ORLANDO, Fla. (AP)—The NBA All-Star Game is getting another Magic infusion.
Twenty years after hosting one of the most memorable moments in its history, NBA commissioner David Stern announced Tuesday that the league’s All-Star game and weeklong festivities will return to Orlando in 2012 at the Magic’s new arena.
Orlando also held the All-Star game in 1992, when Magic Johnson returned to basketball to win the Most Valuable Player award after his stunning retirement and acknowledgment he was HIV positive.
“It was an extraordinary and emotional time,” Stern said Tuesday. “To be able to hug him in front of a global audience and congratulate him, it was extraordinary.”
The NBA clearly likes to take its midwinter break in sunshine.
Phoenix had the All-Star game last year, Dallas was this season’s host— even though there was a large snowfall—and Los Angeles gets the game a record fifth time in 2011. New Orleans, Las Vegas and Houston had the game before that.
Stern stopped short of saying the All-Star game could be in a regular rotation, but he said warm-weather sites in major tourist destinations appeal to the NBA’s owners and international broadcasters.
“I’m not making any promises,” Stern said. “Although I can tell you that the owners have sort of expressed, not quite directly, but indicated that warm weather is appealing to them.”
One place the game doesn’t appear headed anytime soon is overseas.
There had been talk of holding the game in Europe, perhaps in London ahead of the 2012 Olympics. Stern said that was “just talk,” and nothing more.
“Some of the players come up to me and say, ‘Let’s go to London.’ They don’t know how difficult it is to mount something,” Stern said. “I think this game is staying domestic for quite a few more years.”
Stern had long promised to bring the marquee game to the soon-to-be-complete Amway Center, which opens next season. He toured the new arena—hard hat, fluorescent vest and all—just before making the announcement.
The only thing that could deter the excitement is a potential lockout in the 2011-2012 season.
The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement expires after next season. Stern wouldn’t say exactly what would happen with the All-Star game should there be a work stoppage, although it appears he would be willing to push back each game.
“Once a game is in the rotation, it’s in the rotation,” he said. “We’re coming to Orlando for an All-Star game.”
Topping the excitement of the last All-Star game in Orlando could be tough.
Even though he hadn’t played all season, Johnson drew more votes than any player for the West team in the 1992 game. He chose to honor fans’ wishes by playing, and he didn’t disappoint.
Johnson’s showdowns with Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan stirred the crowd, drawing tears from fans in a night filled with emotions. Johnson had 25 points and nine assists to help the West roll to a 153-113 victory.
Johnson’s dazzling return not only reminded fans of one of the game’s greatest stars, it gave others with HIV hope that they also could persevere with a disease that was considered at the time to be a quick death sentence.
“That really, truly was a monumental moment in All-Star game history,” said Boston Celtics’ Hall of Famer Kevin McHale, who was at Tuesday’s announcement. “Unfortunately for me, Magic had a habit of rising to the occasion.”
The game will be Feb. 26, 2012, almost two full weeks after this year’s game was held. The season will still end in mid-April, Stern said, and the move was made likely for some separation from the Super Bowl.
The arena will hold the Rookie Challenge, Youth Jam and All-Star Saturday night. The All-Star Jam Session will be earlier in the week at the Orange County Convention Center.
City officials estimated that the economic impact could be almost $100 million. Elected officials would like to see the All-Star game return more frequently, especially with a the new arena built largely on public funding.
“Commissioner, we’d like to have it more than once every 20 years,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said.
The new arena and the team’s return to prominence clearly worked in Orlando’s favor.
The Magic returned to the NBA finals last year, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in five games, and had the league’s second-best record behind Cleveland this season. They returned to the NBA finals last year after a 14-year drought, devastated for years by the loss of Shaquille O’Neal(notes) for years.
Orlando opens its Eastern Conference semifinal against Atlanta on Tuesday night, with expectations of a championship in reach. Now, getting the All-Star game, was a culmination of a more than decade-long turnaround.
“I would tell you,” Magic president Bob Vander Weide said, “this community has arrived and has reason to be proud.”
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