Hornets Hype

In a basement. In our pajamas.

In the distance, next to the Superdome, the Hornets’ arenaSo we’re up to 2:30 PM on the second-to-last day.

Three years ago today, two days before Hurricane Katrina hurtled through the Gulf as a Category 5 and changed everything, it was a Saturday and I was lying out in my backyard under a clear blue sky. Nearby was my 1990 Honda Accord, which got destroyed when slate tiles off the roof sliced through both metal and windshield. In the next chair over was my former roommate, one of many friends who have moved on and away since the storm.

This is how it goes, on each anniversary. I can’t help counting down the days and the hours in my mind. It’s like how people remember where they were when Kennedy was shot, Challenger exploded, or 9-11 happened.

I remember what I was doing on the second-to-last day.

I write this post both in memoriam, and in explanation, hopefully, of why it hurt so much every time a new misinformation-riddled article from an out-of-town writer came out last season saying the Hornets weren’t going to make it in New Orleans. Because every time they said those guys who bore the name of the city across the front of their teal jerseys weren’t going to make it, what I heard was, “New Orleans isn’t going to make it.” Maybe it was wrong to take it personally. But, on the other hand, it was the taking it personally that led me to make this blog.

On the second-to-last day we rented videos. And we bought a case of beer. Basic hurricane prep, right? (The part that makes this different from any other weekend of your life is that you still have the videos, in their clear plastic boxes in the entertainment center forever, because the store has never re-opened.)

Maybe you thought it was cheesy when ESPN and the like decided to dramatically announce (after “forgetting” the team existed for the first three quarters of the season) that the Hornets were playing for an entire city. It was, and it was also drastically oversimplifying what happened here. But it’s not their fault. It’s hard for people who weren’t here to understand this whole thing. And I’m not trying to be condescending, to make out like we’re some exclusive club you can’t be a part of (you wouldn’t want to be a part of it). But it’s like that trite old saying about people who live in glass houses not throwing stones.

Canal StreetOnly you don’t know your house is made of glass until it comes shattering down. If the National Guard was parked on the road keeping you out of your house for four weeks, and there was no power in your neighborhood for months anyway, and you’d already run down your savings, and you needed to put down a deposit on an apartment in a new, northern city, would you take the $4,500 check from FEMA? Would you stare numbly at the highway flowing past under the car, wondering what happened to your life? Would you feel guilty because you were upset about losing your clothes and books and car, when other people lost so much more?

We’re up to 7 AM on the Last Day. The city officials hold a press conference on TV. I watch it in bed. Katrina has strengthened to a Category 5. The levees cannot hold a Category 5. Evacuation is mandatory. All citizens with vehicles are to leave immediately. Get out. Just get out.

The members of the New Orleans Hornets are expected to be ambassadors for this city, and indeed the current team is full of high-character guys who’ve gotten involved in service this season, but they don’t know. As far as I’m concerned, except for David West, the only player left from the pre-Katrina roster, they’re in the strange and unfortunate position of dealing with the aftermath of something they were never here for. Only the minority owner is local. Chris Paul, drafted in 2005, hadn’t even arrived in New Orleans for training camp when abruptly his new life in the city was over before it started. Is it the team’s fault? No. Can you understand the slight undercurrent of resentment from some New Orleanians early last season? Yes.

12:52 PM on Sunday, August 28, 2005. I take a break from packing (and what would you bring if you had two hours to choose?) and sit down at my computer to quickly blog. This is what I write, at 12:52 PM on the Last Day:

This morning we woke up to sun shining through the slats of the blinds. The palms and magnolias on my street are swaying with the strengthening breeze. The heat bakes the slate roof tiles on the house next door. I look out over roofs that have been there for a hundred years. The cars are parked on the neutral ground. The streets are ominously empty.

We meant to ride it out, but…

Mandatory evacuation of Orleans Parish. It’s a Category 5 storm with winds of 175 miles per hour. The officials are saying there’s no longer a question that the levees will be overcome by the water. It’s so strange, really. It just seems like a pretty Sunday. Last year they said Ivan was going to be The One, and it wasn’t. They said the city would full up like a giant fish bowl. They said this was the price of living in the past.

