By Bomani Jones
Special to Page 3
Houston -- Houston was the perfect place to host the NBA Players Hurricane Relief Game (Sep. 11), which has been sports' biggest contribution to the relief effort.Organized by former Rockets guard and TNT analyst Kenny Smith in 30 hours, participating players donated money and supplies valued at more than $1 million to aid victims. Featuring LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady and others, it was the greatest collection of talent on par with the upcoming All-Star Game in February (which also will be held in Houston). But all the windmill alley-oops -- one of which McGrady pulled off in the game -- pales in comparison with what's going on everywhere else in the city.
Anyone who grew up in Houston, like me, should be proud of how the city has handled the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It was beautiful to see how welcoming its residents have been -- no matter how "scary" Barbara Bush finds the thought that these evacuees might be her new neighbors.
After arriving in Houston, it didn't take long to realize the city has changed, probably forever. Most reports have focused on evacuee camps like the Astrodome and George R. Brown Convention Center, but those two locations are only part of the story.
As Houston is only five hours by car from New Orleans, it attracted countless others who were able to escape before the storm hit. Most estimates put the number of New Orleansians in Houston around 200,000 people, about 10 percent of Houston's official population. Families can be found in nearly every hotel in the city and packed tightly with relatives and friends in countless houses and apartments.
Hours before the benefit game, I went to a Radio Shack on South Main Road, which was close to the Astrodome. The store was a madhouse, filled with a chaotic mix of evacuees trying to get cell phones, and one absentminded columnist who left his tape recorder at home. Up and down South Main, there were signs at restaurants offering discounts to those from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Marquees welcomed those new to the city, and those who were hiring made it clear that positions were open to the displaced.
Add the countless "God bless yous" and shout-outs on the radio, you've got a city that's shown more compassion than anyone could have expected, considering its population has increased dramatically. Maybe it's because people still remember how they felt during Hurricane Alicia (which brought Houston to its knees in the mid-'80s) or the flood of 2003.
Legendary emcee Scarface was one of the many stars of the Houston rap scene present at the video shoot for "Draped Up," the first single from Bun B's solo debut. He explained why so many Houstonians were so open to help.
"The whole city done opened up for [evacuees] to come down here, man," he said. "New Orleans is like my second home. They take real good care of me in New Orleans, so it's only right for us to open our doors to them."
That sentiment also captures what so many people love about New Orleans and the way it welcomed all visitors. And that echos the same sentiment felt by the star power at the Hurricane Relief Game.
"It's a really nice thing, what these guys are doing," Charles Barkley said. "But we've got to look at the big picture. This is one day. These people don't need to watch basketball games. They need jobs and they need houses."
Something close to that feeling is running through Houston right now.
"I'm really proud of my city, man," remarked Mario Elie, a former Houston Rocket who attended the game. "It's good to hear around the country that Houston's got a good name."
And that's one more person who feels the way I do.