By John Hollinger
DALLAS – Since everything’s bigger in Texas, as Dirk Nowitzki reminded the crowd before the start of the biggest All-Star Game ever, let’s focus on another thing that became even bigger as a result of tonight: The idea of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James playing together in Miami next season.
“I don’t know if it would work,” said Denver’s Chauncey Billups in Friday’s media session of the two potentially pairing up, but they sure seemed to function well together on Sunday. Wade scored 28 points, added 11 assists and five steals, and narrowly edged out Cowboys Stadium for Game MVP honors, while James added 25 points, six assists and five boards as the East held on for a dramatic 141-139 win over the West.
“We can dream, can’t we?” said Wade provocatively, no doubt looking forward to the possibility of James joining him on South Beach to dominate the league.
James was more subdued about the possibility.
“[Wade]’s a great player,” said James. “You love to play alongside guys as great, guys that want to win, guys that compete at a high level every night. So we’ll see.”
Nonetheless, the chemistry between the two was undeniable. Wade and James continually found each other in transition and on drives to the basket, assisting each other five times and using their quickness to help force 23 West turnovers – nine as a result of their own steals.
“You see the connection that we both have,” said Wade. “Especially going to the basket [for] lobs and finding each other. I’ve played with him for a lot of years from the Olympics to the All-Star Game and it’s special every time. LeBron makes the game easier for all his teammates -- you see it in Cleveland, so I get to be his teammate for one day and I’m enjoying it. He’s one of the reasons I’m up here with the MVP award.”
As good as the game was, it took a back seat to the spectacle of 108,713 fans piling into Cowboys Stadium, setting a new record for a crowd at a basketball game. The gathering was about 10,000 more than anticipated, with Mavs owner Mark Cuban saying that an unexpectedly large number of walk-up, standing-room-only tickets sold on Sunday provided the difference.
The small city of fans didn’t leave disappointed, though perhaps they would have liked the finish better if it didn’t bear such a resemblance to the 2006 Finals. Once again, Wade made the big plays late to emerge victorious in Dallas, with the major difference being that Cuban was able to walk away smiling from this one. The Mavs’ owner, along with Cowboys czar Jerry Jones, was beaming all night as a result of the event’s success.
In particular, the series of highlight-reel plays provided by Wade and James left everyone thoroughly entertained. Wade alone had seven dunks, while James supplied a pair of back-to-back reverse slams that had the fans -- most of whom watched on a pair of Texas-sized TV screens above the court rather than on the distant hardwood below -- oohing and ahhing.
As good as Wade and LeBron were, it’s easy to forget that another high-profile 2010 free agent, Toronto’s Chris Bosh, was the one who supplied the winning points with two free throws with five seconds left, giving him 23 points and 10 rebounds for the game.
Fittingly, a fourth member of their stellar 2003 draft class, Carmelo Anthony, was the game’s other key player. He scored 27 points and added 10 boards to lead the West and missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer over Wade at the buzzer.
Anthony and West coach George Karl both said the final play was designed for either Anthony to operate at the top of the key or for Nowitzki, who had tied the game with free throws on the previous possession, to catch it in the corner. Anthony played a West-high 29 minutes despite missing action with an ankle sprain as recently as a week ago, saying that once the game started his competitive juices took over.
But it was the superstar power of Wade and LeBron’s East side that prevailed. Those two and Bosh soaked up so much of the spotlight it made the other players afterthoughts -- to the point that the PA announcer referred to reserve Al Horford as “Al Harrington.”
While we still don’t know if Wade and James will play together more than just once a year after this summer, it did force us to ponder a brave new world where the two megastars team up to crush all comers.
“I don’t think you needed to see tonight to understand that would scare any of us in this league,” said Stan Van Gundy, who had a front-row seat for the Wade-LeBron pairing tonight as coach of the East and would have plenty to lose from the pairing in his day job with Eastern Conference contender Orlando. “[Two] incredible talents, obviously.”
So it’s fitting, perhaps, that we were treated to such a concept in the brave new world of All-Star games. The league can’t possibly go back to 20,000-seat arenas after selling five times as many seats in Dallas, can it? One presumes that after next year’s affair in L.A.'s Staples Center, the NBA will start emulating the NCAA Tournament’s model of holding the event in mega-domes -- sightlines be damned -- and taking advantage of the hoards of paying customers that Cuban and Jones proved were out there.
“This was a historic event,” said Wade. “It felt like we were on stage. [When] we went out there to warm up, we were like kids.”
Sure, everything’s bigger in Texas. But I suspect that after tonight, this game’s about to get bigger everywhere else too.