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Las Vegas got one step closer to earning the bid for the FIBA Tournament of the Americas, giving USA Basketball a decided advantage in its quest to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
FIBA America announced Tuesday that Las Vegas and San Juan were the two finalists to host the event in August 2007 when the top two finishers will earn bids to the Olympics. A decision is due by the end of the week.
Venezuela, which was selected as the host last year, failed to put up a $1.5 million payment by an August deadline. Venezuela was given another shot to put up a bid when the decision to award the tournament was put off for a week. Still, by Tuesday, Venezuela hadn't put forward a bid. USA Basketball was rooting against the bid going to Venezuela, albeit privately. Multiple sources within USA Basketball told ESPN.com they didn't want to go because of president Hugo Chavez's anti-American sentiments. There was even talk that some might have an issue going if the event had been awarded to Venezuela.
USA Basketball is confident that the financial package, television rights, hotel facilities and overall exposure will win the bid over San Juan. This event took on a more global appeal once the U.S. lost to Greece in the World Championships. That meant NBA stars like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade were playing in this event. If the U.S. had won the World Championships, then the rights fees and overall exposure would have gone down. The Thomas & Mack Center would serve as the main arena in Las Vegas. USA Basketball has already made Las Vegas its training home.
FIBA Americas is based in San Juan and there could be a pull to hold the event there.
The top 10 teams from the FIBA Americas zone will compete for the automatic berths to the 2008 Olympics. Teams that finish third, fourth and fifth will be in a world qualifying system to determine the best three teams for the final 12 team pool in Beijing. China, which is the host, and Spain, which won the World Championships, are guaranteed berths.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.