Weekend in Vegas: The Griz, B.B. King, and the Preakness

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FRANK MURTAUGH
  • Frank Murtaugh

Las Vegas is a city of distractions. And distractions are healthy when your home team is eliminated from the NBA playoffs.

I spent last weekend in Sin City, attending the renewal of wedding vows for a pair of dear friends. (Audie and Jennifer have been happily married for 20 years. A Michael Jackson “artist” who officiated the ceremony now knows this.) Friday night, my wife and I found ourselves roaming Fremont Street as Game 6 of the Grizzlies-Warriors series tipped off.

Fremont Street is in downtown Vegas, the original strip. It was hopping well before Bugsy Siegel arrived and helped create the world’s modern gambling mecca. The gaming machines and blackjack tables remain the draw, but distractions? Last Friday, you could take your pick: the Avengers, Captain Jack Sparrow, cowboys in thongs, nuns in pasties. What’s real and what’s fake doesn’t matter in Vegas, especially on Fremont Street. It’s all show. (Yes, nuns in pasties.)

We paused at various TV screens, some outside under the canopy that stretches three blocks above Fremont and serves as a gargantuan video board every hour, the only distraction powerful enough to darken the exterior lights of the Golden Nugget and its competition for the tourist dollar. I saw the Grizzlies’ dreadful start, grew convinced they’d pull off the upset when they closed within a point in the third quarter, then nearly ripped the bracelets off a Wonder Woman “artist” when Steph Curry drained that three-quarter-court shot to end the period. Cruel and usual, that shot. I could see the emotional drain in FedExForum from 1,500 miles away. Twelve minutes of basketball later . . . emptiness.

Las Vegas didn’t care. Casino hosts offered a free spin if the wandering would just enter their place, where riches awaited. Elvis “artists” of various size posed for pictures (and tips) with tourists who only required shades and sideburns. And, of course, the nuns in pasties cared nothing about a point guard with facial fractures, or what could be the final minutes of Marc Gasol in a Grizzly uniform. Just more pictures. More tips. More distractions.

At 11 p.m., the Grizzlies season by then over, the Fremont canopy lit up with pictures of B.B. King, the blues legend who died the day before, right there in Vegas. The blues legend who made Memphis his home, whose club has occupied a Beale Street corner for nearly a quarter century now. Seeing King’s face high above the throng of pedestrians, his birthday and date of passing vivid, the confluence of Memphis losses couldn’t have felt heavier. And “The Thrill is Gone” never sounded so sad.

• If you’ve read this column for any period of time, you know I’m attached to horse racing’s Triple Crown series, and have been hoping for a 12th Triple Crown winner, one year after another, since the Carter administration. But being in Vegas, a sportsbook at my fingertips, I chose to go for the payout in this year’s Preakness Stakes, placing bets on a pair of dark horses, Mr. Z and Danzig Moon. You know what happened. Under a downpour, American Pharoah — the favorite — romped to victory, the 14th horse to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness since Affirmed last won the Triple Crown in 1978. Needless to say, I’ll have my heart in the right place for the Belmont on June 6th. Lesson learned: never root with your wallet.

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