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“I was just happy to be there and help people out in any way we possibly could,” Howard said. “The city has really picked itself up fast. It’s a lot better place than it was when we were there for that (2008 All-Star) game.”

Paul was a first-time All-Star and spending his first full season in New Orleans in 2008. The franchise that drafted him in 2005 - then called the Hornets, now the Pelicans - had been displaced to Oklahoma City for Paul’s first two seasons.

He remembered fielding phone calls from players around the league who wanted his assurances that it was wise to attend All-Star festivities in New Orleans.

“I am not sure what the NBA knew to expect coming to New Orleans, but once everyone got there, no one wanted to leave,” Paul said. “It was one of the funniest times of my career and a game that I will never forget.”

After that All-Star weekend, Paul’s community service efforts in New Orleans - from helping Habitat for Humanity build homes to refurbishing public basketball courts - continued. And though he was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers in 2011, he still sponsors an after-school program in New Orleans’ Central City neighborhood.

“If anyone knows me, they know how much I love the city and how much I miss the city,” Paul said. “As I always say, it is not Bourbon Street, not the beignets, not the amazing restaurants.

“It is the people that make the city of New Orleans.”

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AP Sports Writer Steven Wine in Miami, AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken in Houston, and Jeff Miller in Dallas contributed to this report.