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Expect Texas-Sized Crowd at Cowboys Stadium

DALLAS - Holding the NBA All-Star Game in a football stadium is nothing new, first done at Michigan's Pontiac Silverdome in 1979.

In fact, the Dallas Mavericks' "annexation" of Cowboys Stadium on Sunday for the 59th edition simply follows the Texas football All-Star tradition begun by the Houston Rockets in 1989 and continued by the San Antonio Spurs in 1996.

And Texas is the original home of basketball at the 50-yard line: UCLA-Houston played before 52,693 at the Astrodome in 1968.

But there's little traditional about Jerry Jones' new, $1.15 billion palace located in Arlington. Sunday's crowd should surpass the combined total for the 1989 NBA All-Star Game at the Astrodome (an All-Star record 44,735) and the 1996 gathering at San Antonio's Alamodome (36,037).

A crowd of 90,000-plus is expected to attend Sunday, including thousands in the standing-room areas above each end zone.

The size of the venue and the splitting of All-Star weekend activities between Arlington and the Mavericks' home American Airlines Center 20 miles away have created challenges for the league. It's all in the plan of Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to make this a more memorable sports scene than even last week's Super Bowl run-up.

"That just reminds us we've set the bar high," said Ski Austin, executive vice president of events and attractions for NBA Entertainment.

The All-Star Game first came to Dallas in 1986 at Reunion Arena (capacity 17,007). The highlight that weekend was Dallas native Spud Webb, all 5-7 of him, winning the slam-dunk competition.

Webb is now president of basketball operations for the NBA Development League team that will begin play next fall in the Dallas suburb of Frisco. He will be a judge for Saturday's Sprite Slam Dunk Contest.

The Mavericks moved into American Airlines Center (capacity 19,200) in 2001 but didn't seek an All-Star Game until they could accommodate all their season ticketholders.

"With two-thirds of them shut out (because of tickets distributed around the NBA), we didn't see an equitable way to do that," Mavericks President Terdema Ussery said.

Season ticketholder Mark David of suburban McKinney, Texas, is grateful the Mavericks waited.

"We would have had tickets in the rafters or couldn't get them at all," said David, 55, a commercial real estate agent who has owned season tickets since the 1980s.

More than 6,000 local people indicated their interest to volunteer for the weekend, said Gail Hunter, Austin's top aide and an NBA Entertainment senior vice president. About 2,000 have been tapped, about the same as last year in Phoenix, but an additional 1,500 are ready if needed.

Hunter, who worked for Major League Baseball and was involved with its 1995 All-Star Game at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, said many of the same people have been involved with this weekend's events.

All-Star weekend security has been an issue since the various incidents that took place in Las Vegas three years ago. Austin said the league works with local officials to ensure safety, focusing on making transportation as smooth as possible.

There will be the many parties that have become part of the NBA All-Star landscape, but youth haven't been forgotten. More than 1,000 will participate today in nine NBA FIT clinics across North Texas. Another 3,500 will be involved in Friday's T-Mobile Rookie Challenge and Youth Jam.

Ray Clark, 45, who attended the 1986 game in Dallas as a senior at Southern Methodist, has attended All-Star Games in eight other cities. Clark, who has owned Mavericks season tickets for 20 years and is founder and CEO of a Dallas-based marketing firm, is glad the game has returned to his hometown.

"More so than anything else," he said, "I'm happy for the city."

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