There’s Always All-Star Weekend

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Published: October 25, 2016

Before Brett Dawson (@BDawsonWrites) left for a regular gig in Oklahoma City (and a big congrats to him), I discussed the 2017 NBA All-Star Game with him. Opening Day for the NBA with an off day for the New Orleans Pelicans seems the perfect time to remind everyone that the city, and the NBA, won something already. We, of course, wish multiple All-Star Games on the Queen City.

42: Brett, you were really on the 2017 NBA All-Star Game acquisition, and your article gave a really nice peek into how that this came together. Good job.

There are so many pieces to this kind of logistical puzzle, and they all have to fit juuust so, but one piece that was not mentioned much was the Pelicans organization itself. The franchise works hand-in-hand with the State and a number of entities, so they may be there in the background and clearly the presence of the team matters greatly on acquiring the game, but can you tell me how the organization fit in?

Brett: Well, Jason, we’re off to a killer start, because it’s hard for me to answer your first question without veering off into at least some speculation. The team plays a part in getting the All-Star Game, no question, and we know that Tom Benson met with Adam Silver at least once during the process. But this was a political move, remember — it’s not as though Charlotte was suddenly unable to host the game because of an arena or city infrastructure shortcoming — that stripped the All-Star Game from a franchise with an owner who was only the most decorated player in the history of the league. This was a decision that reflected on the state of North Carolina, not the Hornets or even the city of Charlotte. My guess is that the league and the team wanted to stay at least somewhat removed from the public process. I’m thinking nobody involved wanted to make it seem like they were pouring salt in Michael Jordan’s wounds. We know the Pelicans did cooperate — they agreed to give up prospective home dates at the start of All-Star week, for example, to allow the league the setup time it needed. And they weren’t secretive about wanting the game — Dennis Lauscha admitted as much on the franchise’s in-house podcast. But the things that had to be put into action to secure the game were centered more on city infrastructure — freeing hotel rooms, securing police personnel — and arena management than on the franchise itself. So while I think there were reasons the league and the Pelicans weren’t out front in the process, I think it’s also the case that they didn’t play as big a part in the last month as the GNOSF and the CVB did.

42: Thanks. That makes good sense, and it certainly took many people to get it to this point, with more to do, as your piece details. (Read this, people, if you have not).

As a relative newcomer to the area who came up in deep basketball country, I wanted to get your view on the basketball culture here. There’s more history here than is commonly appreciated, and there is a false choice often presented between basketball and football… which is inane for numerous reasons.

Also, do you think these multiple All-Star Games can affect the depth and breadth of that?

Brett: I had no idea what to expect from New Orleans as a basketball town. I knew it was a Saints town first and always, and that’s proven to be true. The passion fans have for that team — and the interest in even the minutiae of it — compares to Kentucky basketball, the most intense and involved fan base I’d been around before I moved here. One day in Metairie, I saw a VW Beetle decked out in black and gold with a Saints logo.

Aside: I’m definitely not here to mock anyone’s Saints fandom. It’s one of the goofiest things sportswriters sometimes do, bagging on fans for caring too much about their teams, given that their interest is what gives us the opportunity to do what we love doing. Sure we can point out that a fan’s fandom makes it hard for them to see two sides of a story sometimes, but that’s different. I’ll make jokes about the flood of Twitter updates about any given Saints practice play, but it’s always with tongue in cheek. I’d be providing the same thing about practice pick-and-rolls if only I could watch them. I want you to be nuts for the team I’m covering. That’s the audience I’d prefer to write to.

Anyway, I guess beyond ticket sales and TV ratings (which last year in New Orleans were not so great) there’s not a real basketball barometer to measure how much people love the sport in any given city. I’ve spent most of my career in a pair of college towns — Champaign, Ill., and Lexington, Ky. — that were college-hoops obsessed, where it was the priority sport, and clearly that’s not the case in New Orleans. But Illinois has been lousy at basketball for most of the time since I left there, and the interest has cooled. Kentucky basketball is beyond that sort of thing. The town is more alive when the Wildcats are winning, and everyone’s miserable when they aren’t, but the interest never wanes. That’s football in New Orleans, I’m guessing, but it’s not basketball. I think if the Pelicans are good, the fans will be there and be engaged. And if they’re not, a sizable number of them will tune out and leave the die-hards to stress about it.

On the subject of those die-hards, I don’t think the Pelicans fans who love the team love it any less than Saints fans do. My experience so far with die-hard Pelicans fans is that they’re sort of like bar-band fans. They have this thing that maybe isn’t the most popular, but it’s their thing and they love it and they want to advocate for it and get you to love it, too. You can make the generalization that Pels fans aren’t the most knowledgable in the NBA and I won’t fight you on it. But I heard lots of people in the stands lamenting an early use of the last timeout, or screaming when the team needed to foul. You heard Alvin Gentry complain about the team’s lack of effort sometimes, but the people in the stands picked up on that before he said it. So, sure, the city on the whole isn’t as well-versed in basketball as, say, Los Angeles or Portland, where it is so much a part of the sports culture, but I think the people who are making a point to come out to the Smoothie King Center and who watch road games on TV have a pretty good grasp on it.

