Posted Feb 15 2010 11:13AM
The labor negotiations that turned predictably chippy and the monstrous stadium in the western suburbs of Dallas with the 162-foot wide, 72-foot tall high-def video board -- one for the living-room wall, please -- were reduced to sub-plots in the All-Star weekend that wasn't about the All-Stars.
Never before has the extravaganza been such a people's game. Fan voting to pick the starters turned controversial and sparked a worthwhile debate about whether a popularity contest should so impact the mid-season showcase. That voting nearly cost a deserving player from the East a spot and nearly did the same in the West as frustration grew from some players and coaches. Then, Sunday became a historical main event that will forever be remembered for the facility and the record attendance of 108,173 inside Cowboys Stadium, not the 141-139 victory by the East.
To put it in perspective, the crowd was 30,584 more than had ever watched a basketball game in person, or more than the capacity of any building in the league, and 46,667 more than the previous NBA mark (set when Michael Jordan's Bulls played the Hawks in the Georgia Dome). Take that Bulls-Hawks moment in 1998, add in a large baseball crowd, and you have Sunday.
"I'm still a little bit stunned, to be honest," Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said.
He kept the proof, just in case. Cuban was given the turnstile count in red pen on a white sheet of note paper with NBA letterhead before stepping on the court during a break in play to announce the number to the crowd. He stood with Jerry Jones, the Cowboys owner.
Cuban paused for effect and called for a drum roll. He read the number, the crowd cheered being part of history, and then Cuban decided he didn't want to let go of history.
He kept the paper.
He folded it neatly and still had it in his back right pocket hours later, with plans to frame the note.
"It was a spectacle taken to the next level," Cuban said.
It was a number being knocked into the stratosphere is what it was.
"It's a game-changer for all future events," he said. "Everybody's always going to point to this and try to out-do it."
Each All-Star Weekend is a major draw, except for the chance to watch the players in action and hit the parties around town, and not necessarily in that order. This one seemed more about being part of the crowd at JerryWorld, this beast of a building. Being part of the crowd became an attraction, even if the guys on the Space Station were closer to the court than some of the people who bought upper-deck tickets.
People in the top couple levels Sunday basically paid to watch the game on the video board. They were at squinting distance, with little hope for most of making out a face and having to settle for, in some cases, being able to decipher a jersey number. But they were there. It was that kind of festival atmosphere.
"Some of those fans who were so far away from the floor, it's like they were in the greatest sports bar of all time," West starter Steve Nash said. "They had the best big screen, the beer was cold and they could hear the action, the crowd participation. I'm sure they had a blast here."
Power to the people. That had been in motion even before the turnstiles started to overheat Sunday, with the fan vote that made Allen Iverson an East starter in a down season and almost made the injured Tracy McGrady a West starter. The East situation was rectified when a family matter forced Iverson to withdraw and the Hawks' Joe Johnson started in his place, but not before some within the league were moved to suggest changing the system to reduce the customers' vote.
Commissioner David Stern said the league will review the process. But he also indicated change is unlikely, noting, "You know, I don't know how you would change it. I like the idea that the fans get a vote. I recognize that there are some -- quote -- injustices. But there are always players that drop out and the commissioner gets to add here or there, and things tend to wash out and come through in a very positive way. I think the rosters that we have and the players who are here are spectacular representatives of the skill and class that our league represents."
By the time it was over Sunday night, doubt was removed. Fans and the building ruled the moment, this special, unforgettable weekend in an All-Star gathering that wasn't about the All-Stars.
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here.
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