Saturday, February 24, 2007

Mayhem Main Event at NBA All-Star Weekend

I’ve gone from being one of pro basketball’s biggest fans to the point where I don’t even look at basketball stories on the sports pages. I don’t know what these thugs playing the sport call it, but it isn’t basketball any more. It has come to the point now that the assorted hoodlum-stars who assault fans, coaches and each other, who carry guns and routinely make court appearances – have attracted so many lowlifes that it is not safe to be in the same city as the NBA All-Star game is played.

Mayhem Main Event at NBA All-Star Weekend
'Police Were Simply Overwhelmed' in Sin City
Sports Commentary

LAS VEGAS -- NBA All-Star Weekend in Vegas was an unmitigated failure, and any thoughts of taking the extravaganza to New Orleans in 2008 are total lunacy.

NBA's Big Weekend

An event planned to showcase what is right about professional basketball has been turned into a 72-hour display of why commissioner David Stern can't sleep at night and spends his days thinking of rules to mask what the NBA has come to represent.

Good luck fixing All-Star Weekend.

The game is a sloppy, boring, half-hearted mess. The dunk contest is contrived and pointless. The celebrity contest is unintended comedy. And, worst of all, All-Star Weekend revelers have transformed the league's midseason exhibition into the new millennium Freaknik, an out-of-control street party that features gunplay, violence, non-stop weed smoke and general mayhem.

Word of all the criminal activity that transpired during All-Star Weekend has been slowly leaking out on Las Vegas radio shows and TV newscasts and on Internet blogs the past 24 hours.

"It was filled with an element of violence," Teresa Frey, general manager for Coco's restaurant, told "They don't want to pay their bills. They don't want to respect us or each other."

Things got so bad that she closed the 24-hour restaurant from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m.

"I have been spit on. I have had food thrown at me," she said. "I have lost two servers out of fear. I have locked my door out of the fear of violence."

All weekend, people, especially cab drivers, gossiped about brawls and shootings. You didn't know what to believe because the local newspaper was filled with stories about what a raging success All-Star Weekend was. The city is desperately trying to attract an NBA franchise, and, I guess, there was no reason to let a few bloody bodies get in the way of a cozy relationship with Stern.

Plus, the NBA's business partner ESPN didn't have time to dirty its hands and report on the carnage. I'm sure ESPN's reporters were embedded in the rear ends of the troops -- Shaq, Kobe, King James, D-Wade, AI and Melo.

But there were multiple brawls, at least two shootings, more than 350 arrests and a lot of terror in Vegas over the weekend.

And the police might want to talk to NFL player Pacman Jones about a nasty shooting spree at a Vegas strip club. Jones and the rapper Nelly were allegedly at Minxx Gentlemen's Club Monday morning shortly before (or during) the shooting.

Two victims, male employees of the club, were listed in critical condition at the hospital; a third, a female patron, sustained non-life threatening injuries after being grazed by a bullet.

There were so many fights and so many gangbangers and one parking-lot shootout at the MGM Grand that people literally fled the hotel in fear for their safety. I talked with a woman who moved from the MGM to the Luxor because "I couldn't take it. I'll never come back to another All-Star Game."

There are reports of a brawl between rappers and police at the Wynn Hotel.

Vegas police were simply overwhelmed along The Strip. They were there solely for decoration and to discourage major crimes. Beyond that, they minded their own business.

I was there. Walking The Strip this weekend must be what it feels like to walk the yard at a maximum security prison. You couldn't relax. You avoided eye contact. The heavy police presence only reminded you of the danger.

Without a full-scale military occupation, New Orleans will not survive All-Star Weekend 2008.

David Stern seriously needs to consider moving the event out of the country for the next couple of years in hopes that young, hip-hop hoodlums would find another event to terrorize. Taking the game to Canada won't do it. The game needs to be moved overseas, someplace where the Bloods and Crips and hookers and hoes can't get to it without a passport and plane ticket.

I'm serious. Stern has spent the past three years trying to move his league and players past the thug image Ron Artest's fan brawl stamped on the NBA.

After this weekend, I'm convinced he's losing the battle. All-Star Weekend Vegas screamed that the NBA is aligned too closely with thugs. Stern is going to have to take drastic measures to break that perception/reality. All-Star Weekend can no longer remain the Woodstock for parolees, wannabe rap artists and baby's mamas on tax-refund vacations.

This was not a byproduct of the game being held in Vegas. All-Star Weekend has been on this path for the past five or six years. Every year the event becomes more and more a destination for troublemakers.

If something isn't done, next year's All-Star Weekend will surpass the deceased Freaknik, a weekend-long party in Atlanta, in terms of lawlessness. Wide-spread looting and a rape killed the Freaknik in 1999.

The NBA's image cannot survive bedlam in the French Quarter. And I'm not sure it can survive the embarrassment of a New Orleans standoff between its fans and the National Guard, either.

If Stern wants to continue to strengthen the international appeal of his game, he has the perfect excuse to move the All-Star Game to Germany, China, England or anywhere Suge Knight's posse can't find it.


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