvied up. But it didn’t feel meaningless when the Summer League Lakers and Celtics played in front of more than 15,000 early in the week. Attendance still was pretty stout over the weekend, despite the field having being trimmed.

If David Letterman asked Paul Shaffer if the NBA Summer League was anything, the answer would have been a resounding “yes.”

Over at South Point, there were BMX bicycle nationals in the equestrian arena while final strikes on the Brooklyn side were being rolled at the United States Bowling Congress amateur championships that began in February.

That’s right: February.

The high temperature when the first wave of bowlers hit the South Point Bowling Center lanes on February 18 was 58 degrees. It was 109 when the last wave headed back to Milwaukee and other bowling places on Sunday.

More than 50,000 bowlers made their way to town for a bacchanal of strikes, spares and splits that endured 149 days. A lot of them dined at the Silverado Steakhouse and caught Gary Puckett & The Union Gap at the South Point Showroom. And now you know why Michael Gaughan spent $35 million on a state-of-the-art bowling plaza.

$2 million reasons to hoop it up

Sometimes you have to drive a great distance to experience the constant variety of sport in Las Vegas.

In the darkness on the edge of town at Desert Oasis High, teams of slightly over the hill but no less determined ex-NBA and college stars hooped it up in a precursor to a winner-take-all, $2 million 5-on-5 tournament. In one game, Tim Drisdom, a former Utah point guard last seen playing professionally for Indios de Juarez of the Mexican League, hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Bonnie Springs from the seat of his pants to lift his team to a 100-97 victory.

Was this anything?

It was close, according to Jimmer Fredette, the former college player of the year at Brigham Young who was coaching the other team.

There was (and still is) the World Series of Poker at the Rio, and no sooner than the last pocket aces were played, a new banner for The Greatest Pool Tournament in the World went up. So there were niche sports all over town (again), in the darkness on the edges and under the bright lights on the boulevards.

And at Saturday’s ballgame between the 51s and Albuquerque at Cashman Field, a dog served as bat boy.

That might not have been anything compared to Lonzo Ball putting up triple-doubles at the NBA Summer League, Michael van Gerwen throwing 180 after 180 in international darts or Adam Barta of Girard, Ohio, rolling a 299 to lead his team to the championship of the grand mal of amateur bowling tournaments that lasted 149 days.

But it was definitely something.

Contact Ron Kantowski at or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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