Raps still high on all-star game bid

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:28 AM ET

The Raptors vow to consult with their season-ticket holders once more before applying for the 2011 NBA all-star game.

"That's a promise," Richard Peddie, the president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Ltd., said yesterday.

The reason a consultation is needed is that sometimes season subscribers have unrealistic notions about how many, if any, all-star-related events they'll get to attend.

That won't be a problem in Las Vegas in 2007, when the all-star game makes its first foray into a non-NBA city. League commissioner David Stern made that announcement yesterday.

Anyway, for years Peddie was dead-set against Toronto playing host to the all-star game, for two reasons: First, it's a money-loser for the home team; and second, he didn't think it was worth angering the season-ticket holders who would be shut out, since the league controls most of the seats.

"The city and the province stepped up so the financial hit won't be as bad for us as it would have been," he said. "We have Raptors TV now. We're the only NBA team in Canada now. And with the building of Maple Leaf Square (between the Air Canada Centre and the Rogers Centre), hand-in-hand with a major revitalization of the Air Canada Centre, we believe we'll have the perfect platform for an NBA all-star game."

Peddie said the Raptors sent out a poll to their season subscribers back when the club first thought about pursuing the 2008 all-star game. That idea later was pushed back to 2011, mostly because of the construction time needed for Maple Leaf Square, but also because the organization did not want to compete for attention with the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

"Not all the season-ticket holders responded, but about one-third did," Peddie said. "Close to 90% said, 'Yes, go for it,' even though we made it clear there might be only a 40% chance they'd get seats for even one of the events."

The Raptors have alerted the NBA of their desire for the 2011 game, but the drafting of an official application is years away. Before that application is finalized, another poll will be sent to the season-ticket base, just to make sure everyone knows what they're getting into and there are no surprises.

Speaking of surprises, can you imagine how shocked anyone involved in the Proline sports lottery controversy in the early 1990s would have been had they known the NBA would be holding its all-star game in Sin City within 15 years?

The prospects of Toronto getting an NBA team were in jeopardy as the league and the Ontario government wrestled over the concept of NBA games being available on Proline. Basketball fans in Toronto were petrified the league would walk away.

Ultimately, a compromise was reached: The government took NBA games off Proline in exchange for the Toronto NBA franchise forming a charitable foundation and raising $5 million for a special fund.

"The league had a principle and while we would have come up with the idea for the Raptors Foundation anyway, we had our feet held to the fire," said Peddie, who back then was associated with Larry Tanenbaum's Palestra group, which lost out in the bidding to the group headed by John Bitove. "We still have the model charitable foundation in the NBA and we raise more than $1 million per year. So it got us to the right place."

Still, it's amazing how attitudes toward gambling have softened. Las Vegas casinos will be prohibited from taking bets on events associated with the '07 all-star game, but most assume this is the first step toward an NBA team calling Las Vegas home.

And who knows: By 2011, the Las Vegas Loan Sharks, or whatever they're called, might provide a player or two for the NBA all-star game in Toronto. Circle of life.


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