NBA All-Star Week­end once shut down Las Ve­gas

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY RICK BONNELL rbon­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

All Char­lot­teans re­ally need to know about the NBA All-Star Game Ef­fect: It once shut down the side­walks of the Las Ve­gas Strip.

That was in 2007, when the league for the first time held the Fe­bru­ary event in a non-NBA city. As much of a tourist town as Las Ve­gas is, the tens of thousands who showed up, with or with­out tick­ets, to party that week­end over­whelmed Sin City. Traf­fic – both by ve­hi­cle and pedes­trian – was in con­stant grid­lock along the paths from casino to casino.

There were about 400 arrests there that week­end. Some NBA play­ers felt so un­easy with the crowds that they stopped leav­ing their hotels to dine. The morn­ing of the game, NBA of­fi­cials met to dis­cuss how to bet­ter man­age the sit­u­a­tion in 2008, when the game would be in New Or­leans.

New Or­leans of­fi­cials replied not to sweat it, that decades of Mardi Gras had taught lo­cal au­thor­i­ties the crowd-con­trol power of mounted po­lice.

All-Star Week­end in Char­lotte, Feb. 15-17, doesn’t fig­ure to be that chaotic, but con­sider your­selves warned. I’ve cov­ered eight of them, and they take over a cen­ter city in a way town folk gen­er­ally find a star­tle. I had a con­ver­sa­tion about this with Johnny Jen­nings, deputy chief of Char­lotte-Meck­len­burg po­lice, fol­low­ing an Al­lS­tar news con­fer­ence Thurs­day.

Jen­nings was in Los An­ge­les a year ago to ob­serve the last All-Star Game, in prepa­ra­tion for polic­ing this one. I asked Jen­nings if he thought Char­lot­teans were pre­pared for the mag­ni­tude of the big­gest sports event Char­lotte has hosted.

“If they don’t un­der­stand now, they’re go­ing un­der­stand if they come down­town and see,” Jen­nings replied. “A lot of people don’t un­der­stand this is an in­ter­na­tional event. Not just some­thing that North Carolina or Char­lotte or the U.S. is go­ing to be fol­low­ing.”

On a scale of Char­lotte big events, this will be more like when the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion was here in 2012 than the ACC foot­ball cham­pi­onship game or the CIAA basketball tour­na­ment. We are talk­ing about tens of thousands of vis­i­tors de­scend­ing on the loop of land de­fined by I-277. It’s go­ing to af­fect you whether you par­tic­i­pate or not.

“If any­one has an idea that they can travel freely up­town dur­ing the All-Star Week­end, they prob­a­bly need to re­think,” Jen­nings said. “That’s why if you don’t have a le­git­i­mate rea­son to be up­town, or you just want to hang out and en­joy the fes­tiv­i­ties, I would highly rec­om­mend pub­lic trans­porta­tion. Don’t add to the prob­lem by bring­ing ex­tra ve­hi­cles.”

SO WHY?

There is a mis­con­cep­tion by some that the All-Star Week­end is here pri­mar­ily for the en­ter­tain­ment of Char­lot­teans.

It’s here be­cause it brings vis­i­tors spend­ing mil­lions in lo­cal hotels and restau­rants. At­tract­ing events such as this is why pub­lic money was spent on in­fra­struc­ture such as Spec­trum Cen­ter. The big­gest events - the All-Star Game Sun­day and the skills com­pe­ti­tions (3-point shootout, dunk con­tests, etc.) Satur­day – didn’t even have ticket sales to the gen­eral pub­lic. The NBA uses most of those tick­ets to do busi­ness with spon­sors, sim­i­larly to how the NFL uses the Su­per Bowl.

Lesser events – the celebrity game and the “Ris­ing Stars” game (young play­ers scrim­mag­ing) on Fri­day and the All-Star prac­tice on Satur­day – in­volved some tick­ets avail­able to the pub­lic that have ei­ther sold out or are close to sell­ing out. In ad­di­tion, there is a fan ex­pe­ri­ence at the Epi­cen­tre up­town.

Host­ing this event well is good for Char­lotte now and could lay ground­work for other other events in the fu­ture. For in­stance, pulling this off well can only help if (and I think this is in­evitable) Char­lotte makes a bid to host a fu­ture NFL draft.

WHAT TO KNOW, WHAT TO AVOID

Char­lotte has had a cou­ple of years to pre­pare for this year’s All-Star Week­end, and I think gov­ern­ment grasps the un­der­tak­ing.

“I re­ally be­lieve we’re pre­pared ab­so­lutely as much as we can be,” Jen­nings said.. “Now, it would be naive to think there’s not go­ing to be some grid­lock, some traf­fic is­sues that we have to ad­dress.

“We have to an­tic­i­pate that will hap­pen and the pub­lic has to an­tic­i­pate that will hap­pen.” Here’s what I an­tic­i­pate:

The big­gest im­po­si­tion on Char­lot­teans will be Fri­day’s late-af­ter­noon/ early-evening com­mute down In­de­pen­dence Boule­vard. The NBA is host­ing things at Bo­jan­gles Arena that will go right in the teeth of rush hour. As Jen­nings said, spe­cific to In­de­pen­dence, “There are go­ing to be some ma­jor traf­fic de­lays.”

If your of­fice is up­town and you have the op­tion to work from home on Fri­day do so. That might be an over­re­ac­tion to all the vis­i­tors fly­ing in that day, but who needs the has­sle? Jen­nings said there’s al­ready been com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the ma­jor up­town em­ploy­ers, so this won’t come as a sur­prise.

Be more con­scious of your sur­round­ings. This might be friendly, civil Char­lotte, but crowds and money can make for crime. As au­thor­i­ties said at that news con­fer­ence, pay more at­ten­tion to your be­long­ings, avoid poorly-lighted ar­eas and choose to walk in groups.

This is a fer­tile set­ting for coun­ter­feit­ing, whether it be sou­venirs or tick­ets. When the two big­gest events of a week­end don’t even have ticket sales to the gen­eral pub­lic, you are invit­ing a ripoff by as­sum­ing tick­ets sold on the street are le­git­i­mate.

Fi­nally – and em­phat­i­cally – the LYNX Blue Line is your friend. Even if the stop clos­est to the arena will be closed for se­cu­rity rea­sons, the light rail is the best op­tion to and from up­town. Don’t think about try­ing to drive and park your car.

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