By DJ Tony Blare
Once again, we walk through the Superdome’s underground parking lot to get to this, the Hornets’ 3rd of 6 games in New Orleans. It seems to me there could be a better route, but then again, we could pay to park.
Inside, we make our way to our seats but get caught in the stop-start limbo of the invocation, the national anthem, and then the intros, so that as we climb the steps in the 300 level, we have to stop and wait for the invocation, do the same thing for the anthem, and finally get to our seats as a dapper Bobby Jackson tells us the team’s glad to be here. The intro music includes that metal-rap or whatever-you-call-it that the League used during last year’s playoffs. You know, “10% this, 20% that,” the joint my favorite rapper Sam was always vibing to? I guess a classic’s a classic.
People are pretty amped, with free teal pom-poms shaking all around the place, which I’d say is about 75% full. The Hornets are missing Peja, Bobby Jax, and David West and just got stomped by the Spurs on Thursday, but the crowd feels hopeful. A lot of fans remain standing for a few minutes after the tip. Notes:
-Wow, I’ve never seen Erick Dampier in person…wait, I have: saw him in Oakland back in his Warriors day. And he’s still a freakin war-rior, damnit!
-Dallas jumps out to a quick 9-0 lead. Time out. And check it out, the Hornies…er, Honeybees are wearing Mrs. Claus costumes. Huh. And here I’ve been pushing my girl to buy one herself, as yet to no avail. “Yeah, Mrs. Claus!” I yell. We’ll see how long this lasts.
-The new, soon-to-be old ball gets stuck between rim and backboard.
-Josh Howard looks good early. Wonder what his take on the whole Marquis Daniels/Whoo!/strip club incident is. Divergent paths, for sure. Josh doesn’t even have cornrows anymore.
-The Hornets struggle early on, and I think the same thing I thought watching the defeat vs. the Spurs on Friday: CP3 needs to push the ball, N.O. has to run all night, use their youth. It’s a funny thought, though, when you think they’re playing what used to be a big-time running team. Nowadays, the Mavs (who are also plain out sluggish tonight) play a lot more in the half-court, not so free-wheeling. Three years ago, the last thing anyone would say was “(Insert lesser team) should run with the Mavs.” Anyway, it works and a CP3 lay-up makes it an 8-2 run, 13-10 Mavs, and a timeout.
-“Mrs. Claus! Alright!” Nobody’s smiling.
-Why not this trade: JT and Stack for AI? I guess it doesn’t work cash-wise, but that’s a fair swap, right? And while we’re at it, I’d just add this to the static: I lived in Philly thru that Finals run, counted myself a Sixers fan ever since, and I feel for the fans who have to wait for Billy King to end this thing. The bond between AI and Philly was something to behold, and the hole he leaves behind, I guess it just adds to the list of bungles and minor tragedies in BrotherlyLoveville. Should’ve happened before the season, but I still think he could have a Nash/Kidd-like effect on a fast, young team, like, say, the Hawks? Realistically, I’m rooting for Denver.
-2nd Qtr: they’re playing the Knight Rider theme. Whatever happened to the David Hasselhoff chant? I thought that was gonna stick with Diggler forever.
-Noise level’s still pretty high and another timeout presents us with the Jr. Honeybees, a dance team of little kids who take their place in the center of the court, maybe 30 of them. A song starts, but it’s the wrong one. The music stops, starts again, and it’s the same wrong song. On the jumbotron, confusion and disappointment spreads on tiny faces. Finally, the right song comes on, a spicy “Santa Clause is Comin to Town.” Good ol’ New Orleans-style bungling.
-Um, “energy guy” Marc Jackson is all over the place with put-backs and some jumpers. Kinda scary to think the offense goes through, uh, MJ on several plays. CP3 makes it 28-22 Mavs.
-“What, are they the Ho-Ho-Honeybees tonight?” My girl, she’s really got a way with words. Not costumes, though. The song “Signs,” the Tesla version, accompanies a contest for the best signs in the arena. “Signs, signs/everywhere signs.” Yep, NBA + New Orleans + fan involvement = Tesla.
-Action Jackson has 6pts, but it’s still a 6pt Mavs lead, then Rasual Butler heats up and the crowd gets up and the next thing you know, Hornets tie the game at the half.
-We take a break out on the patio on the lower level. There’s a party atmosphere out here, the Superdome looming behind us, beer flowing. What’s going on with the Saints right now is insane. I grew up in Pittsburgh, so I know true fans, and as I said, I saw that AI 2001 run, but right now I’d put the Saints up there with that kind of fervor (of course, they’re flat the next day vs. DC, but…). Everybody’s rocking black and gold, people barely know how to act, and I heard a pre-game party sponsored by a local TV station got straight-up out of hand a few weeks ago. The day after the Dallas win, I walked out of the deli and two of the neighborhood bums called out to me, “Good game tonight, good game yesterday,” something to that effect. I turned to respond and saw that they were both sporting new saints hats, along with the usual open containers. A home playoff game is gonna get ill.