I don’t know. I know I don’t want to leave, because, no matter how I want to deny it, there is a very real possibility that it won’t be here when I get back. I suppose at a moment like this what you feel is admiration and wonder: at the persistence of the people who settled here, who braved malaria and ungodly heat, who watched the river swallow their homes and then improbably built again in a swamp, at the women of two hundred years ago who did it all in floor length skirts. At least that’s what I think about. Goodbye to my green streetcars. Goodbye to the sweet still air that smells like flowers. Goodbye to the grand old ladies of St. Charles Avenue, with their iron lace and graceful tall shuttered windows and delicate porches, to whom my heart belongs. If this is your end, I am glad I won’t see it. Stubborn old city. It’s funny, somehow I see it making it… It’s very quiet outside now. I’ve taken the pictures down from the walls. We’re evacuating north to Nashville.

Goodbye, city. Good luck.

This is what I write, and then I fold up my laptop and put it in my bag.

Free GumboBut, three years later, and this is the important thing, this is more than a story of a hurricane. It’s a story about the resilience and grim humor of people who learned they had to rely on themselves. It’s a story about stereotypes: about people who heard they were supposed to be an inhuman bunch of looters, who were told they were stupid for living in a place that was their home (sometimes, ludicrously, by people who themselves lived above a fault line or on a tornado-prone plain), who were accused of stealing FEMA money from taxpayers. They said, “Good riddance.”

8:00 PM and you’re in the car, forehead leaning on the glass, rain collecting in ominous puddles along the side of the highway, car headlights stacked to the horizon, gas running low.

Then this winter they said, “New Orleans doesn’t care about the Hornets. New Orleans doesn’t want the Hornets.” And you know what I say to that? I say, “Fuck you. Don’t tell me what I want.”

Don’t tell me what my city needs and does not need. You weren’t there. You came to party, but you didn’t want the baggage. You weren’t there with the doors hanging open and banging in the wind, up and down an eerily empty street littered with debris. You weren’t there when the traffic lights didn’t work for a year. You weren’t there when the Saints scored a touchdown 90 seconds into the first home game after Katrina, and a whole city leapt up in unison, and it meant something.

You didn’t see all those little kids dressed in Chris Paul jerseys.

You weren’t there the night I heard an indescribable roar, and I looked up from the court, and realized New Orleans Arena was full, from bottom to top.

Home4:00 AM, and you’re sleeping on the ground outside at a rest stop in Alabama. Only you’re not sleeping. You’re staring up at the still-clear sky. You’ve outdriven the storm. You’re almost to Birmingham. The traffic has thinned. The rest stop is scattered with quiet people with Louisiana plates. The air is humid. It’s August 29, 2005.

What do we want? We want to forget the Saints were ever in San Antonio; we want to forget the Hornets were in Oklahoma City. We want the Hornets to make it, because our pride can’t take it if they don’t. Because every sellout this spring was a cry of victory for the city. We are not who you think we are, you columnists with poor research skills in bland Midwestern cities. We want you to stop telling us what our fate is going to be. We want you to write the damn follow-up article, the one about the 10,000 season tickets already sold for 2008-09.

We want you to understand why it says “New Orleans,” not “Hornets,” on the front of those jerseys.

Louisiana State Police. 9-9. Zero dead inside.

Louisiana State Police. 9/9/05. Zero dead inside. We're still alive here.

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38 Responses to “All That You Can’t Leave Behind”

  1. Well said ticktock, well said.

  2. Great read. You’ll be pleased to know that it’s not just their style of play which is making the Hornets alot of peoples’ “second team”.

  3. Brilliant ticktock. I’m keeping this one bookmarked.

  4. Thank you. I still have chills from your last sentence. Haunting. Overwhelming. Beautifully brilliant. Sending all of my love to New Orleans.

  5. Excellent post

  6. you are a very good writer

  7. Absolutely fantastic post. Very well done, ticktock.

    As someone who never lived here before Katrina, I can’t relate to a lot of your experiences (and hopefully Gustav won’t force me to), but it took me only a few short months to fall completely in love with New Orleans. Now it’s easy for me to understand why the people defend this city so passionately. It’s just a magical place to live.

    Once again, great post.

  8. Gustav knows it wants to keep tracking west. Oh yes it does.

    Thanks for the comments, all.

  9. screwedupmaniac says:

    hey all, celtics fan here. i must say, thank you for the enlightening post. i was pulling for you guys to come out of the west last year, the major reason being everything that the residents of New Orleans went through. It’s an incredible thing to have a bonding tool such as a sports team to reunite a city that has been torn apart in one rally cry, not just for a team, but for a city. my prayers continue to go out to all of you and the other residents of New Orleans.

  10. Bill Butler says:

    great writing.

  11. […] the people decide You need to read this beautiful blog post from a fan to all the people who said the Hornets would have to leave New Orleans: Then this winter […]

  12. Truer words were never spoken. Beautiful writing, as usual.

  13. Amazing. Great writing. Great pics. This is why our teams mean more than just having the names of our cities written on the jerseys and our cities are more than just where our houses are. Really catches a moment in time in the life of another human being.

