When Paint is Not Enough: NBA All Star Weekend Comes to New Orleans

Last weekend the NBA All-Star Game came to New Orleans. If you were one of the thousands to make the trip to the Big Easy and hang out on Bourbon Street, you no doubt saw one kind of NOLA. Like the Green Zone in Iraq, offering salsa lessons and satellite television, this is an area of unreality. But many see economic investment in tourist center as the path toward economic revival for this remarkable city.

As NBA commissioner David Stern said in May 2006: "The award of NBA All-Star 2008 is our vote of confidence in the progress that is being made in the reopening and rebuilding of New Orleans' tourism infrastructure. New Orleans will become the basketball capital of the world in February 2008, and demonstrate to a global audience that New Orleans is very much open for business."

There is no doubt that Stern & Co. were tickled green to do business in the new New Orleans. But as a strategy to rebuild the city, it's shoveling sand in the ocean. This was seen last Friday when the league held an "NBA Cares All-Star Day of Service." The event featured players (including LeBron James and Jason Kidd) and 2,500 league employees who spread out all over the city to aid in rebuilding efforts, an operation that also served as a cunning plea for good PR after a year of dirty referees, sexual harassment trials and an All-Star Game in Las Vegas that turned into a full-fledged national controversy.

As self-serving as it may have been, anytime players leave the athletic bubble -- their own mental Green Zone -- it is a positive step, especially when they speak out on the experience. "It's a great shame," Steve Nash said after seeing the other New Orleans. "I can't relate to what these people went through. It's devastating. To come here and see what little has been done is disappointing. It feels like the city has been forgotten in a lot of ways. This is not what America's about and we should look at why we failed."

Nash's friend Dirk Nowitzki, who was groomed to be an NBA player in Germany from the time he was old enough to tie his own shoes, was simply shocked. "I didn't think it was going to be this bad," he said. "I really had no idea. A lot of work needs to be done. This should have been done two years ago. This city needs a lot more help than us painting the walls. But hopefully this will be educational and us being out here will help get the message out. They need all the help they can get."

Nowitzki is right that it will take more than a coat of paint. This is obvious if you take a journey to the B.W. Cooper, C.J. Peete, Lafitte and St. Bernard housing projects. People should see them before they are swallowed whole by the most daring gentrification project this side of Baghdad.

These four "developments," which 4,500 families call home, are now set to be demolished and replaced by 800 condominiums. This, for all intents and purposes, will end low-income housing in the city. Many of these families haven't even been able to come back since the levees broke, unable to even speak out for their homes.

The demolition reflects a city undergoing a radical reconstruction. For the first time in two decades, the City Council has become somewhat paler. As The New York Times recently reported, "In one of the clearest signs yet of Hurricane Katrina's lasting demographic impact, the City Council is about to have a white majority for the first time in over two decades, pointing up again the storm's displacement of thousands of residents, mostly black."

Last December, at a City Council meeting where the politicians voted to destroy the projects, all the simmering rage boiled over. Hundreds gathered to give testimony and save their homes, but were locked out by police on orders from the Council. As they tried to force their way in, police broke out the pepper spray and Tasers. Then came the SWAT team. The lucky were arrested; others were sent to the hospital. No matter how well-reasoned the argument, a Taser tends to stop the dialogue.

Civil rights lawyer Bill Quigley, one of the many arrested, wrote later: "Some were Tasered, many pepper sprayed and a dozen arrested. Outside the chambers, iron gates were chained and padlocked even before the scheduled start. Only developers and those with special permission from council members were allowed in. Despite dozens of open seats in the council chambers, pleas to be allowed in were ignored. Chants of 'Housing is a human right!' and 'Let us in!' thundered through the concrete breezeway."

Last weekend thousands came to New Orleans to celebrate the global popularity of a sport in which the vast majority of players are African-American. Basketball is a game often compared to jazz, with its improvisation and ebb and flow. There is nothing wrong with celebrating the sport in the birthplace of jazz, especially when one All-Star in particular, New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul, plays like Coltrane. But a fresh coat of paint isn't the answer. The people who have roots in this remarkable American city just need to know that they can come home.

78 Reader Comments | Add a comment

Look at the shiny object

Amazing really, an entire city is almost literally wiped off the map and instead of using the opportunity to use it as an example of how every American can lend a hand it gets turned into a massive real estate grab. But who cares, there's a big shiny NBA All Star Game happening. Everyone look at that instead!!!

