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Odds are 2007 game will be an All-Star hit

The curtain hadn't dropped on All-Star weekend in Houston, and already players were thinking about next year's game.

Who could blame them? Las Vegas is on the itinerary.

The NBA is taking its midseason showcase to the Strip next season, and it figures to be a good time. The basketball? Maybe not so good.

"We might have to cancel practice next year," Boston's Paul Pierce said.

No matter. All-Star weekend is no longer about basketball, anyway. It's a chance for athletes and entertainers to party.

The NBA players were hardly the only stars around Houston, not with Eva Longoria, Diddy and Julianne Moore taking in the All-Star Saturday night events from courtside seats, and Beyonce, Jay Z and Terrell Owens out on the town afterward.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said bringing the game to his city will be like "the heydays of a great Tyson fight."

"Hollywood and entertainment people are in Las Vegas on a regular basis," said Rossi Ralenkotter, the president and chief executive of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. "Sports stars and legends from all sports are in our town, and now you bring in the best basketball there is in the world it is going to be a tremendous weekend for all the participants."

Commissioner David Stern called the event a "celebration," and no city is more synonymous with living it up than Las Vegas.

"It's going to be crazy out there," said Phoenix forward Shawn Marion, who played in college at UNLV. "They got plenty of venues out there for places to have big parties and just to hang out and do whatever you want to do out there," he said. "Vegas is just a city that never sleeps, so it's going to be a blast."

This is the first time the NBA will hold the event outside a league city. While there are risks in a city overloaded with temptations, Stern also knows plenty of rewards are possible.

He praised the job Houston did in preparing for the game but emphasized that Las Vegas, with its 135,000 hotel rooms, can make a big event bigger.

Ties between athletes and betting have always been a concern, highlighted of late by the gambling ring said to involve an assistant coach on Wayne Gretzky's team and the NHL great's wife. Before committing to Las Vegas, Stern insisted there be no betting lines on All-Star weekend events in 2007.

He said he has no problem with legal gambling, but stressed the presence of gambling is the reason he can't put an NBA team there - even if Las Vegas officials hope the 2007 game will make him reconsider.

"We are not going to go there while they have betting on NBA games," Stern said.

There's another benefit for Stern in putting the game in Las Vegas. While some players often find an excuse to get out of All-Star games for a few days off, that seems unlikely next year.

Pierce said he has a house there, so he's ready to go. After Dwyane Wade won the skills challenge Saturday night, he made it clear he's already planning to defend his title in 2007.

"I'm going to be in Vegas no matter what next year," Wade said. "No matter what happens, I'm in Vegas next year. Get the family and let's go. Vegas, here I come."