Lending a helping hand

MIKE GANTER, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 8:26 AM ET

NEW ORLEANS -- NBA commissioner David Stern has made good on his promise of two years ago to bring the NBA all-star game here and do its part to help this city recover from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina.

Yesterday, on a cool, rainy Louisiana afternoon Stern's team of basketball players, league employees and hangers-on as well as numerous all-star game attendees left their four-and five-star hotels and headed out to various parts of this still broken city to pitch in and do their part. They dubbed it all-star day of service, part of the NBA Cares initiative.

A group that included Raptors power forward Chris Bosh, two-time league MVP Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns, defending MVP LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers as well as Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki and maybe soon to be Mavericks teammate Jason Kidd made the trek out to the Lower Ninth Ward neighbourhood known as Holy Cross.

There they spent a couple of hours painting, scraping and touching up a few of the nine homes in that neighbourhood that are being made liveable once again.

A little over 31 months ago these homes were standing in about eight to 12 feet of water. The water is back behind the levy's now but the homes that it left behind are still not livable.

The NBA's physical efforts yesterday weren't the real story though.

The real story is how to put New Orleans back together, as much as that is possible, with little or no help from the U.S. federal government.

Simply by bringing attention back to that task, Stern, the NBA and its players should be commended.

Left to do that job in the government's absence are organizations like Rebuilding Together, the nation's largest non-profit organization working to preserve affordable homeownership and neighbourhoods by providing rehabilitation services free of charge to those in need. In New Orleans that means making water damaged homes livable again.

So as excited as the few residents who have returned to this neighbourhood were to see a Bosh or a Kidd or a Nash visit their homes and slap on a coat of paint or two it was the spotlight these professional athletes bring with them that may be the most beneficial when the party leaves town.

Ask Kevin Barnes a reserve sheriff and loan officer at a local mortgage company what he thinks of the current administration and you can hear the shame in his voice.

"They have forgotten us," he said.

Ask 44-year-old security guard Jerome Richardson, the owner of one of those nine houses who has been living in a trailer in his backyard for the past 21/2 years about the government and he already has forgotten about them, much they way the feds have forgotten New Orleans.

"I'm not really one (to go on) about the government because whatever they were going to do they've done," he said. "I'm focused on trying to make a living and making sure what needs to be done gets done right ... for this community at least."

Camille Lopez, the assistant director of Rebuilding Together says government is no longer a factor in the lower ninth ward.

"You're going to see church groups, college groups, non-profits, individual donors -- It's all driven at the grass-roots level here," she said. "There is no leadership at any level of government. "

And Lopez has her own theory about why that is the case.

"I think it's very easy to write off New Orleans because people see it as not important or they see it as a bunch of poor people. Or they see it as a place to go and have fun and get drunk."

She says she is hopeful the next administration pays more attention to the problems here than the current government.

"The Democratic candidates have all said New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are priorities and I tend to believe that. It's hard to do a worse job than the (current) administration," Lopez aid. "At least they have an interest."

So take a bow NBA. Not only did you pitch in a little, you brought attention back to a situation the feds have dropped the ball on.


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