To Dwyane Wade, it felt more like a stage than a court.
More than 108,000 fans jammed Cowboys Stadium to the top, the largest crowd ever to watch a basketball game.
It was time for something special.
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Wade’s done that before – right here in North Texas. Wade had 28 points and won MVP honors, and the Eastern Conference edged the West 141-139 on Sunday night in the NBA All-Star game.
"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."
The crowd of 108,713, packed with the usual celebrities and athletes 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," LeBron James said. "To be part of history is something that you always wish and dream for."
The largest cheer of the night came earlier, when Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones came onto the court to announce the record crowd, which was also the largest in the $1.2 billion building’s short history.
They were booing at the end when Wade went to the line and made two free throws with 12.7 seconds left. Dirk Nowitzki of the hometown Mavericks tied it with two of his own 5 seconds before Bosh put the East on top for the final time.
Wade, the MVP of the 2006 NBA finals when Miami won the title in Dallas, added 11 assists and six rebounds. James had 25 points, and Bosh had 23 points and 10 rebounds.
"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." Anthony scored 27 points, and Nowitzki – who Kobe Bryant had predicted would win MVP honors – had 22.
But just like four years ago, Wade found a way to top Nowitzki’s best. The Miami star was 12 of 16 from the field and also had five steals.
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 sideline. The seats on the benches 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, and it was still there after they answered a West surge with one of their own, 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 to win the 2006 finals, 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.
Nowitzki came onto the court to thank the fans before the game, finishing his remarks by saying, "I want to say everything is bigger in Texas," and the crowd sure proved it.
He then made long jumpers on the West’s first two possessions to get his team off to a quick start, but the East surged ahead and led 37-34 after one quarter.
The East made 19 of 29 shots in the second quarter and took a 76-69 lead into halftime, where USA Basketball players were honored after performances by Shakira and Alicia Keys.
NOTES: Next year’s game is at Staples Center in Los Angeles. … Boston’s Kevin Garnett made his 13th All-Star team, tied for sixth on the career list. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the career leader with 19 selections, and Shaquille O’Neal tops active players with 15. … Garnett and Howard exchanged pregame handshakes with another dominant defensive big man. Bill Russell was sitting courtside near the East bench. … Ewing, Magic Johnson, Scottie Pippen and Chris Mullin, members of the U.S. 1992 Olympic "Dream Team" that is a finalist for induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, were honored on the court during the second quarter.