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COMMENTARY: Casinos should have ignored bottom line and stepped up for state tournament

The trophies weren’t any smaller and neither were the tears any less evident, those falling from joy and heartache. The selfies will still last a lifetime.

You don’t need to manufacture emotion for a state high school basketball tournament. It’s part of the DNA.

So, too, should be the experience.

To no fault of its own, that part fell terribly short for the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association this year.

The blame lies with others, local casinos either too shortsighted or corporate, blinded by things like business rivals or the final tally on an invoice.

The three-day tournament is being held at Cox Pavilion, a 2,500-seat gymnasium on UNLV’s campus. It’s a fine place for a college game and even hosts the NBA Summer League.

It’s a logistical nightmare and not near adequate enough for the final and most significant week of the prep season.

They actually had to turn away 100 or so fans from the Class 4A boys final between Bishop Gorman and Clark on Friday night as the gym reached capacity.

At the state final, for goodness sake. That’s ridiculous. Should have never come to that.

For many players, this is the end of competitive basketball, the pinnacle moment kids have earned, and those from Nevada deserved much better this week.

Since the tournament went to a rotating format annually between North and South, it has since 2005 been at Orleans Arena when in Las Vegas.

That changed this year because of, well, some banners.

No. Seriously.

Raise your hand if you had a clue — I guarantee most who attend the tournament don’t — that The Orleans is a Boyd Gaming casino. Keep your hand raised if you knew the title sponsor of the NIAA, with an annual payment of $75,000 that helps fund facilities to host state championships in all sports, is Station Casinos.

I don’t see many hands for what is a little Capulets and Montagues nonsense.

Those at The Orleans — executive director Rex Berman didn’t return multiple calls this week — told the NIAA it could no longer hold the event at the arena, which seats 6,200, if there was any mention of Station Casinos.

No banners. No logos on T-shirts or programs. No midgame announcements.

Forget the fact nobody cares or would even make the connection.

How small-time is this?

Memo to the folks at The Orleans: Those attending the event are already in your building. Those parents are drinking your booze. Those kids are eating your food. Those families are sleeping in your beds.

But you cut ties because of banners and T-shirts?

It’s not just The Orleans. Those at the MGM — which also didn’t respond to a request for comment — had a few of their arenas open this week, and yet when told of the NIAA’s budget for the event (in the $30,000 range for a 501c3 nonprofit organization that is educationally based for academics and athletics), ended the conversation.

It’s business. I get it. I suppose if you offer the high school tournament a break on price, you open yourself up to others wanting a similar concession. But you’re the MGM. You not only will make up the money at your tables in like, oh, five minutes, think of the goodwill you receive when stepping up for kids.

Sadly, that’s not a concern for corporate suits.

I wish like anything Steve Stallworth still ran Orleans Arena. This would never occur under his watch. I also wish South Point Arena, which he now oversees, wasn’t booked with horse shows this time of year, because Stallworth and boss Michael Gaughan would have absolutely worked with the NIAA to host the event.

Those guys just get it.

“All our officials and teams and bands and spirit groups and athletic administrators have been gracious and understanding of the logistical issues we have (at Cox Pavilion),” NIAA assistant director Donnie Nelson said. “But this is the state tournament. The UNLV staff has been terrific. They’re having us here, and we are so appreciative for that.

“One fault of our staff is we never have done an economic impact study, but I know when we were at The Orleans two years ago, 150 or so of those at our athletic director conference stayed there. Our entire staff and officials stayed there. Almost all of our teams stayed there. They all spent money there. We should do that study so we can tell The Orleans or the MGM or whoever, ‘This is exactly what we’re bringing your property.’ ”

Maybe, or maybe local casinos should remember what’s important.

Everyone is making it work this week despite the fact:

— There are only two available locker rooms several floors below the court, and one freight elevator to transport all teams and bands and cheerleaders and officials, and a virtual closet for referees;

— That players must gather all gear at halftime and place it behind their bench so teams for the next game can use the locker room;

— And that those at the NIAA are holding their breath that emotions don’t get the best of opposing players when forced into the same cramped spaces.

The trophies still mean everything, and the selfies will still last forever and the tears — happy and sad — still aptly define how significant a moment this is for those who earned the right to compete.

But this is the state basketball tournament, and the kids from all across Nevada deserved much better.

In the meantime, I’m staring at a Station Casinos banner, knowing how much weight it will carry when determining my family’s next staycation.

I wonder if those at The Orleans can hear me laughing.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be a heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 1340 from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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