Las Vegas is the new epicenter of sports world

LAS VEGAS — As I prepare to introduce myself to The Sporting Tribune audience, sitting atop Allegiant Stadium for the 2023 Pro Bowl Games, I’m once again amazed as I look through the lanai doors at the north end of the $2 billion venue.

And not because Interstate 15’s flurry of cars racing in both directions, or the sight of Mandalay Bay or Luxor.

But more so because of what this new epicenter of the sports world once was — absolutely nothing.

I mean, there was a time I’d cry without pro sports. Without, as in 1977, when my hometown of Las Vegas had about 365,000 people and the only thing sports-relevant was UNLV athletics.

Those were the good ol’ days in this town of mine, when you could drive up and down Las Vegas Boulevard in about 10 minutes — six if you caught every green light — and the Rat Pack vibe crept from the 1960s and into the 70s.

I’d go see the Runnin’ Rebels at the Las Vegas Convention Center’s Rotunda, and the football Rebels at what was then called the Silver Bowl.

But that was it, outside of the annual visit from the Harlem Globetrotters, who also played inside the spaceship-looking Rotunda.

I loved football from the moment I had my first Nerf, especially the pros, and watched NFL Today with Brent Musberger religiously. I kept my own notes at the ripe ol’ age of 8 years old and understood point spreads better than the squares who were losing money at legendary Little Caesars, which was situated between the original MGM and Aladdin hotels. If I could book bets at Robert E. Lake elementary school, I probably would’ve made a fortune off my fourth- and fifth-grade teachers.

I mean, you’re talking about someone who was leaving high school at lunch to turn in parlay cards at the Frontier Hotel, and five years later was running money for a sports-betting group in the Hilton (now known as the Westgate).

So believe me, there was no shot Mr. Nelson or Mr. Eckman knew what they were doing in the book, otherwise, they wouldn’t be teaching elementary school, right?

All the while I continued to wonder why the Entertainment Capital of the World couldn’t steal my Dallas Cowboys and have an NFL team here. Seriously, Sinatra at Caesars on Saturday and the NFL in the Silver Bowl on Sunday.

I didn’t care why, I knew my town was special. Vegas has always been a vibe.

But, “it was just a completely different feel,” famed sports bettor Billy Walters once told me during an interview for an article I penned about Old Vegas.

Fast forward nearly 45 years later, and Vegas is still a vibe.

And the feeling it’s completely different all over again.

Which is why there is an overwhelming amazement every time I’m atop Allegiant Stadium, sitting on press row to cover the Las Vegas Raiders. Or today at the Pro Bowl, knowing in 371 days this will be the site for Super Bowl LVIII.

The Super Bowl in Las Vegas? It still doesn’t seem real.

It wasn’t too long ago the NFL wouldn’t even engage in a conversation regarding teams playing a preseason game here, let alone allow a storied franchise like the Raiders to relocate here.

The NCAA hated this town and beloved coach Jerry Tarkanian in the heyday of Runnin’ Rebels basketball. Now, following a couple of weeks of conference tournament action scattered across the valley, March Madness will find its way into T-Mobile Arena for the West Regionals. The NCAA recently announced the 2028 Final Four will be at Allegiant Stadium.

The Final Four in Las Vegas? Is this a dream?

I can only imagine the smirk on Tark’s face right now, laughing with his good buddy and former Georgetown coach John Thompson.

There aren’t many media members, if any, who watched the desert of Las Vegas Boulevard transform. From a skyline that included Caesars Palace, the Dunes, Sands and Desert Inn, into a suffocating artery crammed with architecture beyond imagination and visited by millions.

And, of course, now, a sports town every league and organization is dying to call home.

Adding to the prize fights we’ve always had — the first fight I ever attended was Muhammad Ali-Larry Holmes at Caesars’ outdoor stadium in 1980 — we have the NFL, NHL, WNBA, UFC, MiLB, and NASCAR, with a sprinkling of so many others sporadically throughout the year.

And it’s from those events I’m looking forward to bringing you stories while reflecting on the differences between old Vegas and the new. Maybe a tale or two of the old-school nightclubs and how my mother showed up at one of them and told them the booth the character Joe Pesci played in Casino was sitting at her table — not his. Or about how a member of the same outfit hung around the city long after his boss was murdered, and kicked it with us at the same establishment that was now owned by someone different and had a different look. Or those nights with some of the 1986-87 Runnin’ Rebels and a gang of females who loved them some basketball. Or the late-night bingers that turned into early-morning breakfasts at places that served you an incredible meal for anywhere from 99 cents to $1.99.

I’m here for it all, and ready to deliver the goods as I join The Sporting Tribune while welcoming you to my town.

Pro sports are here.

And while the tears are gone, the stories will never die.

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