-2nd half: we do the slide, meaning we stroll confidently into the lower seats and take two in the 20th row. Ol’ girl is nervous, but I figure she’s my cover. After a few minutes pass and we go unnoticed by security, we relax and focus on the now close-at-hand game.
-Now it’s 50-46 mavs. Rasual Butler is alright, he plays hard. Same goes for Desmond Mason. And they’re probably the 6th/7th most important guys on the team, which bodes well for later in the season.
-During a timeout, Hugo the Hornet appears, dressed as “Hugo Claus.” Four kids line up and each takes a turn on Hugo’s lap, whispers something to him, and then a truck or Barbie kit is brought out of a red velvet sack and we all cheer. The last kid, though, he gets something special. Hugo listens to his request, then leads the kid over to the bag. And what comes out of the sack? Why, it’s a Honeybee! She’s wearing the Mrs. Claus outfit and walks off the court hand-in-hand with the kid! Now on my feet, I am like, “Ye-ah! What!” Still not getting me anywhere.
-Rasual cuts it to 54-51 but J-Ho hits two threes and it’s back to a nine point game.
-I really like CP3’s game, but one thing that bothers me all night is his reaction to mismatches, i.e. when there’s a switch and he ends up guarded by Diop or Dirk or another big. Chris keeps waiting for the other side of that mismatch to get open instead of taking the ball to the hoop, which I think costs him 2 or 3 trips to the line tonight.
-3rd Quarter ends 70-58 and I’m wondering if the Hornets can keep it close. During the break, another group of kids, this time selected from the stands, appears on stage for a bike raffle. Each of them holds a different colored X-mas ornament. Then the announcer tells us that not just one, but each of these 100 kids is getting a free bike, courtesy of CP3 and B-Jax. That’s dope, especially when you think of how rough it must be just being a kid in this city over the last 15 months.
-4th Quarter starts out slow, with CP3 scoring the first points 3 minutes in. If they can just stick around, I think…
-Timeout: the Mrs. Clauses come out with giant candy canes…’nuff said. For some reason, their theme is Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”, in its entirety one of the longest, most numbing songs out there (and the sample for “Hate Me Now”, for me the low point of another favorite rapper, Nas Escobar). Unfortunately, the routine only lasts 30 seconds. Oh, well, I’ve made my point tonight.
-Marc Jackson dunks and the scoreboard shows Chris Farley saying, “That’s awesome!” I wish that happened every time Marc Jackson did something, like putting on his headband. Don’t know if anyone saw it, but he gave ‘Zo a completely murderous stare down a few weeks back. Zo don’t want it wit Marc.
-CP3 drops a 3, cutting the Mavs lead to 76-72.
-MJax is the Gatorade Energy Player of the Game. There’s still 4:52 left to play and this prestigious award is a done deal? Well, that’s just how dominant he’s been, I guess. Is it in you?
-Unconcerned with our seat swap, the old usher bobs his head to Luda.
-Dallas calls a timeout. That right there is Frank Drebin, live and in person, I try to explain to my girl. Also: (not to sound all Sports Guy but) one night when I was in college at Tulane and living uptown, I had a little get together at the pad. One of the girls who lived on the other side of the house came over and asked that we move our cars from the driveway, because Avery Johnson was coming over and he liked to keep a low profile with his ride. I guess she was friends with Avery from working at a summer camp in Houston. This was pre-Spurs title and I was the only one who even knew who Avery was. We complied, but I thought, damn, who’s even gonna recognize dude? Anyway, one thing led to another, we forgot all about it, and the party moved to the front porch. Sure enough, up rolls Avery Johnson. We were all like, “What’s up?” So much for a low profile.
-Back to the game: CP3 is within 2 assists of a triple double with 2 minutes to go, down 7 points. I think, he gets those 2 and we probably win.
Alas, it doesn’t happen and the Mavs take over down the stretch. Still, as the lead grows into garbage time, people are cheering like we have a shot. Some trickle out, but most of the crowd remain and stay upbeat until the end, a 90-79 loss. The Hornets, short-handed and in the middle of a tough run, stay close for most of the night and give the fans what they came to see: strong, disciplined effort and some normal, if charged-up, fun. Unlike the home opener, this one felt more like your typical NBA games, perhaps with a little less drama than last time and with some corny X-mas angles added in (not all of them bad! How can Mrs. Claus be wrong, Wodie?).
Basketball-wise, it looks like the young kids are working hard for Lord Byron, and CP3 played better than ever. The team just needs to stay focused until they get healthy, because when they are, they’re dangerous. As this city keeps fighting to stay afloat, the Hornets don’t offer the transcendence of the Saints’ insane run, but instead a toughness and promise—of both wins and eventual return–that is just as appreciated and symbolically important. Now, if they just played more than 6 games here…. And, best of all, 100 kids received new bikes from the best young point guard in the league. That’s a truly special holiday.
That and a Mrs. Claus outfit.