- The Washington Times - Monday, February 18, 2008

NEW ORLEANS — Just last week NBA commissioner David Stern said he didn’t want to build false hope in guaranteeing New Orleans would be the long-term home of the Hornets.

Playing their first full season in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, the Hornets — like the residents of the city and surrounding areas — have struggled to recover financially. And the fear was New Orleans wouldn’t be able to support an NBA franchise for much longer.

But after seeing the city up close and meeting with officials this week, Stern has changed his mind. The commissioner said Saturday he believes the Hornets can return to profitability in New Orleans and help improve the local economy at the same time.

Stern also believes having the All-Star weekend in New Orleans will rekindle interest in the team.

“As it relates to New Orleans itself, I just want to say that when I leave here after the All-Star Game, I’m much more optimistic about the prospects of the team meeting the goals that have been set,” Stern said. “The people I hear interviewed, the businessmen I speak to, the fans, the government officials, I think there is going to be a unique, unified effort to make sure that New Orleans is very much a basketball town. As I said, I’m optimistic about that.”

During All-Star weekend, the NBA held several special events to help continue the rebuilding process in New Orleans. All of the All-Star participants and league officials present Friday helped build houses, paint walls and hang Sheetrock. On Saturday the league held a food giveaway for 3,000 families.

Garnett front and center

Although he didn’t play in last night’s game, Kevin Garnett — out with a strained abdominal muscle — remained one of the main centers of attention. Billboards with Garnett’s image greeted drivers as they entered the city. Giant Garnett posters hung from buildings downtown, and members of the media glommed onto the Celtics forward as if he had a shot of winning the All-Star Game’s MVP award.

“I wasn’t aware that Adidas was going to put me in certain places,” Garnett said. “I’m happy to be here in New Orleans, enjoying the city despite the stuff that happened with this beautiful city. I’m disappointed that I’m not playing, period. You know, I could have been on nothing, and I still would’ve been disappointed.”

UConn leads the way

No college had as many representatives taking part in the All-Star festivities as Connecticut.

Former Huskies Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton and Caron Butler were named to the Eastern Conference squad. Butler didn’t play because of a strained left hip flexor. A fourth UConn product, Rudy Gay, played on the sophomore team and participated in the Slam Dunk Contest.

Texas boasted a trio of Kevin Durant, Daniel Gibson and LaMarcus Aldridge, all of whom participated in the rookie-sophomore challenge.

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