    Not to attempt to reduce the significance of this tragedy, but in a way this makes me think of Sonics fans and what their loss means to them.

  14. Nice one: TrueHoop got you linked up. I’m glad more people will get to read this.

  15. Maggie Hendricks says:

    Fantastic read.

  16. Matt-Storm Surge says:

    This brought me to tears.

  17. Beautiful words. The people who stayed are the reason I love coming back to Louisiana year after year.

  18. Nobody outside will really know the impact of the disaster, so I sincerely salute all those affected. I’m lucky to be a fan of the organization with Hornets bloggers of this caliber.

    I don’t know about you guys, but October 29th can’t come soon enough.

  19. Wow! F-ckin beautiful! Can’t wait for Nov. 1

  20. Awesome. And I don’t mean it in the “Duuuude, awesome!” kind of way. I am literally filled with awe right now.

  21. It’s sad how people forget how powerful of an event that Katrina was. I mean, when we relocated to the North for four months, even by December of 2005, people didn’t understand it THEN. I remember going to the store to look at eyeglasses with TT6, and when we told the clerk we needed them right away, because we probably couldn’t get them when we returned home, she looked at us like we were crazy. We reminded her we were from New Orleans (we had mentioned it previously) and she just had this blank look on her face, like she had no idea the city was still in ruins.

    And that was three years ago.

    Now you read about “Katrina Fatigue,” how the rest of the country thinks they have done enough because they wrote the Red Cross a $100 check. Or maybe because the government has put over $100 billion into the rebuilding (or marked for spending, which is always a distinction on which the media never focuses). They say cut off the help, enough is enough; even though after seven years and over one trillion dollars, people still freak out when Congress threatens to cut off funds for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I mean what is it that we’re scared other countries are going to do, why is it so important to stop these alleged terrorists? What is the worst case scenario? That they blow up a major American city? Funny, it already happened. Now they tell us not to worry because the levees will be finished by 2012 or some shit. Seriously? Why don’t you get all these contractors you’re throwing money at to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure and put them to work on the levees? Isn’t the safety of our country more important than that of others? Isn’t that why OUR citizens pay taxes?

    This city is still not healed. One third of its homes remain abandoned. Businesses are still closed. Skyscrapers in downtown stand empty. But the people that matter have returned. The people who put their love for this city, their home, above all else. And now, even new people are starting to migrate here. They understand the potential for rebirth this city has; they are seduced the appreciation New Orleanians have for life and celebrating every moment of it.

    One of the cornerstones of these efforts to rebuild is the Hornets organization. When they first returned, all anyone could talk about was the Saints. They said the city couldn’t support two sports teams. I know I wanted “them” to be wrong. It’s one of the main reasons I bought season tickets. I knew the Hornets needed me. And they did. Even if only so I could bring TT6 to the games and convince her to love this sport, and this team, as much as this city.

    Because without her, there’d be so much less Hype. Now she’s addicted. Just like the entire city has become addicted. The Hornets have been great for the community off and on the court as both givers of charity and distractions from our troubles. I’ve always loved basketball, but never like this. When you can combine the verve of professional sports with the magic of a city that revels in its very existance like New Orleans, and throw in the heavy weight of enduring an experience like Katrina, you have a powerful combination, indeed.

    New Orleanians love New Orleans. Now, we love the Hornets, too. And we’re glad everyone else has come here so we can share a little bit of that with you.

  22. Good show, ticktock. Good show indeed.

  23. But luckily the Hornets stayed healthy this season, otherwise we could’ve ended up like that injury ridden second season of CP, eh mW?

    I’ll be honest, I will never fully understand the impact of Katrina, and I have been ignorant about it (the whole ignorance is bliss mentality), so I can’t condemn some of the ignorant people in your post. But as with most things, the more you learn, the more you are able to integrate it with your own lives and grow in character. Some of the folk are out and about in Texas so experiences shared aren’t inaccessible, and it’s wonderful to have people like you guys hold it down so we can see some culture alongside our basketball (or is it basketball alongside our culture?).

    One fun tidbit, multiple times I’ve worn my New Orleans Hornets gear and people actually stop me and ask me if I’m from NOLA because they’re from Louisiana. Now tell me one damn sports team that can evoke such excitement for comradery. That’s love.

  24. You know, towards the end of last October, just before the season began, I was wondering if George Shinn really understood the risk he was taking in moving this team back here. He must have. At the end of the day, he deemed it was worth it. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, George.

