Could the NBA pull its 2008 All-Star game from New Orleans and hold the mid-season festivities elsewhere? The most probable answer is no, but it appears that NBA commissioner David Stern, players association executive director Billy Hunter and at least one player — Tracy McGrady — do have some reservations about whether the Hurricane Katrina-ravaged city can host the league's weekend extravaganza.
This isn't the first time that New Orleans is hosting a major sporting event: The city has had Super Bowls and in 2003, it hosted the NCAA men's Final Four. Plus, New Orleans hosts the Sugar Bowl each year, and the game will be the BCS championship game in 2007.
But the city missed out on hosting the 1965 American Football League All-Star Game and getting an AFL franchise because a group of players and AFL owners had a social conscience.
David Stern and Billy Hunter want to be part of the rebuilding process and both could play a key part of helping New Orleans if the league and its players discover the same social conscience that the AFL players had in December 1964. The American Football League was looking to expand and decided that New Orleans would be a perfect fit for the five-year-old league. The AFL owners’ plans included a January 1965 All-Star game at Tulane Stadium and an announcement at the game that the league was going to put a team in the city. But the idea came to a sudden halt because a group of players were appalled that African American players could not get hotel rooms in New Orleans or eat at city restaurants because of their skin color. This occurred after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed by Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
An outraged group of AFL players called Houston Oilers owner Bud Adams and said they were going to boycott the game, and the league relented and moved moved the contest to Houston. It was the first time that players and owners together showed social concern and boycotted a city.
Stern, his owners and the players could use the NBA's bully pulpit and in the nearly year-long buildup to the 2008 game to tell what is really going on in New Orleans instead of just planting a three-day happening next February in the city. The NBA is strong enough to put massive pressure on Federal, state and New Orleans officials to get a master rebuilding plan approved. Stern has 30 of the planet’s business heavyweights at his disposal, along with corporate partners who have a global reach.
Stern has sent out a contradictory message about the New Orleans game. On one hand Stern, who by being a sports league commissioner is a political activist, said before this year's Las Vegas All-Star game that he is monitoring the New Orleans rebuilding "and the reports have been very positive and upbeat."
Yet, he also said, "We think it's time to move past having this wonderful tourist ability, a great convention center, and a covered arena, and then you take your guests on tours of areas that have been devastated and where it seems like very, very little has been done. We don't understand it and (it would not be) much fun to be there if progress hasn't been made, even though it won't affect our visitors."
So Stern wants to throw a party and he wants the visitors to have a good time, yet he doesn't want them to see reality? Here is the reality: The French Quarter, where most of the “visitors” will be, is fine, although there are fewer street musicians and performers. They are gone because of Hurricane Katrina and the lack of tourists to hand out tips.
Once Stern's party goes below Canal Street, however, visitors would see lots of empty storefronts. If they go the other way toward the Ninth Ward, they would see devastation and ruin. At this point, New Orleans biggest housing development is taking place in the Ninth Ward, where some 220 homes are being constructed in what is being called the "Musicians Village." About 70 are complete, selling for $75,000 a house, and it is hoped that musicians and artists will move into the small homes. Musician Village was created by Harry Connick, Jr., Branford and Ellis Marsalis along with the Habitat for Humanity and depends on private donations.
Stern and his party also could travel to the Lower Ninth Ward and stop by Fats Domino's house. Fats is rebuilding, but on the corner near his house, he could not get prescriptions filled because the Walgreen’s is shuttered. If he wanted fast food, he could not get that either, as both Long John Silver and Kentucky Fried Chicken are long gone. They could see Holy Cross High School and a fleet of buses in the parking lot not too far from Fats’ home. The high school looks like a normal high school, except when you get closer, because it’s permanently shut. The shell of the building stands like many other shells in New Orleans, St. Bernard Parish and St. Tammany Parish. Gated communities which once housed New Orleans’ upper class with sturdy structures still stand, but no one lives there because the houses have no walls because of mold removal. Malls have been shut down and fenced off. Six Flags New Orleans will not reopen in 2007, if ever, because of a dispute with an insurance company. Six Flags is not alone; thousands upon thousands of home owners have the same fight on their hands.
Concerns about safety in New Orleans were raised again after the high number of arrests that took place in Las Vegas during this year's NBA All-Star festivities. McGrady, the Houston Rockets star, said Wednesday he was concerned.
“When they first mentioned to me that the All-Star game was going to be in New Orleans, the first thing I thought about is how much security they are going to have for the players and everybody there,” McGrady said, the Associated Press reported.
“I don’t think it’s the right city to have this type of event right now. I know the city is in need of trying to get back on their feet, in need of money. Safety comes first. I’m sure they have to do a lot of research and look into before they really make this decision.”
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