Lewis: Another taste of the big game for New Orleans

Jeff Rossi has seen the NBA All-Star Game from both sides.

For eight years, the Brother Martin and UNO alum worked in the NBA’s special events department. On All-Star weekend, he was responsible for installation of the introductory stage in the arena.

And since he returned home in 2010, Rossi is the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation’s director of special projects and volunteers. So he has his hand in everything the host committee is doing in connection with this year’s event, which begins Thursday with the Jam Session at the Morial Convention Center.

But, believe it or not, Rossi sees his duties for this weekend as less stressful than his former position.

“This is basically the NBA’s show,” Rossi said while practically putting his feet on his desk last week. “When you do the Super Bowl like we did last year, the NFL puts a lot of major responsibility on the host committee.”

While the Super Bowl featured Super Bowl Boulevard — a music, food and merchandise community along the riverfront — the NBA has no need for anything like that, save for Jam Session and the events at the Smoothie King Center, plus the Day of Service.

It’s also why the NBA is holding its event in the arena instead of the adjacent Mercedes-Benz Superdome, where obviously thousands more could attend. Supposedly it’s easier to achieve the desired TV production values in the smaller confines.

“Obviously we’re here to facilitate the league in anything it needs, such as working with the city with licensing or transportation agencies,” Rossi said. “But the NBA is very hands-on and specific about everything.”

Maybe that’s why some 800 of the league’s 1,200 employees, plus many more from the individual teams, will be on hand.

Obviously, for the NBA, its marquee showcase is a very big deal.

“This is of worldwide importance to us,” said Patrick Sullivan, the NBA’s vice-president of special events. “It’s not just what our audience sees but the local experience for our business partners and other visitors. There are months and in some cases years of planning that go into this.”

But for New Orleans, it’s a very big deal, too.

It’s the second time in just six years for the All-Star Game to be played here. Not since 1963 and 1965 in Philadelphia has one city hosted the event twice in such a short span.

Obviously the star presence of athletes, celebrities and their hangers-on would make even Sacramento feel like Las Vegas, but the food and music infrastructure already in place gives the Big Easy a head start for the parties that will saturate the city.

Suffice it to say, millions of unsuspecting crustaceans are about to meet their maker in the next few days.

The sports foundation is providing about 400 volunteers, only a fraction of those utilized for the Super Bowl and Final Four. Most will be at the airport and hotels.

The NBA even takes care of most of the staffing at the Jam Session, which will provide local hoop dreamers an affordable opportunity to meet some of the game’s biggest stars and engage in more than 50 activities.

The All-Star Game also continues a remarkable run of mega sports events in the city: the BCS Championship Game and Final Four in 2012 followed by the Super Bowl last year.

Think that happens elsewhere? Well, when the Dallas area hosts the BCS’ successor — the first College Football Playoff title game — this January in Arlington’s Cowboys Stadium, it will become only the second metro area to have been the site of all four of those major events.

That’s why it seemed so deflating that New Orleans didn’t land next season’s CFP title game, although the Sugar Bowl will be one of this season’s semifinals, so it’s not like we’re going to be totally shut out.

And, if all goes right, New Orleans should get the 2017 Final Four, 2018 Super Bowl and 2019 CFP title game, perhaps setting the table for an NBA All-Star return in 2020 — although this one was part of Tom Benson’s stipulations for purchasing the Hornets (now Pelicans) two years ago.

Regardless, New Orleans’ reputation as the No. 1 venue for big events should be enhanced next weekend. By all accounts, everything is good to go.

“I don’t know if all of the hay’s in the barn,” said Rita Benson LeBlanc, co-chair of the host committee. “But we’ve got a lot in there.”

Let’s just hope that, this time, nobody trips over a cord and knocks out the power again.