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Nuggets from New Orleans

February 18th, 2008
by John

Yesterday I was able to take in a few hours in New Orleans before the All-Star game, which I didn’t attend. I understand tickets in the lower level had a $400 face value, and were $300 in the upper level! A ticket “reseller” later told me on the plane back home that the demand for after-market tickets to this All-Star game was probably the lowest he’s ever seen, due to the fact there just aren’t that many people in New Orleans who have that kind of cash to throw around.

I suspect another reason had to be the limited number of flights that fly into New Orleans compared to larger cities. Still, even if I could get a ticket at face value (or even lower than face value based on low demand), I was content to watch the game on TV.

One of the main reasons why I went to New Orleans for the day was because Yao Ming’s agent invites folks associated with their athletes to attend an annual brunch they have the morning of each All-Star game. Since working on the site is more a labor of love for me than a financial windfall, it’s always nice to get a little perk like that from Bill Duffy & Associates (BDA).

When I walked into the House of Blues where the brunch was held, the first person I saw was Colin Pine, former translator for Yao Ming, who I hadn’t seen in a couple of years. Colin was in town for the game since he is working in China for the NBA.

Also with him was Christopher Chen and Adam Del Deo, producers of the “The Year of the Yao” film. It was great to get caught up with the guys who followed Yao so closely those first couple of years of Yao’s NBA career. It seems so much more calm now compared to the crazy days of 2002 and 2003.


I also had the chance to get caught up briefly with ESPN writer and NBA analyst Ric Bucher, who co-wrote the Yao biography “A Life in Two Worlds,” as well as Rockets GM Daryl Morey. Later I was able to thank Bill Duffy himself for the invite, as well as Bill Sanders, his VP of Marketing. As high profile as these guys are, all of them (including Colin, Chris, and Adam) are just class acts. It’s a privilege to be associated with them.

During the brunch, Duffy introduced a few of the players he represents who are involved with philanthropic efforts to improve public education systems in their communities. They included Steve Nash, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Dujon and Rajon Rondo from the Boston Celtics.

Yao wasn’t there, but you can’t really hold it against him. Yao does so much for others, he can’t be expected to attend every event. But it struck me at that time that 3 of the 5 starters on the Western Conference All-Star team are Duffy clients. Incredible! I think it speaks to how respected Duffy and his associates are among NBA players. The fact they also hold an annual brunch at nice places every All-Star weekend (which can’t be cheap) speaks to how well they value their clients and partners.

After the brunch, I had a couple hours to take in the French Quarter before my flight back home. I hadn’t been there in about 10 years, and every time I visit I feel like I’m in the closest thing to Europe this side of the Atlantic. The good thing is that you didn’t see it cheapened with All-Star game banners and paraphernalia.

I couldn’t believe the number of buses that were outside each of the hotels on Canal Street where many of the players and media were staying. There must have been about a half dozen buses outside of each hotel taking up 2 lanes of traffic. That’s because the arena (as well as the Superdome) are not close enough to hotels like the J.W. Marriott and Sheraton for many people to walk (a little over a mile).

Walking around the French Quarter, I figured I had to go check out the center of it, which is Jackson Square with world-famous Café du Monde right across the street.

I stopped to listen to one of the many street musicians when I couldn’t help but notice former LSU coach and Shaq mentor Dale Brown also listening to them.

I went up to Coach and introduced myself, and he ended up being one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet. We engaged in a conversation for about 10 minutes, I never felt rushed, and you can quickly understand why Shaq has referred to him many times as a father figure.

I told him what I do regarding this Web site, and he told me a story about how he had met Yao Ming when no one really knew who he was about 9 or 10 years ago at the Asia Games in Japan. At the time Coach Brown was there to scout Wang Zhi-Zhi, but quickly was impressed with Yao’s potential. He mentioned to Yao that if he ever wanted to meet and/or learn from Shaq, he could definitely arrange it. I don’t think Yao ever took him up on it, but Coach said the next time I talk to Yao that I should ask him if he remembers that conversation.

After I said goodbye to Coach Brown and the friends he was with, things got even more interesting when Dikembe Mutombo and his family were dropped off by a driver right in front of me. They were obviously there to eat a few beignets at Café du Monde, the big tourist thing to do when in New Orleans.

I quickly said hello to Deke as he got out of the SUV that toted him and his family. I didn’t want to take him away too much from his family, but I had to point out that Coach Brown was about 30 feet away among the crowd on the sidewalk. I didn’t know if Deke would care, or if anything would come of it since you never know if a guy who grew up in the Republic of Congo and who played at Georgetown would know Coach Brown.

As soon as Dikembe saw where I was pointing, I was surprised that he quickly rushed over to Coach and gave him a big hug! It was like they were long lost buddies! Who would have figured? I just had to take this photo of them talking after their hug.

Later I read this ESPN article where they reference Dikembe and Coach Brown talking outside Cafe du Monde. Makes me feel good I helped make it happen!

This little story really represents the feeling I got from attending the brunch a few hours earlier: that the world of the NBA (and college basketball) seems to be an extremely close fraternity, and very few people in that world take it for granted and get too full of themselves to talk to an average guy like me.

The one irony of the All-Star game being held in New Orleans was the fact that just a few blocks from the arena and the Superdome, there were dozens of tents pitched underneath the elevated freeway where many homeless shelter themselves. The juxtaposition of the glitz and glamour of the All-Star festivities being held just blocks from this situation was staggering. I had read earlier that Dikembe said the same kind of thing. Now I know a little bit about what he was talking about.

4 Responses to “Nuggets from New Orleans”

  1. James Says:

    John,

    Wow, I loved this post. Your writing is good and I enjoyed your keen observations as well as the juicy “inside” stories. Thanks!

    Thanks, James. I really appreciate that. — John

  2. Vince Says:

    Wonderful article, glad you had an awesome time at the All-Star Game. Did you actually get to see Yao later on? Also, would Tracy still get a nod as a All-Star this year because of the votes?

    Thanks, Vince. I didn’t get to see Yao this time around. Not sure about the second question you posed. McGrady wasn’t all All-Star this year because he didn’t get enough votes. Usually the next “biggest” superstar who plays along side Yao gets enough votes from Yao’s fans to become an All-Star (like Steve Francis a few years ago), so the fact that McGrady didn’t become an All-Star this season shows that Yao’s fans now have much higher standards before they cast a vote than they used to have. So if McGrady hadn’t been injured for so many games, he had played better, and the Rockets hadn’t lost so many games during the brunt of the voting period, then I think he could have been an All-Star. — John

  3. Wendy Says:

    Hi John,
    you deserve every perk you get from your great work on this site!

    Just curious: How far has the NBA or the Rockets accepted you as an journalist?

    Is Yao reading this site every so often?

    Thanks for the compliment! I’m not sure about your second question. The Rockets occasionally will let me have a media pass, which I understand is rare for an online-only publication like this one. I think it helps that I update the site with a “real” story after every game (not just a blurb), just like a real reporter would do. But I don’t try to request a media pass too much. Just for the important games.

    I don’t think Yao reads the site much since I think he still prefers to read in Chinese. I understand English is more easy to speak than to read.

    — John

  4. Luckyme Says:

    That explained why I saw Yao played so few minutes at the All-Star game on Sunday.

    I am glad you seem to have enjoyed your time in New Orleans. This is one city I have never been yet and would love to visit it sometime in the future.

    Thanks for the story.

    Thanks for the compliment. — John

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