Want crazy? NBA All-Star Game creates the perfect storm of Las Vegas weekends

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

LAS VEGAS LAS VEGAS - Crazy weekends are nothing out of the ordinary in The Strip that sleep forgot. Las Vegas has probably seen more crazy weekends than any other city in America. That's what this town does.

Las Vegas Strip - at night - Nevada
The Las Vegas Strip has seen no party like a NBA All-Star weekend party.
Las Vegas Strip - at night - NevadaThe Falls - Lake Las Vegas golf course - NevadaMandalay Bay - Las Vegas casino hotel - NBA Jam SessionDennis Rodman - NBA All-Star weekend - Las Vegas

Some cities produce cars. Las Vegas churns out parties.

Yet, Vegas now finds itself preparing for the crazy weekend of all crazy weekends. A conflux of events and cultures is threatening to make all the high times of Bugsy Siegel back in the early giddy days and the table dancing of Paris Hilton last year (or last week) all look rather small time by comparison.

The NBA All-Star game is coming to town and for once all bets are off (on the game itself by NBA Commissioner David Stern's decree and more importantly, on how crazy Sin City could get). This event began as way for Las Vegas to flex its civic pride, as a vehicle for Mayor Oscar Goodman and Co. to put visions of a local pro sports franchise in the citizens' heads.

What nobody quite comprehended is how many people would want to be here for an NBA All-Star Game in Vegas. People who have no chance in a Reggie Miller prayer of getting to attend the actual game. People who just might want to be near the buzz, the hip-hop and model parties and the whole mad scene of it all.

"It's bigger than Super Bowl weekend," said Jeff Smith, president of Las Vegas Golf Adventures, a golf and hotel packaging company. "It's on a scale as big as New Year's if not bigger."

It's almost half a million people big. That's the approximate number of visitors expected to descend on Las Vegas for the Feb. 15-19 weekend (the actual game's on Sunday night, the 18th). A typical crazy Vegas weekend brings about 150,000 people.

The fact that Chinese New Year and President's Day Weekend - both big traditional Vegas travel times - also fall on NBA All-Star Weekend is pumping up the numbers even more. But this is mostly an All-Star buzz, party thing.

Lower bowl tickets in the 18,500-seat Thomas & Mack Center - a smaller facility than most NBA arenas - are being scalped for $9,000 online. That's $9,000 each. Upper level seats - seats where Kobe Bryant will look barely bigger than a stick figure - are going from $3,000 to $4,500. That's ridiculous even by the NBA's big money, big event standards.

Hotels are the next frontier experiencing the All-Star weekend crunch. One thing Vegas always seems to have enough of are hotel rooms. Except maybe on the crazy weekend of all crazy weekends.

Room rates for NBA All-Star weekend are already rising like Mel Gibson's temper on the Pacific Coast Highway. Triple and quadruple rates are the norm.

And the game's still almost three months away. Heck, NBA All-Star voting didn't even begin until mid November. Most of America's sports fans are only just starting to think of college football's bowl games. The Super Bowl still seems a long way off.

Yet, if you want to be in Vegas for the All-Star madness - and have a pillow to lay your head on - it's a good idea to start thinking of Dwyane Wade throwing an alley-oop to LeBron James now.

"People definitely want to book by the end of the year," Smith said. "Once January gets here, the demand is really going to take off."

Some hotels are already showing up as sold out in searches and inquiries by the general public. This includes Mandalay Bay, which is the host of NBA All-Star Jam Session, the popular theme park basketball center with a ton of games, player autographs and merchandise available that is set up at every All-Star game.

There are still ways to get into Mandalay Bay and other hotels cheaper than the publicized rates however. Packagers have access to blocks of rooms that will not be sold through the hotels directly. Las Vegas Golf Adventures has rooms available in the Orleans, Aladdin, MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay at prices ranging from $200 to $800 dollars per night.

The Orleans is the $200 range and Mandalay Bay $800. Believe it or not, that qualifies as a decent deal NBA All-Star Weekend.

Smith doesn't expect to do much golf business during that weekend.

"We'll do a little here and there, but there's so many other things going on that weekend that most visitors are never going to step on a course," he said.

Still, Smith, the owner of a golf packaging service, set up a special Web site (nbaallstarsweekend.com) to sell NBA All-Star weekend hotel rooms. It's the crazy weekend of all crazy Vegas weekends. Everyone wants to be involved someway somehow.

Beyond reason

Want to know how much the NBA All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas is being anticipated? Even the NBA players have been talking about it. This is a group of multimillionaires used to partying, guys who rarely look more than a week ahead in their own team's schedule.

Yet there was perennial NBA All-Star guard Ray Allen talking about Vegas like the kid in Christmas Story talked about that rifle at a celebrity golf tournament in mid July.

"Every player wants to be at an All-Star game in Vegas," Allen said, laughing. "I don't know what type of play you're going to see in the actual game. A few guys might be a little tired if you know what I mean. But you know everyone's going to have a great time."

Part of that great time includes all the parties set up around the game. These are no spontaneous affairs. They're planned out by promoters, complete with big ticket prices for the common reveler in many cases.

Typical is the Celebrity Playas Ball at The Orleans. This bash is one of the ones that will bring hip hop and the NBA together with Ice-T, Shaq and LeBron all paid ... er, "committed" ... to attend. Tickets start at $75.

Eight thousand people are expected to attend this party. That's right, 8,000 people at one party.

Anyone still doubting that crazy weekend of all crazy weekends hype?

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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