Lewis: Ready for more NBA All-Star action?

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Pelicans owner Tom Benson and his wife, Gayle, give the thumbs-up after a game between the Pelicans and Miami Heat on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013.
Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Pelicans owner Tom Benson and his wife, Gayle, give the thumbs-up after a game between the Pelicans and Miami Heat on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013.

Patrick Sullivan doesn’t need Monday’s voting deadline to remind him that the 63rd NBA All-Star Game is now less than a month away.

As the league’s vice president of special events, it’s Sullivan’s job to oversee the planning and execution of the NBA’s showcase weekend, which returns to New Orleans from Feb. 14-16 and culminates with the game itself in the New Orleans Arena.

“This is our Super Bowl,” said Sullivan, who has been in his position for 12 years. “It’s the one time that we have all our team officials and business partners in one place with a worldwide audience watching. That makes it the most important weekend of the year in a way that our competition final can’t be. Frankly, it’s easy to do it right in a city like New Orleans.”

More than 50,000 visitors, obviously far more than the 17,000 or so who will actually attend the game, and many of the glitterati of sports and entertainment will descend on the city for high-profile parties and the like.

But for those who can’t go to the game — there is no public ticket offering for either the All-Star Game or All-Star Saturday Night the evening before — there’s the All-Star Jam Session at the Morial Convention Center that is open to the public, plus any number of celebrity sighting opportunities (Jay-Z and Beyonce!) for those so inclined.

Along with Sullivan, some 650 NBA staffers are involved to some degree with the All-Star Game. And that’s just on the league level.

Locally, the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation is playing its usual big event role as the local host committee, responsible for the non-basketball aspects of the weekend such as volunteers, hospitality, transportation and security along with the fundraising needed to secure the event to begin with.

It’s the third straight year for such an event in New Orleans, following the 2012 Final Four and Super Bowl XLVII last February, so at least there’s plenty of muscle memory involved.

“Some people may take these things for granted, but we never do,” said Jay Cicero, the foundation’s president and CEO. “We do have a good understanding of what it takes and have learned how to streamline the process somewhat, so hopefully there aren’t any major hiccups. But everyone we deal with wants their event to be better than before. This is a jewel of an event that we love having come back to New Orleans.”

This is the second time for New Orleans to host the event, the previous being 2008. That’s the shortest time between games being in the same city since 1965. But there’s a significant difference between the last time and this one.

In 2008, the city was still recovering from Katrina. The NBA’s All-Star Day of Service debuted that year as a visible effort to assist in that recovery.

Also in 2008, the local team was called the Hornets, owned by George Shinn and in their first year back in New Orleans after having spent 2006-07 in Oklahoma City.

Now they’re the Pelicans, and Tom Benson is the owner. In fact, an All-Star game in New Orleans was a condition of the sale.

The sports foundation did most of the local heavy lifting in ’08. The Pelicans are full partners this time.

“We’re taking a lot of elements from the Super Bowl and applying them to the All-Star Game,” Pelicans President Dennis Lauscha said. “With all of the owners in town, Mr. Benson has put an emphasis on hospitality for them. I’m not sure that’s been the case before in other cities. But we’re making our best effort to extend the All-Star period a little longer for them.”

While obviously owner events are pretty exclusive, those attending Jam Session will find an enhanced experience from six years ago. The space for the 3,200-seat center court arena, games, clinics autograph opportunities and an NBA store and other activities has been expanded from 450,000 to 500,000 square feet.

One new feature that should prove popular is a duplication of the NBA draft combine, where participants can get measurements of how they did through wristbands employing radio frequencies.

“Every year, we outdo ourselves utilizing the latest technology,” Sullivan said. “Out staff wore pedometers last year, and they walked about 15 miles a day.

“We want fans to have an amazing experience even if they don’t have tickets for Sunday. They certainly won’t run out of things to do.”