By David Wilson
I saw a post by Bethleham Shoals on AOL Fan House just a minute ago titled, “Hunter: NOLA Can’t Handle All-Star Weekend.” So I took the relay throw from Shoals by way of a link to a Newsday article by Ken Berger, and further hunted around the Internet to finish off the play at the plate.
As soon as I read the lead to Berger’s piece I knew what I was in for:
David Stern is not alone in wondering if it was a mistake to bring the NBA All-Star Game to Las Vegas. The commissioner of conscience can’t get that decision back, but he can do something to prevent New Orleans from being the next victim.
Note to Ken Berger: David Stern lost his “commissioner of conscience” cred card when he signed that $125 million deal with Russell Athletics so that the Russell-owned Spalding Company could infest the League with that microfiber paper cut ball without entering a penny of the profits onto the NBA players – or retired players – ledger. Stern then appeared to find his card – perhaps in his limo – but then chose to give it away permanently to political hitman Matthew Dowd to provide him with guidance as to how to appear for all the world like the neocons with whom Dowd so gleefully consorts.
As reported in Shoals’ piece, the quotes from NBA Players Association chief Billy Hunter are ambiguous at best:
“I’m wondering, how will New Orleans accommodate all these people if they elect to come to New Orleans?” Hunter said. “They’ll shut the city down.
“First of all, their police force is dissipated. They’re probably dealing with half the force they had before. They don’t have all the resources that we will need to properly police the city. They’ve got a serious crime problem as it is. And so what are they going to do?”
No Billy. First, New Orleans needs to be rebuilt. Katrina and the resultant flooding destroyed 75.1% of the city’s residences; flood depths in New Orleans ranged from four to 20 feet. While the tourist areas of New Orleans have been largely restored to their pre-Katrina state, most neighborhoods remain in shambles. New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin proudly told any members of the national media who would listen that 800,000 people came to the Crescent City for Mardi Gras this year, up 100,000 from last year’s Carnival.
Later in his article, Berger revealed his true feelings about New Orleans hosting next years All-Star game:
On one hand, it’s not fair to punish New Orleans for the 403 arrests, massive crowd-control problems and at least two shootings that occurred during All-Star Weekend in Vegas. Thomas Urbanski, 43, a native of Commack, was paralyzed from the waist down in one of the shootings as he worked security at a strip club in the early morning hours before the game on Feb. 18.
No NBA players or personnel were involved in that incident, or any incident involving police, for that matter. And even though it defies logic that a sports league should be in charge of policing strip clubs, Stern and Hunter still need to talk this over.
They need to know what the NBA is getting into by going to New Orleans. Even more important, they need to make sure New Orleans knows what it’s getting into by opening its already distressed city to the NBA and the violent element its All-Star party has begun to attract.
However, Stern, despite his conscience card loss, expressed some of the concerns that are on many people’s minds:
“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,” he said earlier this month. “We don’t understand it.”
People might think that with the storm clouds that hang over the NBA, Stern would be the person sucking up to the “New Orleans is back” rhetoric, pushing the city to ready itself for the 2007-08 All-Star game. One would be completely innocent in thinking that Billy Hunter, “the players’ guy” would attempt to diffuse the “NBA players and the crowd that follows them are thugs” rhetoric.
One would think.
But in this case it is Hunter whose logic appears cloudy and Whitlockian, allowing the likes of Berger to publicly spew his vitriol. It is Hunter who is selling out the players, the All-Star weekend, the league, and the commissioner down the murky, toxic waters of Lake Pontchartrain. Conversely, it is Stern who is clear in his perception of the true state of New Orleans and clear in the role the NBA will play there beyond housing the New Orleans Hornets.
If Hunter has his way, next year’s All-Star game will be relocated to a city prepared to exercise an impromptu police state-like atmosphere in a moment’s notice – or at the sight of more than 10,00 or so black people congregating in one area at once. If Stern has his way the game will be relocated and will not be played in New Orleans for the foreseeable future because the powers that be in the city and in the U.S. government haven’t kept up their end of the rebuilding bargain; Stern’s NBA isn’t going to contribute tourist dollars to a city whose residents may never see the spoils.
Perhaps David Stern is returning to a place of personal balance. Perhaps he now understands that for his league to succeed he must act in the best interests of corporate sponsors, owners, and the players. Perhaps he also understands that we have cultural problems in the U.S. not exclusive only to hip-hop culture or to the culture of the NBA.
Hey wait. Anybody seen Matthew Dowd? Perhaps Dowd, with a presidential election on the horizon, has thankfully returned to his neoconservative pulpit in politics.
Perhaps soon we who love the NBA, write about the NBA, and play in the NBA can breathe again; fresh playoff air.
For more of D-Wil’s writing check out his blog Sports On My Mind.