Like A War Zone

I know a New Orleans refugee--ironically, she is white. The Katrina experience did something to her. I think she has post-traumatic stress symptoms. And there is nowhere to turn.

There is a reason the slogan "right of return" is employed to describe the situation for Palestinians and the people of New Orleans. It isn't just that they are in trouble; it is that no one seems to care.


Great article Dave, as usual.

NBA show style over subtstance

The NBA circus that is the All-Star game hit New Orleans this past week. Although I think that what the league set up was more style than substance, let us not forget that many NBA players poured in a fair amount of money into New Orleans after Katrina hit. That effort was a lot better than the U.S. government could provide. So while the league is all about marketing and making millions, at least some of its players realized the real catastrophe and lent a helping hand.

Paint and Pretense

It is absolutely horrific how much has NOT been done to rebuild and make NOLA livable. One of the things I liked best about your article is the players who have spoken out regarding that very fact.

Trying Not to Be Too Cynical

Man, we were there four months after the hurricane and I know for a fact very little has changed since. Even then government and business "leaders" were talking about bringing the city back while saying nothing about why and how such a disaster could happen in the 21st century; six days of no response from the government, mass displacement, and the outright taking of land that was owned by over 80% of the community. I don't have enough curse words in my vocabulary to properly represent the way this criminal activity makes me feel. To put it mildly, it makes me wanna spit. I am glad some NBA players came out of their bubble to see first hand what is and is not happening in New Orleans. Will they continue to stand up and speak out for the underprivileged masses, or will they continue to do these (in my opinion) lame, one-day, oh now the NBA Cares bs that is so frequently propagated on commercials during NBA games? Unless players delve back a few decades into the lives of such athletes as Jim Brown, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, or even Rosie Greer I, unfortunately, do not hold much hope for them. Why would they want to jeopardize their money and fame? Then again, how could anyone turn their backs on injustice when they have the power to actually do something about it?

aaron "trying not to be too cynical today" jones

Mixed up Priorities

This country's priorities are so out of whack its beyond absurd, beyond criminal, that you'd need to consume a few tons of psychedelic substances in order to even begin to believe there was some sort of logic behind it all.

When the state of New York spends over a million dollars to build a wind turbine to power a prison, yet the Federal Government won't rehab a few housing projects for a fraction of the cost that it will cost to build those condos, its painfully obvious where the real priorities lie.

Keep up the good work Dave!

--Josh K. from Albany, NY

(P.S. there was some formatting error with the email version of the article, where there were lots of missing spaces.)

What do we expect

While it is nice that the NBA visited New Orleans, I wonder what anybody expects the NBA or its elite players to do. Sports in North America is expected to be run primarily as a business and not so much as a cultural good, and in this case, it works better for the NBA in the near term to gentrify New Orleans in order to assist the NBA team located there.

Poor people cannot afford to go to NBA games or support the NBA's advertising partners. If New Orleans is unable to satisfy NBA ownership, the team will be relocated, indeed, that is the reason the Hornets were moved there.

Do I think sports can assist New Orleans? Of course I do, I understand how societies outside of North America organize sports so that communities are bound to them. To move to that model, franchised sports leagues which are permitted to play communities off one another have to be abolished. Otherwise, we are just hoping for charity, and see what I wrote above as to why that will be in vain.

Post Katrina New Orleans

As a political activist and life long resident of New Orleans I am very appreciative of the recognition that all is not well in the Crescent City by members of the press such as Mr. Zirin and other alternative media outlets, such coverage has been sorely lacking in the corporate controlled so called "news". The intentional misrepresentation of the facts on the ground in New Orleans have led to the squandering of an opportunity to rebuild a more just and equitable community. One in which are cultural history and uniqueness could be respected while creating a city capable of thriving in the 21st century with an educated and productive populace. The Gross negligence, greed, racism, fear, and outright thievery that have taken our hope, and in some tragic cases are very will to live and struggle on, must continue to resonate in the public discourse of this nation and the world. This same tragedy is and has been and is happening all over the world and is equally marginalized by the mainstream press. The deep empathy I have with the people of Palestine, Burma, Columbia, Iraq and the countless other nations and peoples that have suffered at the hands of the American empire has only been strengthened by my own experiences here at home. As a lifelong lover of sport and the beauty and thrill that can come with it I am outraged by the NBA and it's Circus Maximus like position in our society, distracting the populace from the misery created by the hubris, and greed of the elites. The NBA's presence here is an insult to our hard work rebuilding what we can of a community scattered to the four winds. The Uncle Tommish, minstrelsy behavior of the majority of Players is in my mind unforgivable in a group that could be leaders in activism given their high profile status especially among the Black inner city youth. Sports teams should be owned by the people who pay the players salaries, pay for the stadiums in which they play, and provide their training long before they are a brand worth millions(hint: it is not the fat cats racking in the massive amounts of cash off of their sweat and talent) it is we, the people of the community in which they play. I love sport and I love to play, and I know the hope it can bring to people in desperate need but it does not have to be a tool for their manipulation and oppression.

