Before the last chip had not been cashed in Las Vegas folks were already making reservations for New Orleans, site of the 2008 NBA All-Star Game. The contest – or should I say, the pah-tay – will culminate a staggering couple of months in the Easy, following the Sugar Bowl (the national championship game), a likely NFL playoff game and Mardi Gras.
NBA Commissioner David Stern awarded the game to the city, in part, because of the overwhelming national compassion stirred by the tragedy we now known as Katrina. It seemed like a good idea at the time, especially with the local Hornets, already under financial straits, displaced to Oklahoma City for most of the 2005-2006 season. But now, two years after the disaster struck, Stern and his thinkers should re-route the game to another city.
In deference to the people New Orleans has seemingly forgotten – local residents who are still struggling to recover and repair and revive their lives. Katrina was a natural disaster. What’s happened since is a man-made travesty. Hardly a day goes by without another report of city residents feeling overwhelmed and overlooked. Who now has not heard of the Lower Ninth, and who has not seem images of ravaged lives still in flux? Who does not know that New Orleans is now a next of crime?
Sure the Saints were a great story. But their journey as America’s team only overshadowed the ugly realities of a city left to die by local, state and national officials.
Those same officials leveraged (dare I say “pimped?”) the national heart to persuade organizations and leagues to “come back” to New Orleans. If all that energy had been spent finding solutions to the travails that encompasses the daily lives of the city’s residents, maybe Spike Lee would have found something entirely different when he filmed his wrenching documentary “When the Levees Broke.” Instead, he found a people abandoned and abused.
Those people now deserve more than simply another game. A lot more. During a press conference in Las Vegas, Stern offered an intriguing insight into his thinking about New Orleans: “Although that sort of politics and government are not our beat, it sure would be nice to see a plan, almost unrelated to basketball, completely unrelated to basketball, to deal with the issues for the people of New Orleans.”
I wasn’t there, so I do not know if anyone followed-up with the question of whether the league would (or even could) decide to take its leather balls elsewhere next year if Stern did not see such a “plan.”
Better yet, if the lives of New Orleans residents – or what’s left of them – are not improved dramatically in the very near future, the league should find another locale for its annual celebration. Sure, make a substantive donation and a committment to support future efforts to rebuild lives.
The way things stand now, however, the people of New Orleans have nothing to celebrate.
Postscript: Apparently, I am not the only one who believes the NBA (and New Orleans) needs to revisit its decision to go to NOLA. AOL Sport’s Jason Whitlock, for very different reasons, says a Big Easy All-Star weekend would be a disaster.