DALLAS - When it comes to the NBA All-Star Game, everything is bigger in Texas.
Take it from one of the hosts of this year's spectacle in Dallas, which will draw the largest crowd ever for a basketball game.
"It's going to be such an amazing, huge event. I mean this will be the biggest All-Star ever," Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said recently. "There's going to be so much going on, it literally could be for North Texas the largest party weekend in the history of the United States. That's how big this thing has gotten."
LeBron James and the rest NBA's best - minus Kobe Bryant, who was scratched Thursday with a sore left ankle - will play Sunday at the new Cowboys Stadium, with more than 90,000 fans expected. Cuban and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had been hoping the league would push for more than 100,000, and the building could accommodate it, but that's unlikely with the way the venue will be reconfigured for basketball.
Still, it will easily topple the record for largest crowd to watch a basketball game of 78,129, set for a college game between Kentucky and Michigan State at Detroit's Ford Field on Dec. 13, 2003.
"You guys have been to All-Star weekend in other places," Cuban told a group of reporters. "I mean, we shut down cities. I mean, literally, you go to any city and it basically shuts it down. So imagine having 100,000 people and all the people come for the parties. I mean, literally, it'll be the largest party weekend in the history of this country. I don't think there's going to be any question about it."
Cuban added the attendance and party scene would "make the Super Bowl look like a bar mitzvah."
"That sounds like something Mark Cuban would say," said Toronto All-Star forward Chris Bosh, a Dallas native. "It's good that the city of Dallas is excited to have it. Everybody's getting excited and it's going to be good."
Then Cuban suggested to the league the idea of staging this year's weekend at two venues. The Mavs will host the Friday night rookie challenge and the All-Star Saturday night events at their arena, and the game goes to Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
Stern praised the collaboration between Cuban and Jones, saying it will produce a "combination of celebration, family reunion and making North Texas the basketball capital of the world for several days."
It means the NBA takes a smaller cut, with some of its normal profits going to Jones, but Stern said it's worth it with all the interest and attention the game is drawing in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
"They never want me to tell me about the specifics of the economics because they're never good," Stern joked. "But we find it just really good for our sport ... a very worthwhile event for us and the opportunity to do good things in the community and really to watch the way our players get involved both in the community outreach, but also in making sure that the fans have a good time."
The players are looking forward to playing in the $1.2 billion stadium, with its high-definition video boards that stand roughly 60 yards wide and 25 yards high.
"It's going to be fun," said James, a Cowboys fan who attended the first regular-season game there in September. "The home of the Cowboys makes it a lot more special to me because of how much I love and watch those guys every year. It's going to be fun."
"I think that in those big venues it's tougher on shooters getting their scope, I think your depth perception is just off a little bit just because of the background," said Kevin McHale, an All-Star for the Celtics now working as an NBA TV analyst. "But it's going to be so much fun to be in there with that crowd and that environment."
The festive atmosphere could be dampened Friday after negotiators from the league and the players' association meet to discuss a collective bargaining agreement to replace the one that expires in July 2011. The proposal the NBA sent the union last week calls for dramatic financial changes, so the meeting could be short and the chances of an eventual lockout seem high.
Otherwise, not too much should ruin the party - even the winter storm that hit Dallas on Thursday or the fact that Allen Iverson, like Bryant, was a late scratch. While baseball uses its All-Star game to determine home-field advantage in the World Series as a way to make the midseason game relevant, and the NFL changed the date and site of its Pro Bowl this year in an attempt to gain more attention, the NBA is content to leave its game as nothing more than a show.
And this year, it's the biggest one ever.
"We don't think we have the formula down perfectly," Stern said. "We're always looking to improve it and fine tune it and listen to what people have to say about how we can make it better, but it works. It works for us."
After the Spurs blew a 13-point fourth quarter lead, Tim Duncan stepped up in OT to thwart the Grizzlies' comeback attempt and give San Antonio a 2-0 series lead.
PBT: The Pacers were too tough for the Knicks, but Miami is a different animal. The clubs face off in the East finals, starting Wednesday night.
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