- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2006

The NBA did the right thing the other day. At the first opportunity, it awarded the NBA All-Star Game — the one in 2008 — to New Orleans. Now it’s up to other sports leagues and entities to follow suit, to see to it that the Big Easy has the grandest of reopenings after the Katrina catastrophe.

It’s the least they can do.

Memo to Paul Tagliabue: I know you’re busy cleaning out your desk — and are further preoccupied by trying to secure a franchise for Los Angeles before you go. But it would be nice, as your final act, if you were to say, “New Orleans will get the next available Super Bowl in 2011.” In fact, it would be even nicer if you said, “Come to think of it, we’re going to give New Orleans the 2010 game and push Miami back to 2011. After all, Miami already has the 2007 game.”

Memo to Myles Brand: The same goes for you. Just step up to the mike and announce, “The 2012 Final Four in men’s basketball will be played in the Louisiana Superdome come hell or” … you know what I mean. And if, for some reason, problems develop with the Superdome, have New Orleans Arena ready as a backup. It’s your solemn duty, as NCAA president, to Leave No Market Behind. (Don’t make me throw a folding chair across a basketball court to spur you to action.)

Memo to Ted Lerner, new owner of the Washington Nationals: As you probably know, you didn’t just buy the Nationals, you also bought their Class AAA farm club, the New Orleans Zephyrs. Wouldn’t it be a great idea to play a series against the Atlanta Braves next season at the Zephyrs’ ballpark? I mean, come on, if the Expos can play in San Juan, the Nats can certainly play in New Orleans. You could even have Bernie Mac throw out the first ball. (Or weren’t you aware that Bernie filmed “Mr. 3000” on that very same field?)

Memo to Tim Finchem: Would it kill you to hold a major golf championship somewhere in the New Orleans area? For goodness sakes, the PGA was once held in French Lick, Ind. (In 1924, to be exact. Walter Hagen beat Jim Barnes, 2-up, for the title.) How about cutting the Crescent City a break?

Memo to Gary Bettman: We’ll let you know if we run out of ice.

I shouldn’t need to remind anyone of the role New Orleans has played in sports history. It has played host to more Super Bowls (nine) than any other city, numerous official and unofficial national championships in college football and four men’s and two women’s Final Fours in basketball. It has done this because (a) the Big Easy is a fun, friendly town; (b) for major events, there’s no place like domes; and (c) where else but Bourbon Street can you buy a 24-ounce cup of beer for a buck?

New Orleans has also, I’ll just point out, produced two players in the last decade who have been the first pick in the NFL Draft (the Manning brothers, Peyton and Eli, both of whom starred at Isadore Newman School).

But then came the flood — and New Orleans became the Land that Sports Forgot. The Saints (San Antonio), Hornets (Oklahoma City) and Sugar Bowl (Atlanta) all found foster homes while the city regained its bearings. There was even talk the teams might not return, might seek drier pastures.

The teams have returned, though — and are doing remarkably well. The Saints lucked into Reggie Bush on draft day and have sold nearly 55,000 season tickets, a club record. The Hornets also have hope, thanks largely to Chris Paul, the league’s runaway Rookie of the Year. (And while New Orleans doesn’t have a horse in the NBA playoffs, it can at least root for Avery Johnson, whose Mavericks are in the Western Conference finals. Johnson went to St. Augustine High and nearby Southern University.)

Sixty-five years ago, another calamity hit the country. Pearl Harbor was attacked unannounced by the Japanese, and the nation was reeling. Anxiety was particularly high on the West Coast; fearing another bombing, the government banned large sports gatherings, including the Rose Bowl, East-West Shrine Game and horse racing at Santa Anita.

Who gave the East-West Game temporary shelter, kept it going for a year until things quieted down in California? New Orleans. Two days after Fordham and Missouri played in the Sugar Bowl, Virginia’s Bill Dudley led the East squad to a 6-6 tie against the West on the same Tulane Stadium turf. Poor weather limited the crowd to 25,000 — 15,000 less than were needed to cover expenses, according to reports — but the game went on.

Now it’s New Orleans that could use a little help — could use the economic boost, the ego boost that comes with playing host to a major sports event. The NBA has gotten the ball rolling. If the others will just do their part …

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