The NBA and New Orleans

It wasn't enough. In four days, it couldn't be enough. But, it wasn't just paint, and P.R. Many of the atheletes had their sneakers distributed to many, many kids. Chris Paul, Kenny Smith, and others have been working in New Orleans, for months. And, will continue to do so. The Seattle P.I. carried a story about the Sonics, stopping thier team bus, and giving homeless people, under a bridge, food and drink.

I've followed Bill Quigley's fights for justice, since the hurricane hit. He has been tireless, in his pursuit of human rights and dignity for the people of New Orleans. Especially in trying to save the low income housing, that is so desparately needed. It will cost the government, in the end, almost $9 Billion dollars to relocate those people, who they placed in trailers filled with fermaldehyde. Money which could have been better spent on existing housing.

No, four days wasn't enough. But it was a start, of what we can all only hope will be a continuing effort on the part of the NBA, and its players.

New Orleans

Like the famous New Yorkers who stepped over a victim of crime who lay bleeding to death on the street , many citizens of the USA seem to have an unlimited capacity for looking the other way, for moving on.

And the country itself has a similar capacity for creating nightmares, or for allowing them to occur, and then walking away.

The now uninteresting plight of New Orleans (no choppers, no rooftop victims, no gunplay) is rarely mentioned now. America has moved on.

Though the whitification of nola...

... is certainly one of the more despicable things white folks have done recently, I'm not sure I'd hang much, if any of the blame on the nba.

New Orleans

I'm an X pat living in the highlands of Scotland. After Katrina the comments I most heard were. "America should be ashamed of itself".
"Of all countries we thought America would be the first to take care of it's own." I ask, "How much longer have you got America? At what point have the "rich" got it all and chaos rules?"

Goin' Down ( HOPE: hope I don't hit bottom to hard)

Short Version: Male, caucasian, 59 yr old, married with children and grand children, home owner. Acquired home in April of 2000 after 5 years of hard work, sweat and blood in Febuary of 2005 home appraised for 771% of original price.
After katrina I received two checks from FEMA one for 2,000 and one for 2,500. By the time the insurance company settled our loss of use portion was gone. Loss of use is for living expenses while your home is being worked on. Oh well. I received a FEMA trailer which my wife couldn't stay in because she is chemically sensitive. Oh well. After two years and a lot of agrivation and paper work my wife received a check from unemployment for $750. Oh well. Last month I borrowed money to make my house payment this month again I can't make my house payment. Not that I don't have work, I'm working my butt off. Working my butt off and still going down. For my families sake I hope I don't hit bottom too bad. For my sake I have to try to stay numb so I don't go insane, not that I'm doing a very good job at it. What does this tell your children? That there is no sence in building a life. Why do all that work and pay out all that money for nothing ?
I hear and read a lot of words about this situation but words even nice and kind words don't put food on the table. No one has lifted a finger to help me. I don't even see people demonstrating and screaming over what is happening to us. New Orleans is not a shame the rest of you are.
"What if God was one of us?" He would probably walk away leaving us all behind shaking His head saying "Oh Well".

To sherifffruitfly

WAKE UP!!!!!!!! Color doesn't matter. The rich will rob you of every last penny in your childrens piggy bank and since they now own the government they don't have to lift a finger to accomplish that.

Irony? Only Sadness and Neglect

"I know a New Orleans refugee--ironically, she is white."