    I still remember not being able to return to the city after Katrina, even though I knew my place was relatively safe. I remember when Nagin put out the plans to allow people back into the city by zip code. My zip code, 70115 at the time, was to be allowed back in on the day that Rita made landfall on the Texas / Louisiana border, flooding New Orleans for a 2nd time. I was thinking, “Is this ever going to end?” After the powers-that-be pumped all the water out of the city (again), Nagin announced a revised return plan. I couldn’t wait that long, and I happened to know that they were letting contractors in on a limited basis. I had a friend who is an air conditioning contractor, and had a pass to get into New Orleans. I stole his pass, made a phony pass of my own, found the entry control point with the least supervision (which happened to be river rd. by Oak St.), and gained entry to the city to check out my place. When I got to my apartment, everything was as I had left it, except for the stinky fridge. I wept, feeling extreme guilt for all those that had lost everything, and here I am just coming back from a bad storm. I would imagine that feeling was like being the sole survivor on a shipwreck or plane crash, to a lesser degree.

    You folks would be amazed at the lengths people were taking to try and get back. I had multiple family members arrested for trying to sneak in to see their own property. I had a friend of mine get detained by a Guardsman who happened to be his neighbor from down the block.

    It was like living an episode straight out of the Twilight Zone. Thank you Ticktock. Although these are not all good memories, they are very meaningful and poignant.

  25. Mikey– I know that EXACT story, because we bought plane tickets from Boston for the date Nagin opened up 70115, only to get stranded in Memphis by Rita. We were so determined to get in at that point that we just rented a car and drove the rest of the way (through the beginning of Rita). I remember it was the best feeling because it was the first time in weeks we were able to make a choice and take control of something we were doing. They wouldn’t let us in at RIver Road, but they let us in on Claiborne the day after Rita, and we were able to find out that mW’s apartment was untouched and mine had lost the roof. Then we spent the day hiding from the National Guard as we drove stuff back and forth between the two! I cried when I saw that my bookshelves were one of the only things I had that was untouched. The books were what I cared about most.

    I was like, “NO. I bought this damn plane ticket. I WILL GET TO MY STUFF.” But the experience of coming back was, like you said, positively eerie.

  26. great post, good writing….I was definitly one of those people who had New Orleans as their ‘second team’ (first team is the warriors) There is definitly something exciting about that New Orleans team, more than their style of play, crowds were truly electric….and I’m definitely going to be pulling for the hornets this year

  27. I don’t pretend to be a member of that club no one wants to be a member of… but I love your city and I went there as soon as I could after the storm. I love it so now that there’s an ache in my heart as I fiend on news of Gustav from up here in the Pacific NW. I applaud everyone who came back after Katrina and cheered those Hornets and Saints. I’m not a sports fan, but those moments you describe gave me goosebumps because it was so much more than a sports moment. It was about a city’s population reclaiming its home.

    Stay strong New Orleans. I love you.

  28. TT6 and I have found ourselves quite by coincidence in New York, and are safe from harm, Gustav feels eerily similar, as we can only wait to find out what this storm will do. I operate mostly on denial. I just keep telling myself we’ll fly home Monday or Tuesday and eveything will be fine. And maybe it will. Man, this really makes me nostalgic for the time when my biggest fear was Pargo jacking up 3s five seconds into the 24 second clock.

  29. Well, I think I’ve seen quite enough and will leave tomorrow morning for a place that isn’t 2 miles away from the Gulf of Mexico!

  30. Oh, and good luck New Orleans

  31. saltandcarbon says:

    Stay safe you guys.

  32. Gary Klein says:

    I’ve been a Hornets fan for almost 20 years, since the days of Reid, Gill, Chapman, Tripucka, et al. I’ve never been to Charlotte, and I’ve never been to New Orleans. But I have never been prouder to be a Hornets fan than I am right now. To root for the same team as you guys brings a tear to my eye. I pray that you are all safe from Gustav, and that we can all watch our boys in Teal and Gold come fall.

  33. If anybody is displaced in Baton Rouge, contact me if you need any help be it grabin a beer after all this or someone wanting a tour of BR or strange as it sounds i got a shit ton of food and a genrator. my name is Stephen kidb567 at yahoo.com

    Hurricanes SUCK!!! this is like my 20th one living in LA.

  34. Matt-Storm Surge says:

    Read it again. Teared up again. Perfection in blog form.

  35. […] * Hornets Hype reminds us there’s more to life than just basketball. […]

  36. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

  37. This is certainly awfully important stuff. Many thanks for your passion to provide this kind of helpful tips here.

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