NEW ORLEANS – After wrapping up a Q&A session with Nick Young at Dew Courtside HQ, there’s a text that it’s time to head over to Bud Light Crew HQ, because 2 Chainz is doing a surprise performance in about 30 minutes. This is all happening at 3:30 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon, which is pretty much business as usual for NBA All-Star Weekend.
A personal schedule at All-Star is simply a rough guideline, because a 2 Chainz performance might happen randomly in the middle of the afternoon and you have to scratch some other plans to go get your blessings. In many places this can create a panic and added stress because you don’t want to miss out on any opportunities. In New Orleans, it makes for an exciting weekend, because everything is happening in a concentrated area.
It’s a 15 minute walk from the Lower Garden District, where I stayed over the weekend, to the French Quarter. On that walk are dozens of other event spaces hosting parties, amazing restaurants open into the wee hours of the morning, and a steady stream of people rotating through trying to find their next drink, meal, event, or concert. It took 10 minutes to get from the Dew event space off Magazine Street over to Bud Light off of Royal Street in the French Quarter, 2 Chainz did his thing (closer to 5 p.m. than 4 p.m., but that tends to happen too at All-Star) and All-Star Sunday was in full swing, two and a half hours before the game would tip-off.
This is the beauty of All-Star Weekend in New Orleans. A weekend built around partying in the name of basketball, in a place that loves to host a party and is set up to execute it well.
At All-Star in New York City events were split between Manhattan and Brooklyn, meaning you had to choose where your home base would be on any given night and cut yourself off from half of the parties and events, unless you wanted to take a 40-minute train ride or a fairly pricy cab/Uber. In other sprawling cities, it could be three-plus miles you have to trek between events.
In New Orleans, you can hit five parties in one night if you so choose, and then stumble over to Cafe Du Monde for a 4 a.m. nightcap of beignets with all of them landing in a 20-minute walking radius. You never have to worry about falling into a party invite and not being able to accept because it’s too far away. You never have to worry about there not being a place to eat at 5 a.m., because the natural state of New Orleans is to run all night.
All-Star Weekend is the NBA’s biggest celebration of the year. The basketball that’s played on Friday, Saturday and Sunday are secondary to all of the events and parties happening, and no city provides a better All-Star experience than The Big Easy. It’s a city that simply knows how to handle big events because it has so much practice at it. No city has hosted more Super Bowls than New Orleans, and throughout the year they have events like Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, and Essence Fest that bring in massive amounts of people.
As former New Orleans Hornets star Chris Paul explained to us at a State Farm charity event where his foundation unveiled a new technology center in the New Orleans Dryades YMCA, the city is built to hold these events and All-Star Weekend a great opportunity for the city to show how great it is on a large stage.
“A lot of people get excited because the city hosts events all year round and you see everything,” Paul told DIME on Saturday. “You’ve got French Quarter Fest. You’ve got Jazz Fest. You’ve got Essence Fest. Every convention. It’s always something, so it’s not that big a deal for the city to host it, but it’s a big deal for people to get here to see it and get their boots on the ground to help impact this economy and give people a chance to see that this is one of the most beautiful places in the world. At times, there are people who said a lot of negative things about this city, but I want people to get a chance to get here for themselves, and change their minds.”
New Orleans is a place that has been through a lot. From Hurricane Katrina through the recent tornado that ripped through East New Orleans, the city has dealt with disasters, but continues to come out strong and remain passionate and prideful about their city’s rich history and culture.
Musician Jon Batiste, a Louisiana native who joined Paul for the opening of the new technology center, gave a performance at the State Farm Neighborhood Sessions on Saturday night, and performed the National Anthem at the All-Star Game, noted how the city, despite everything its been through, always finds a way to celebrate.
Batiste notes how All-Star Weekend can help New Orleans as much as the city helps the NBA put on a great event.
“To accommodate something of this stature is amazing, especially for the things that we’ve gone through,” Batiste told DIME. “To have All-Star here is something that infuses the city with positive energy, and a lot of people who come here and give back. Even being here, for us, it’s a blessing. Especially the idea of what’s happening in our culture year-round. I mean, it’s Mardi Gras right now. There’s stuff happening all year. And to have the game on top of that is just such special experience for outsiders who come to the city and haven’t experienced that culture. It’s so much fun. You get to the game, and then you can go to the second line.”
New Orleans natives love New Orleans and want you to love it too. That hospitality, which isn’t simply a matter of being polite but actively wanting to make sure someone has a great time in the city, makes for a great All-Star experience.
That’s not to say the city didn’t have its issues this week, and that there aren’t logistical issues with getting to New Orleans (direct flights in aren’t often available on all airlines). Driving through the city is already tough, but on a Mardi Gras weekend when at any given time four streets may be shut down, it became downright impossible.
Getting around the city during Mardi Gras can also be a trick, but so long as you learn the breaks in the parade barricades in the moments you need to get from one area of town to the other (pro tip: St. Charles has a break at Girod), you can get around without too much trouble.
New Orleans made it clear that NBA All-Star is always welcome in the city by accepting the event on short notice after the league pulled it out of Charlotte over the issues of the HB2 bill, and the NBA should come back any time the city will allow them too.
There are going to be frustrations, mostly with getting from the arena back to the Quarter or Uptown, but those melt away pretty quickly once you find yourself at a Hot Boys reunion courtesy of LeBron, a Hannibal Buress comedy show put on by Bleacher Report, a dive bar deep in the Quarter at 3 a.m. or Killer PoBoys (or Cochon or Sylvain or Mother’s or any of the endless supply of amazing food options).
The magic of All-Star Weekend in New Orleans is that you might be able to get to three or four of those things in one night.