Big Easy Can’t Sweat Big Chill By NBA

By Peter Finney
Updated: March 4, 2007

NEW ORLEANS — For all you NBA fans out there, I appreciate your anxiety. The sky is falling, the sky is falling. They’re trying to take our 2008 All-Star Game away.

To that, I say, “calm down, calm down.” Don’t get all bent out of shape.

Don’t lose sleep because a guy named Billy Hunter, head of the NBA Players Association, said the Big Easy is not prepared to host the mid-season jewel of professional basketball, a four-day party during which the game of basketball, five against five, becomes an afterthought to fun and games.

So why can’t the Big Easy host a four-day party? Too much crime, Hunter said. Not enough police, he said. “Our players could be in danger,” he said.

Sure, like the thousands of NFL players and NFL fans who lived through nine Super Bowls, like the hundreds of thousands of ordinary folk who survived a ton of Jazzfests, like the millions who still were around after Mardi Gras, a one-day party dating back to an earlier century.

Still, why would Billy Hunter question the Big Easy’s credentials? Timing, that’s why.

He was addressing his public, the multimillion-dollar players, the showcase of All-Star Week, at a time post-Katrina Big Easy was dealing with a crime problem, at a time the NBA was coming out of its first All-Star Week in Las Vegas.

I forget who won last week’s game. But the Las Vegas police blotter tells us there were 403 arrests and two shootings during the four-day weekend, more than an average convention weekend, which, according to authorities, is around 175.

OK. But let’s be fair to Sin City. The estimated 85,000 fans that showed up for NBA fun and games were part of a crowd of 300,000 in town to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

None of the arrests involved NBA players. Here’s what we do know: Las Vegas police were investigating the role Pacman Jones — a defensive back on the NFL Tennessee Titans — had in one of the shootings.

The incident? In the wee hours of a Monday morning, the day after the East played the West, more than 40 strippers at the Minxx Gentlemen’s Club were showered with $80,000 in cash. The cash belonged to Jones.

According to the police warrant, the money was for “a visual effect.” When the money was scooped up by a Jones’ associate, placed in a plastic trash bag and taken out of the strip club, it triggered a triple shooting, leaving one victim in critical condition.

It marked the third time Jones has faced criminal charges. The first two involved incidents at nightclubs in Tennessee.

Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, was outraged the NBA was getting a bad rap.

“Some idiots e-mailed me that we couldn’t keep our players under control,” he said. “All because of something Pacman Jones did.”

In his own e-mail, NBA Commissioner David Sterm wrote: “The subject is so delicious everyone from Imus to Letterman thinks it’s just hilarious to dump on the hip-hoppers.

Of course, race plays a part in the perceptions. Do you doubt there were more African-Americans in Las Vegas (for All-Star Week) than at any time in its history and that some people felt threatened by that simply as a matter of culture?”

Stern makes a good point, far better than the one made by the man in charge of the league’s Players Association.

Let’s deal with Hunter and Jones, the two men who made the Big Easy and the 2007 All-Star Game a story.

As a public service, I offer some suggestions.

Hunter will be making his first visit to our city shortly. When he shows up, there’ll be the usual photo-ops with the police chief. I’m sure he’ll learn a few things about the city’s long history in handling security at major events, far bigger than an NBA All-Star Game.

I’m sure he’ll realize how foolish his comments were. To give him an idea of crowd control, you might want to see that he’s a grand marshal of a carnival parade.

As for crime, just remind him it always will be a problem. Remind Hunter, as prepared as Las Vegas police are in handling huge crowds on a daily basis, the possibility exists a Jones-like incident is sometimes unavoidable.

So what do you do about Jones? That’s easy.

I suggest Stern write a letter to Roger Goodel, the new NFL commissioner.

“Roger,” the letter would say, “is there a way you can use your power as commissioner to ban Mr. Pacman Jones, a member of the Tennessee Titans, the sixth overall pick in your 2005 draft, from coming within 100 miles of New Orleans during All-Star Week next February?”

“It would be greatly appreciated. The NBA does not want to run the risk of giving any of the strip clubs on Bourbon Street a bad name.”