|New Orleans' heritage shines at All-Star game|
|Written by Admin|
|Sunday, 17 February 2008 18:13|
Hosting basketball's greatest stars for a game watched by millions in 215 countries was a boost in itself.
Organizers capitalized on that platform by greeting viewers with a French Quarter-style facade, a New Orleans brass band and second-line dancing so contagious that even players couldn't help from bouncing.
The faux French Quarter streetscape, built in a lower corner of the New Orleans Arena and featured during pre-game introductions, forced the NBA to sacrifice nearly a full section of excellent seating close to the court.
The NBA has made the rebuilding of New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina the primary theme of All-Star weekend. So it only made sense that the league would give up a few hundred seats so the city could showcase cultural richness that has fascinated tourists for generations.
ked up by the Rebirth Brass Band, a popular draw at local bars and clubs for years.
Extras danced on the balcony, some dressed in NBA jerseys and many wearing feather boas like those often worn by revelers on Bourbon Street.
The national anthem featured saxophone player Branford Marsalis and singer Stephanie Jordan, both New Orleans natives.
Then Hornets All-Stars David West and Chris Paul said a few words on the city's behalf.
``Your commitment to this great city has given us a tremendous boost,'' West said.
Added Paul: ``New Orleans is definitely back to being the city that the world knows and loves.''
The NBA reserved the halftime performance for a host of famous New Orleans musicians, including singer Harry Connick Jr., Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Davell Crawford, Art Neville, Ivan Neville, Jonathan Batiste and Ellis Marsalis, who is the patriarch of the musical Marsalis family and Connick's one-time teacher.
The pre-game and halftime entertainment featured the second part of a two-pronged message the NBA sought to send the world about New Orleans. On Friday, the league focused on the neighborhoods that are still reeling 2 1/2 years after Katrina struck. All-Stars joined 2,500 league employees on rebuilding projects.
ions that drive the all-important tourism industry here have endured.
Connick said New Orleans converted on the NBA's assist.
``New Orleans is known for its tourism, Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest and all that stuff. So to be able to present itself in such a positive way is really important,'' Connick said. ``A lot of people I know say, 'We've never been to New Orleans and we're afraid to go because it may not be back together.' So when they see this, they know hotels are back, restaurants are back. It's really coming around.''
FLASHBACK: Julius Erving had a sudden flashback as he strolled past a practice court set up in the Louisiana Superdome.
Dr. J, who including his years as a player has been to 37 straight All-Star weekends, played before a then-record setting single-game crowd of 35,077 in a game against the New Orleans Jazz in 1977.
``It made me think about not only that game, but the next day, Pete Maravich, Dick Cavett and I were the only ones in the building during the Dick Cavett show,'' Erving said. ``Those two days are etched in my mind, very special days, and it all came back to me.''
The Jazz played in New Orleans for five seasons from 1974 to 1979 before moving to Utah, playing their final four seasons in the Superdome. The Jazz never made the playoffs. But with Maravich, a former LSU star, making circus shots and passes, attendance in the dome met or exceeded league averages in three of those seasons.
STAR-STUDDED: As usual, the All-Star game was a star-studded affair not only on the court but in the stands.
Those making VIP entrances on a red carpet included actors Arnold Schwarzenegger, Alyssa Milano, Gabrielle Union, Olivia Wilde, Chris Rock, Terry Crews and Corbin Blue. Musical artist Ludacris and music producer Jimmy ``Jam'' Harris also were on hand.
The game being in New Orleans, however, former Saints quarterback Archie Manning, father of Peyton and Eli, was treated like the biggest star if them all. The crowd erupted when his face appeared on the scoreboard video screen.
Who heard boos? Dallas Cowboys receiver Terrell Owens.
SPECIAL STARS: Carlton Lockett had a surprise for Dwight Howard.
When the Orlando center, who won Saturday's slam dunk contest after donning a Superman outfit complete with a red cape, met Lockett, the youngster from Cleveland busted into his own ``Superman'' move made famous by Soulja Boy's popular ``Crank Dat'' song.
``I showed him how to do it,'' said the 15-year-old Lockett, a liver transplant patient who was a guest of the NBA and the Make-A-Wish Foundation at this weekend's All-Star events.
Lockett and three other sick youngsters got a chance to visit with all the players before Sunday's game. The biggest thrill for Lockett was when he got to meet Allen Iverson, his all-time favorite.
n A.I. came around the corner,'' said his mother, Chabli. ``He's been an A.I. fan since he was four or five years old.''
``I told him I was his biggest fan,'' Carlton said. ``People back home give me a hard time about it.''
No doubt. A kid from Cleveland whose favorite player isn't LeBron James?
``He came along too late,'' said Carlton, who was sporting an authentic Howard jersey. ``LeBron's cool though. I saw him in the hotel lobby every day.''
The NBA and Make-A-Wish have teamed up for the past 12 years.
SUPERMAN JAM: A night later, people were still amazed by the sight of Superman.
Dwight Howard's sensational display of athleticism and imagination in the slam dunk contest, highlighted by a dunk while donning the Man of Steel's cape, was still being talked about Sunday. Both All-Star coaches compared it to Vince Carter's acrobatic performance in 2000.
``The dunks that he did last night, I thought I would never see some of those dunks,'' Western Conference coach Byron Scott said. ``But I thought Dwight with his size and strength and his athleticism, being 6-foot-11, you just don't see guys that tall and that big having that type of athleticism in the dunk contest. So I was kind of blown away at what he was able to accomplish.''
oward's next one, when he caught up to a long bounce pass he threw to himself, leaped and tapped the ball off the backboard with one hand, then threw it down with the other.
``I thought it brought the creativity back to the dunk contest,'' Garnett said. ``When he bounced it, caught it, tapped it off the backboard and dunked it in, I thought it was unbelievable.''
Garnett and East coach Doc Rivers also praised the performance of runner-up Gerald Green, whose dunks included one while blowing out a candle on a cupcake resting on the rim. But Howard's was just too impressive.
``Dwight put on a show that we've not seen very often,'' Rivers said. ``I think it's very similar to what Vince Carter did as an individual in the dunk contest. I thought Dwight did the same thing yesterday.''
Howard provided an encore in Sunday night's game with a slew of thunderous dunks.