The short answer on the multiple All-Star Games is, it can’t hurt. And the Pelicans think it can help. They can cite statistics about the importance of just getting a kid to touch a basketball early in life to his or her development into a fan later, and they do believe that a showcase event like this helps build the sport in New Orleans.

42: That’s a fair answer. I think the real effort for the organization is to just pick up the numbers, because they certainly can capture adherents.

Your Kentucky fandom isn’t deep so much as it just pervasive, and I can both respect that and relate to it, as you noted, in terms of football.

There are two main fuel sources for fandom growth… The ordinary and the extraordinary. You become a fan in part by immersion, by the daily grind, following the games of the season, taking with fans, griping at newspaper writers that pick on your favorite player or predict too few wins, etc… and in part by seeing that incredible play, feeling that heartbreaking loss, meeting that special player, etc. Maybe watching a game with your paw-paw (grandfather) is kind of both.

I watch LSU and the Saints like many down here, and I share key moments with many other locals. One of a more idiosyncratic nature is this great score by Deuce against the Eagles in the Playoffs. He hit the line, stopped, then he and the team just slid the Eagles back several yards for the score, all while Deuce’s knees were working Trotter’s helmet like a punching bag, as he had fallen down. It was fun, surreal, and killer football.

Which extraordinary moments of the beaucoup you have to pick from with Kentucky rang your bell and galvanized your fandom? Any NBA or Pelicans moments?

Brett: I don’t root for Kentucky. I did when I was younger and I ached at the Christian Laettner shot just like everybody did. And my first year in college there, I stood in line for tickets to the first practice and got up early on Sundays for ticket lotteries. But not long after that I started covering the team for our student paper, and it started to become a job and the players and coaches turned into guys I needed to talk to for work. Once you start really covering a team — when somebody’s paying you to be there — that stuff melts away. For me, anyway. I can vividly remember the day one of my college roommates got mad at me for saying that, yes, of course, if I found out Kentucky had committed recruiting violations that would make it vacate wins I would report that. I think I watched five Kentucky games this year, and I’m still interested in it and probably always will be. But I think the ship has sailed on me ever so much as applauding for a UK game. I just covered them for too long. I root for the school to do great things academically and especially for the student paper to turn out good journalists, and that’s about the extent of it. Maybe if I cover the NBA for a long time and get really removed from it, I’ll have an attachment to the sports programs again — it’s my alma mater, it would make sense — but I don’t know.

Magic Johnson was my favorite player growing up, but I rooted for the Knicks. There was something about rooting for a New York City team — when everybody I knew was a fan of the Bulls, Lakers or Celtics — that felt like a perfect mix of mainstream and alternative. There were Knicks fans everywhere, but I didn’t know any of them. But even that has faded. Probably because the Knicks have been bad for so long, but also because now that I cover the league and devote so much of my time to it I want to watch a variety of teams, and I like appreciating what all of them do well (and, I guess, mocking what they don’t). Because I grew up so far from NYC, I think it was pretty easy for that connection to fade.

Every now and then I still take sides. I would have preferred that the Warriors beat the Cavaliers this year because I thought it would be fun to see a team break the Bulls’ record and win the title and really insert itself into a discussion as the greatest team of all time, but I don’t have any attachment to the Warriors and the end result didn’t bother me. And it’s fun to root for the USA at the Olympics or the World Cup.

But sports fandom is almost like a field of study for me now. I observe but don’t really participate. And I don’t miss it. I’m really content being a “fan” of basketball and watching it without a rooting interest. I know that sounds like some kind of journalistic nonsense, but it’s legitimately how I feel. I think you can have a real passion for a game and not care who wins. To me, it’s the far more enjoyable way to watch sports.

42: I’ve watched some baseball and hockey that way, so I get what you mean, as I am certainly not a baseball or hockey journalist. I think the All-Star Weekend is a good opportunity for people to exchange their fandom… whether they like it or not.

Thanks, Brett, I learned a great deal, as I typically do.

You can find Brett in Oklahoma City, you can find his articles here, and you can find his tweets there (@BDawsonWrites).

Remember: There is more to this whole shebang than trades, title hopes, and picking fights on a computer, especially ones you can’t win. This is a business; it’s an entertainment business, in fact. Sometimes what’s best for title probability is not good enough, is not “what’s best for business.” So, the core competency takes over: fun. Try to have some fun, no matter what. Carry on.

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