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Storm confronts the spotlight of Phoenix

Fifteen miles from the source of Phoenix's current euphoria and light years away from the rest of the sporting nation's attention, a bunch of grown men did the two-step in a quiet ballroom Friday.

There's another show in town this weekend _ and it's riding the tuxedo coattails of the NBA's main event. While the Phoenix Suns and Chicago Bulls prepared to play Game 2 of the NBA Finals in the America West Arena on Friday night, the Tampa Bay Storm was relegated to the Pointe Hilton ballroom to practice for its game tonight against the Arizona Rattlers.

"It's just as wide as our field and 40 yards long," said Storm coach Lary Kuharich, justifying the innovative facility. "We've got to see how high the chandeliers are and throw all low bullet passes no fox trot, no bombs."

Arenaball will have the dance floor to itself tonight at the American West. There'll be Les Barley _ not Charles Barkley _ in uniform for the Storm. And an expected sellout crowd of 15,505 fans will applaud their other home team.

"We're staying at the same hotel (as the Bulls), so maybe we'll get a chance to meet them," Storm quarterback Jay Gruden said, sounding anxious to sight Michael Jordan in the corridor. "It'll be a big privilege _ the greatest athlete in the world, but we've also got a job to do out there. I know their job right now might have greater importance, but in our minds our job is just as important as theirs."

"We're not going out there to party," receiver/linebacker Bobby Byrd reminded. "Hopefully we'll come back 4-1 and get ready for Orlando here."

All the same, Storm owner Bob Gries was hoping to crash the show. His attempt to procure 35 or so tickets to Game 2 of the NBA Finals Friday night was greeted with a friendly half-snort, half-sigh from his buddy, Bryan Colangelo _ the Rattlers' director of operations and the son of Suns/Rattlers owner Jerry Colangelo.

Neither Colangelo can complain about the most pressing problem, though, a dearth of tickets in both basketball and Arena football. The Rattlers' financial success story has followed the blueprint of the Phoenix Suns, always one of the best draws in the NBA.

Last year, the Rattlers were the first team to inaugurate the state-of-the-art America West Arena and since then have sold out every home game. (Not that the appeal has translated into victories this year; Arizona is still winless at home.)

"It was definitely a bit of romance period, people came to experience the new amenities and be entertained by the football," Bryan Colangelo said. "We do have a cross-over crowd but considering the availability of tickets for Suns games are near-impossible, people come. There are not a whole lot of alternatives entertainment-wise here."

Colangelo expects another sellout tonight.

In a three-way divisional tie for first place, the Storm will need to focus on two potential threats _ kick returner Hunkie Cooper (who averages 25 yards, 237 last week) and quarterback Paul Justin, third in the league in passing (71-124 for 920 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions).

With the NBA off tonight, some of the nation might be tuned in when ESPN televises the game live from Phoenix. Midnight Tampa Bay time.

Not quite prime time. Not quite big time. But air time, nonetheless.