Jones pursues 'the magical number'

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones made a cameo appearance Saturday at his $1.2 billion playground to see how the place was shaping up for the inaugural basketball game to be played at Cowboys Stadium.

Dressed casually in a blue blazer over a dress shirt unbuttoned two deep, Jones took one look at the elevated basketball court, its lanes and outer boundaries painted Cowboys blue with four Cowboys stars emblazoned on each corner of the floor, and beamed that toothy grin as only he can.

"I wish," Jones said, "we could play every basketball game in America with a Cowboy logo out there."

Sure he does. And if prizefighters Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr., agree to trade punches there, a subject Jones once again broached with a promoter's zeal, bet the artificial turf the Cowboys star will appear at center ring.

Other than for those with the misfortune of purchasing obstructed-view seats -- and there were sections of end zone and corner seating with awful sight lines -- Saturday's college basketball game matching No. 2 Texas against No. 10 North Carolina might have provided more entertainment for one afternoon than its permanent tenant, Jones' professional football team.

Jones scurried off before tip-off to get to New Orleans, where his Cowboys play the Saints on Saturday night, so he missed Texas' impressive 103-90 victory. An announced crowd of 38,052 attended the first of many basketball games to come to Cowboys Stadium.

This first one followed a courtside setup and logistical blueprint furnished by the NBA. It will be studied and revised by NBA representatives in attendance in anticipation of the fast-approaching 2010 NBA All-Star Game. The NBA hopes to eliminate those obstructed-view seats while finding areas to add additional seats.

That's important not only from a fan-friendly standpoint, but also from Jones' standpoint, as well as that of Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. It's become apparent the two owners have a fetish for attendance.

We already know the game will go down as the highest-attended basketball game, drawing more than the 75,052 that marveled at the Harlem Globetrotters in Berlin in 1951, and surpassing the 78,129 in December 2003 that watched Kentucky hold off Michigan State at Ford Field in Detroit.

World records simply aren't big enough for Jones. After all, his Cowboys Stadium, with its retractable roof, sliding glass doors and video board, has cornered the market on world-record largess.

"Well, we want to push the magical number and we think we have an opportunity here," Jones said. "We're well along the way right now."

Cuban broached the magical number instantaneously as NBA commissioner David Stern smiled by his side at the November 2008 All-Star Game announcement in the plaza outside American Airlines Center.

What is this magical number?

"One-double-oh," Jones said in his deliberate way of expressing 100,000.

"If you can say one-zero-zero," he methodically continued as his unblinking blue eyes virtually popped out of the sockets, "it slides out better than nine-zero."

Yet, while Jones is starry-eyed for 100,000, just as he was during his quest to pack in an NFL regular-season record crowd of 105,121 for the Cowboys Stadium opener, the NBA isn't as enthusiastic.

And yes, tickets did fly out the door the moment they were released for sale, but despite what Jones suggested Saturday, the NBA says sales are not nearing 90,000.

"Every ticket we have put on sale has been sold, between 60,000 and 70,000," said Ski Austin, executive vice president for NBA events and attractions, who's handling his 21st All-Star Game and has worked closely with the Mavs and Cowboys in planning the massive event. "There are some seats that are on hold by the league and by the Mavericks and by the Cowboys that aren't really in those numbers to be considered sold."

Having said that, what is the projected attendance?

"We'll be in the 80s somewhere. That's the number of seats in the stadium. Even though we're adding seats here," said Austin, pointing to temporary stands on the floor surrounding the court, "you can see we're killing seats in the end zone [that are blocked by the temporary rising stands] in the 100 level, so we almost net about the same as a typical Cowboy game in terms of the number of seats. We've sold a minimum of the standing-room tickets. It'll be in the 80s."

Additional seating will be eliminated by a studio set and a production stage carved into the stands to be used for player introductions and during halftime, plus an international media row will be added courtside.

But why let the NBA throw a wet blanket on Jones' latest party?

There are options. A limited number of standing-room-only tickets, the equivalent of the Cowboys' Party Pass, sold out the first day they went on sale, but more could be offered. The Cowboys sold 30,000 Party Pass tickets for the opening game against the New York Giants to ensure setting the record.

It resulted in massive overcrowding on the multitiered decks, and that didn't sit well with the City of Arlington fire marshal. The NBA said it will work closely with city officials to assure a safe environment for fans.

Jones doesn't want to put anyone in harm's way. He simply wants as many people as possible, preferably that magical number, to marvel at his video board and the wonder of it all.

"I think people are excited about what the opportunity is here," Austin said. "The truth is we don't really know, at the end of the day, if there can be that many people. Science and physics tell me that it's more prudent to just say in the 80s.

"Either way it's a record crowd and a great experience."