ARLINGTON, Texas – The largest crowd ever to watch a basketball game roared from all corners of Cowboys Stadium, and the two superstars on the court smiled widely.
Nope, not Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.
Try Jerry Jones and Mark Cuban.
They partnered to create a basketball spectacle that had never been seen before, one that ended with the Eastern Conference's 141-139 victory over the West on Sunday night in the All-Star game.
"It's an historical event," Wade said. "It's going to be in our minds and our hearts and thoughts for a long time. Dallas and the MVP. Jerry Jones and Mark Cuban really put on a fabulous event."
The crowd of 108,713, packed with the usual celebrities the NBA All-Star game always attracts, watched Dallas native Chris Bosh make the winning free throws with 5 seconds left. The West had a chance to win it, but Carmelo Anthony's 3-point attempt came up short.
"To be in front of 108,000 fans, that was actually what it was, that was not a false number. You could look up in the stands, and there was not a seat open," James said. "To be part of history is something that you always wish and dream for."
The largest cheer of the night came after the third quarter, when Mavericks owner Cuban and Cowboys owner Jones came onto the court to announce the record basketball crowd, which was also the largest in the $1.2 billion building's short history.
Wade had 28 points and won MVP honors, just as he did after leading Miami to victory in the 2006 NBA finals in nearby Dallas. He added 11 assists, six rebounds and five steals.
"To be able to perform in front of a crowd like that, I know that. I know I can do it, I've done it before," Wade said. "So just to be able to put on a show like that and to get the win, and to make key plays down the stretch was what I like.
"I've had a little luck in Dallas. Of course, 2006 is very, very memorable, something I dreamed of doing for a long time, winning the NBA championship and I was lucky enough and blessed enough to win the MVP there," Wade said. "To come and do it again is special."
James had 25 points, and Bosh had 23 points and 10 rebounds. Anthony scored 27 points, and Dirk Nowitzki — who Kobe Bryant had predicted would win MVP honors — had 22.
The star in this one, though, was the building. The NBA brought its midseason showcase to a football stadium, and the arrangement worked perfectly. The league was predicting about 90,000 but ended up blowing past Jones' and Cuban's hopes to reach 100,000.
It easily shattered the previous record for the largest crowd to watch a basketball game of 78,129, set for a college matchup between Kentucky and Michigan State at Detroit's Ford Field on Dec. 13, 2003.
"It was unbelievable for us to be a part of a moment like this. I don't think we will ever be part of another game or situation like this, for both teams," Anthony said. "The lead got out of hand early in the third quarter, but we fought back and got the fans back into the game."
The thrilling finish more than salvaged an occasionally rough All-Star weekend for the league. Injuries knocked out fan favorites such as Bryant and Chris Paul. Commissioner David Stern and players association executive director Billy Hunter indicated the sides are far apart on a new labor agreement that would prevent a work stoppage in the summer of 2011, and the slam dunk contest wasn't pretty even with the presence of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders.
But the highlight all along was going to be the stadium, and it didn't disappoint.
Players came out to the court — which appeared much smaller than 94 feet from the highest levels of the venue — more than an hour before the game to check out the scene and the challenges it could create. Having hundreds of feet behind the baskets had some All-Stars wondering if their depth perception could be thrown off while shooting.
Not to worry. Everyone was sharp early, with even Dwight Howard making a 3-pointer, before staring at his palm and drawing a laugh from Orlando assistant Patrick Ewing.
"It was unbelievable. Usually in All-Star games, not everybody is going out to shoot and warm up, but if you looked an hour before the game, I think both teams, all players were almost out there shooting, because it's so different in a huge dome with the background," Nowitzki said. "And I thought for actually the size of this arena, both teams were shooting pretty well."
There's probably never been a better time to be on the bench. The seats were leather theater seats with arm rests and drink holders. James seemed to particularly enjoy his, reclining his back and putting his feet up on the court above him while resting to start the second quarter.
Naturally, there was a football element. Cowboys cheerleaders were lined up as the players came onto the court for pregame warmups, and former Dallas receiver Terrell Owens was in the crowd.
James and Wade have talked about playing together when both become free agents this summer, and what a partnership it would be.
Each had 10 points in the third quarter and had a hand in all the scoring in a 10-3 East burst that turned a nine-point lead into a 90-74 lead with 8:21 remaining in the period. The East lead was nine after three, but Chauncey Billups knotted it at 137 with a jumper with 1:05 to play.
There was no scoring until Wade forced a turnover and was fouled with 12.7 seconds left. Booed loudly — possibly by many of the same fans who remember him leading Miami back from a 2-0 deficit in 2006, he sank both free throws for a two-point lead.
Nowitzki was fouled five seconds later by Howard, and he delighted the home crowd by knocking down both, but Bosh quickly untied it again.
Howard scored 17 points for the East, which is back on top after losing two of the last three.
Billups had 17 points, Kevin Durant scored 15 in his All-Star debut and Deron Williams, who played his high school ball near Dallas, finished with 14. Durant and Williams were two of the nine first-time All-Stars.
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