Linda Jon, the tragedy here extended to all races, all creeds, all walks of life, and it is still doing so. I see no irony in your mention of the woman's color. The largest of the levee breaches was at the 17th Street Canal, and it inundated a majority white neighborhood with up to 14 feet of water. Homes were knocked off foundations there, too, just as in the Ninth Ward. In places like the Lower Nine, people cannot come back and rebuild because they are too poor to do so - rising costs of living here coupled with the same old tourist service jobs that are not keeping up with those costs make recovery extremely difficult. Those who attempt to stick it out and rebuild face serious roadblocks in the form of insurance companies refusing claims and/or the scarcity of Road Home monies - not to mention the indiscriminate demolitions of private homes that are so well documented by local activist Karen Gadbois. Anybody who wants to return to Lakeview faces the exact same thing - and they also face the added idiocy of the absence of white collar jobs that could help anchor them to the communities they are trying to rebuild. Failure to support real infrastructure such as hospital reconstitution, social services such as daycare and support for the elders of the community, and economic development that is NOT tourist-centric is hampering the recovery of this city and contributing to its further decline.

To liprap

Thank You.

Biting the Hand that at least gives a damn!

NBA this, privileged players that, what has the NFL, MLB, NASCAR, PGA, NHL and all the other leagues done for New Orleans? When paint is not enough my rear end. At least they tried, what have the people of New Orleans done for New Orleans? Isn't charity supposed to start at home? Show me something, instead of murdering each other, show me community pride, earnest effort and let it be that I did not lend a hand. This stupid sense of collective communal entitlement is beyond deplorable, in case you all have not heard; you are not the only community that has faced hardship. When is it enough? Who can do enough? You claim to be neglected, the NBA brings its cameras and a worldwide audience to you, yet you whine. You claim the economy needs to be repaired, the NBA practically does an infomercial for you, yet you are not satisfied. Why should NBA players do more? Are they more American than the sports? Your whinny lots need to get a grip, SHIT HAPPENS, and nobody will ever owe you more effort than you owe yourself.


Thanks, Dave. Heard you speak at the Rising Tide conference last year. Been an infrequent visitor here since then. Good to know at least one person out there gets it, understands and is speaking out. New Orleans needs more friends like you.



Poor sign of Society in America

Why don't all the Americans sitting on their butts all day get up, go to New Orleans and help. You lot are armchair critics who voice your opinion yet rarely ever give the assistance or do the time to help others.

WAKE UP America, the rest of the world is laughing at you...

I won't waste my hard earned money on American products, never have never will.


Thanks for this great piece- it's definitely just window dressing on a huge problem. What good is a coat of paint when schools are closed, roads are ruined, and jobs nonexistent? The infrastructure of life may never get rebuilt there, no matter how many houses are before the bulldozers arrive.

And Nedu, man, you simply don't have a fragment of a clue of what you're talking about. I lived and worked in NOLA twice doing recovery work, and the whole spirit and character of every New Orleanean I met was one of incredible strength, resolve, and commitment. During those six days of federal absence, it was the locals that did all the work with zero resources. And now, they are doing their damnedest to help themselves back up- all they need is (as Dave clearly writes) access to the halls of government, access which has been denied, while their homes and livelihoods are carved up for outside speculators. So no, a can of paint is NOT enough, when the system continues to perpetuate this massive crime. What have you done to help? Other than fire off angry, adolescent missives?

Beyond that, the whole 'tourist dollars as economic recovery' is largely bunk. It does nothing in the way of capacity or skill building in a community, is no real form of investment, and concentrates profits at the top who, surprise surprise, want to make NOLA even more of a rich playground. So thanks NBA, I suppose, you got the city back on camera, and continued to perpetuate the system at the same time. Oh well. What can ya do.

New Orleans

I remember sitting on my couch, watching "Monday Night Football" a few years ago. The game was played at the "renovated" Superdome, in the post-Katrina moment. The commentators were talking about how the NFL has "brought the city back to life," using all kinds of lofty language to make it seem as if the Katrina victims were getting their lives back together, without really discussing how most of the fans are middle class white people who have access to tickets, and who are the privileged few that can bask in the Superdome's supposed recovery. What about the rest of the population who are African American and who consist of the "lower class?" and, because of race are still at the fringes of society?

Back to my "Monday Night Football" story. I remember the camera focused on the interior of the Superdome. The camera crew, in all of its technical editing skill, managed to make it so that the surrounding stadium seats faded to black and white. As the camera zoomed out of the stadium seating and onto the football field, the field itself was highlighted with a bright, eloquent green, a telling sign that that's exactly how the NFL, (not to mention our government) and now, the NBA has treated the Katrina victims. It's about the money, largely ignoring how race is crucial to understand the plight of the people of New Orleans.


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I live in NOLA. This is the second article I've read by this clown - the other was written after the Saints returned to the Dome.

Please stop telling this guy his work is "great." It's erroneous and hyperbolic.

Alas, I don't have the energy, but Dave is a tool.


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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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