NEW YORK -- WWE knows how to conjure up a villain.
Less than 24 hours after announcing it was bolting Denver for Los Angeles because of a scheduling conflict, World Wrestling Entertainment was distributing a promotional image of chairman Vince McMahon and Nuggets and Pepsi Center owner Stan Kroenke. Superimposed above a photo of McMahon smiling beatifically was a halo; a shot of a dour-looking Kroenke had two red horns atop his head.
WWE was still milking the moment Thursday, securing space at the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square for a news conference complete with star wrestler Triple H. Giant flat-screen TVs blared WWE highlights and supporters clapped and hollered as McMahon stepped to the podium.
No matter whether Kroenke, an owner who prefers to stay in the shadows, was closely involved in the arena being double-booked for WWE's Monday Night Raw and a Nuggets-Lakers playoff game on the same night. WWE isn't letting this go easily. And Kroenke himself makes a much more appealing target than the faceless entity of his company, Kroenke Sports Enterprises.
McMahon boiled down the dispute to a basic element of human conflict.
"It makes me feel like our organization and all of WWE fans have been disrespected," he said.
McMahon insisted all he wanted was a simple apology from Kroenke.
"Had he called me and said, 'You know what, Vince, we screwed up. We had your event and I didn't know my team was going to make the playoffs and my management screwed up somehow. I want to apologize to you and I want to make it right in some way," McMahon said.
"Had he picked up the phone and called me and said that, I really don't know what I would have done, except I wouldn't have done this."
Kroenke Sports no longer wanted to engage in the debate. But it was too late to stop the publicity machine of WWE, clearly intent on inflicting as much embarrassment on the organization as possible.
"We're not going to fuel the media fire that this guy would like us to," said Kroenke Sports executive vice president Paul Andrews. "We're preparing for basketball games. Whatever he does from here is of no concern."
A lot more people will know who E. Stanley Kroenke is after Monday night, when Raw airs on USA Network from Staples Center, home of the Lakers. WWE plans a parody pitting McMahon's character against Kroenke's.
"Monday's broadcast is going to be very, very controversial and interesting," said wrestler John Cena, who was at Staples Center for Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. "I'm sure our boss Vince McMahon will challenge a Mr. Kroenke look-alike to some match and I'm sure there will be some WWE superstars dressed as the Lakers facing some unknowns dressed as the Nuggets."
McMahon never missed a chance to mock Kroenke on Thursday, referring to him as "E period Stan Kroenke" on every mention and seemingly pronouncing his last name differently each time.
"I never trusted anyone with an initial for a first name," he cracked, "and now I know why."
Cena, who had courtside seats for Game 2, wasn't as perturbed.
"It just shows that we are an entertainment broadcast and we do take everything in stride. We took it in jest, and we made the best out of a bad situation," he said.
WWE released the copy of a joint news release it said Kroenke Sports wanted to send out, announcing that the two sides had agreed to move Raw to Sunday night at Pepsi Center. McMahon called the wording "absurd" and claimed it doomed negotiations.
Rolling his eyes and sarcastically enunciating choice words, McMahon read aloud a passage.
"By all accounts," the release quoted McMahon as saying, "Mr. Kroenke is one of the most respected professional sports team owners in the world, and the professional way he and his staff good-naturedly handled this conflict gives further testament to the type of business leader he is."
That certainly contradicted the tone of McMahon's public utterings all week, variations of this missive Thursday: "Their business management is the most inept business management we've ever dealt with."
USA Network was happy to pile on to the story line, sending executive vice president Chris McCumber to the news conference.
"I want to encourage all WWE fans to tune in this week," he said, "to stand up, show who you are, show that you can't be pushed around."