Big game can't rid controversy

Associated Press
Retired NBA star Michael Jordan takes a puff of his cigar during a poker tournament at the Hard Rock Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday, part of the league's All-Star weekend.

LAS VEGAS - There was all the usual Las Vegas talk Friday about gambling and sex.


As far as the basketball, the best of that came from Scottie Pippen, who let it be known he's looking for a job in the NBA - as a player.

It was a strange start to the most unusual All-Star weekend in NBA history, where the best kind of veteran knowledge was how to handle one of the many temptations this gambling mecca has to offer.

"I just know don't hit on 17," Lakers star Kobe Bryant said.

Some locals are calling Sunday's All-Star game the biggest event ever to hit Las Vegas, and the players realize they are only a small part of that.

"I think this weekend is bringing the excitement back and Las Vegas is the reason," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said.

The casinos were packed, traffic on the Strip slowed and brokers were asking thousands of dollars in anticipation of the first All-Star game held outside an NBA city.

"I think it's a good match," Bryant said. "Basketball is the greatest show in the world. Everybody loves watching, and what better place to have a great show than Las Vegas?"

Still, the NBA couldn't escape all its problems.

The first half of a season that began with the controversial switch to the new ball ended with the anti-gay remarks by former player Tim Hardaway, who was here representing the league in various functions.

But the league sent Hardaway home after he said he hated gay people, a week after John Amaechi became the first former NBA player to say he was gay.

Gavin Maloof, whose family owns the Sacramento Kings, said he wouldn't allow a player on his team who shared Hardaway's views.

"What he said was wrong," Maloof said. "I'm sure he's apologized but the damage has been done and he never should have said it."

Also Friday, Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni confirmed that Dirk Nowitzki would replace the injured Yao Ming in the starting lineup for the Western Conference.



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