Maybe some folks are getting tired of the New Orleans self-love thing. Maybe some folks feel like they’re going to scream if they hear one more time how much more interesting this place is than anywhere else in America.
I’m not one of those people. And I don’t think anyone at the New Orleans Arena Sunday night was either. And I really can’t imagine anyone watching it on TV could think so either.
Sure, there was a basketball game — a really good one — and there were lots of very famous people who are not from New Orleans on hand, but all that was just a diversion from the real event at center stage, which was another big step in the journey to the new New Orleans.
Times may have changed, it’s a different place now, altered forever, but one essential characteristic remains and it is this: New Orleans still throws the best party. Anywhere. It is the center of the universe for anyone who has a lust for life.
The city —its people and its attitude — shined once again as we took a generic event and branded it all our own. Where else in the country could the mention of the word “food” incite an audience of basketball fans to thunderous applause during pre-game warm-ups, as happened when emcee Harry Connick Jr. welcomed the masses?
Where else would the otherwise diva strata of NBA superstars actually bump and grind during their introductions, as both team’s members did while the Rebirth Brass Band pumped up the jollies behind them?
Rebirth. Brass. Band. The perfect metaphors. They rock the world. LeBron James dug them, showing that his moves on the dance floor are every bit as smooth as those on the basketball court. Did I just witness the next winner of “Dancing With the Stars?”
He, all the players, all the celebrities (how did Arnold Schwarzenegger get the best seat in the house?) and all the fans were dialed into the New Orleans revelry vibe from the moment they entered the building. Hell, from the moment they entered the city.
I was on a flight into town last Thursday from Atlanta and the plane veritably rocked with giggles and anticipation; it was like being on a school bus for a 6th-grade field trip. These folks were ready. They were dressed out. Really dressed out. This was a party with a purpose, Essence, Bayou Classic, Soul Bowl and Super Bowl all rolled into one.
They love this place. All of them, whoever “they” are. We had them at hello. We had them at where y’at? We just plain had them, all of them. We seduced them.
Where else would you ever hear a rendition of the national anthem that would less incite patriotic fervor than it would make you want to turn the lights down low and make sexy-time with your sweetheart?
Local chanteuse Stephanie Jordan set the anthem on a slow burn Sunday night, delivering the most smoldering rendition of the song since Marvin Gaye performed it at another NBA All-Star Game more than 20 years ago. I think a star was born. Another blazing light in our constellation. It was all just right, just right, so good, so New Orleans.
Outside the Arena, after the game, each avenue was alive with energy and random saxophone players played for tips and the streets of downtown have never been cleaner (Sidney Torres for mayor!) and big tennis shoe advertisements beamed onto the sides of office buildings gave an L.A./Vegas feel to the night and every cop I saw was in a good mood.
Maybe because the weekend was finally over — I don’t know — but there was so much community and heart about the whole affair, the whole weekend, the whole extravaganza, to make even a professional curmudgeon like myself believe that the NBA really does care about New Orleans, that everybody cares, that they like us, they really really like us!
How could they not?
For days, newspapers around the world have carried New Orleans datelines and pictures of really tall famous people wearing gloves and hardhats and Mardi Gras beads. The president might refer to New Orleans as “that part of the world,” but let me tell you something: This part of the world rocks.
It’s plain to see why the Commission on Presidential Debates snubbed New Orleans. We’re not far enough along in our recovery.
Is that the stupidest thing you’re ever heard in your life?
Accepting his MVP award after the game, LeBron said: “Thank you, New Orleans, for allowing us to be here.”
Yeah, you right. Thank you, LeBron and the NBA, for the party, the money and the faith in our city. It was a good show, classy and loose. And very well-dressed. People wore suits that cost more than my car.
The only show better than the game in the arena was the fashion strut on Canal Street. This town, it can get very interesting sometimes. When we are the center of the universe. When everybody is paying attention. When our guys bang pianos, sing “Iko, Iko” and lots of other words that nobody elsewhere understands.
But they love it all the same. They love us. Almost as much as we love us. And they’ll all be back, everyone of them, whoever “they” are. Because they have danced at the center of the universe.
And once you do that, you are forever changed.
Columnist Chris Rose can be reached at chris [dot] rose [at] timespicayune [dot] com, or (504) 826-3309, or (504) 352-2535.