NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Floats, marching bands and street parties are about to converge with slam-dunks, three-point plays and buzzer-beaters in New Orleans.
Laissez les bons temps rouler!
Yes, Mardi Gras revelers and basketball fans alike will “Let the good times roll!” when New Orleans’ famous pre-Lenten Carnival meets NBA All-Star Weekend.
Bobby Hjortsberg, a local attorney and captain of the Krewe of Freret parade, said riders are excited about rolling during All-Star Weekend. In addition to the traditional colorful strings of beads, Hjortsberg expects parade krewes to shower people along the route with basketball-themed items.
Riders will also be taking longer looks at some of the taller spectators to see if they look familiar.
“We’ve got a lot of basketball fans that are part of our parade. They’re well aware of where the (NBA hotels on the route are) and that a lot of players could be around there,” Hjortsberg said. “People will definitely have their eye out for any players that might be out and about. We’ll try to get their attention and throw something to them. It might be the only opportunity we have where they’re looking for something from us.”
Mardi Gras is one reason why the NBA’s annual showcase is in New Orleans for a third time.
When the league pulled the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte because of a North Carolina that limits the protections of LGBT people, New Orleans hurriedly put together a bid to host. That the full weekend of events involving celebrities and the NBA elite would coincide with the first major Mardi Gras parades was pitched as more a selling point than a complication.
“We were in a good position in that we were already prepared for Mardi Gras, and already had our special event operations ongoing — to kind of plug the NBA into that,” Ryan Berni, a spokesman for Mayor Mitch Landrieu, said in an interview with The Associated Press.
NBA owners, officials, players and other dignitaries have been invited to parties at prime viewing areas along historic St. Charles Avenue on Friday night and will have an opportunity to experience Mardi Gras like a local, said Jay Cicero, president of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation.
“What a great way to expose Mardi Gras to people who may have never been,” Cicero said.
Because of the relatively short notice — the city didn’t learn it would host the 2017 All-Star events until mid-August — the NBA is cordially co-existing with Mardi Gras but not really coordinating.
“Most of the work, particularly stuff for that first weekend of parades, would have all been decided by that time,” said Barry Kern, whose family business includes design and construction of floats plus hosting special events at Mardi Gras World.
Hjortsberg said his float is pretty much full but would make an exception for the right guest.
“I got an extra spot on my float if Anthony Davis or LeBron (James) want to come ride,” he said wishfully.
Hjortsberg might want to give Davis a call. The Pelicans All-Star said he hasn’t been available to accept previous invitations.
“I’m thinking about doing it this year since we’re going to be in town and just get that whole experience,” Davis said. “You know, have fun with it.”
Tourist-dependent businesses are hoping other party-goers feel the same way Davis does and are looking for a larger-than-normal Mardi Gras boost with the NBA presence.
“We’ll put on extra bartenders, extra bar-backs, extra doormen,” said Earl Bernhardt, owner of five Bourbon Street bars and a French Quarter restaurant. “We’ll be ready.”
In a city with deep Roman Catholic roots, Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is a final day of unabashed excess preceding the arrival of Lenten solemnity. Always the day before Ash Wednesday, it falls on Feb. 28 this year. Celebrations, however, begin in January and the city’s major parades begin 11 days before the big day.
That poses a few welcome challenges, such as finding enough hotel rooms. Normally, the city’s hotels do not fill to capacity during the first Mardi Gras weekend.
“I’ve been trying to get people some rooms and being turned down,” said Mark Romig, president of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation. “It’s good for the suburban hotels and the casino hotels on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”
Security is always a concern at major events, but officials are taking steps to keep everyone safe.
With the two major events overlapping, there will be no days off and plenty of overtime for the police force of close to 1,200, New Orleans police chief Michael Harrison said. Roughly 170 extra state troopers are coming in to supplement the usual contingent of about 30. And other area law enforcement agencies will also send officers.
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