Living the sporting life in Vegas

Apr 19, 2005 7:21 AM

Gene Kilroy has turned the "power lunch" into an art form.

"Hey, if you want (phone) numbers, I’ll hook you up," Kilroy said last week at his favorite local bistro where many of the employees know him by name.

"I’m going to leave you Larry Holmes’ number and also Karl Malone’s," he said. "They are like family to me."

Sure enough, the numbers worked and we connected.

"He never pulled any punches with me," said Holmes, perhaps boxing’s most under valued world heavyweight champion. "Gene took care of all that was significant to me. He made my boxing dream come true."

It was Kilroy who befriended Holmes when the fighter was without money or the connections to launch what became a memorable career.

"I met Muhammad Ali in 1971 through Gene and became Ali’s sparring partner," Holmes said from his home in Easton, Pa. "I’ve been friends with Gene ever since. He never forgets you."

Malone, in the middle of moving back to his family’s Louisiana ranch home, called from Los Angeles when he heard Gene asked about him.

"I would get on a plane in a minute for Gene," said the recently retired NBA superstar. "What you see with Gene is what you get. Some may take him as abrasive, but he really is a no-nonsense guy. Yes or no is our relationship and it’s always yes. He’s like family to me."

Malone’s first meeting with Kilroy truly explains the character of the man.

"I met him at the Golden Nugget as a rookie with Utah," Malone said. "I was out of money and losing at the tables. Gene took care of me without any hidden agendas. A little bit of him definitely rubbed off on me. His kindness and generosity are unmatched."

Kilroy said he enjoys being in the middle of the action, whether it’s his first love, boxing, the sports and gaming industry or schmoozing at his favorite Vegas bistros. Kilroy recently joined the Tropicana Hotel as a casino executive, but his Vegas roots go back three decades.

"I wasn’t a guy who was sleeping too much," said Kilroy, a former executive with the Philadelphia Eagles. "I was out there with the action. Super Bowls, world championship boxing ”¦ I don’t use people or abuse them."

Kilroy grew up in a small coal town in eastern Pennsylvania, where he developed his hard edge and close ties with people he believes weren’t dealt a fair break.

"I’ve had a close relationship for years with Mike Tyson, going back to Cus D’Amato and his New York days," he said. "Tyson is a gutsy little street kid. He’s a target."

Kilroy also defends Las Vegas, especially when he sees "Sin City" references.

"We have the best hotels, restaurants, gaming and real estate," he said. "We have great hospitals and good schools. I can’t think of a better place to live than here. That’s how you judge a city.

"You know, Steve Wynn always stressed that if you don’t have customers, you don’t have a thing," Kilroy added. "That’s why he’s so successful and why Vegas will be as well. If Michael Jackson can marry Elvis’ daughter, anything is possible."