Mardi Gras? Who noticed! The NBA All-Star Weekend dominated New Orleans, after a last-minute reassignment to the Big Easy to promote equality for all Americans. Historic crowds made for some memorable impromptu street parties, but it only underscored the fact that the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) was marking its 25th anniversary as the official sports alumni association for former NBA, ABA, WNBA, and Harlem Globetrotters players.
The weekend got started before the big game on Thursday, February 16, when Legends of Basketball and NBRPA President & CEO Arnie Fielkow participated in a number of events across the Greater New Orleans Area with a clear educational focus.
The day began with NBRPA Vice President Kenny Gattison and WNBA great Barbara Farris joining Mr. Fielkow on visits to Chalmette High School in St. Bernard Parish and Lake Forest Charter School in New Orleans East. The rallies focused on encouraging students of all ages to build upon the leadership skills one can gain from sports and academic pursuits. NBRPA Chapter Leaders also visited Joseph S. Clark Preparatory High School in New Orleans’ historic Treme neighborhood wherein keeping to the educational theme, the members talked about the importance of mentorship.
That Thursday evening, Wintrust, the lead financial partner of the NBRPA, officially hosted all early-bird registrants to New Orleans at a Big Easy style reception. At the reception, Wintrust welcomed NBRPA members to New Orleans to kick-off the weekend.
Thursday wrapped up with a showing of the critically acclaimed film ‘ON THE MAP’ at the Jewish Community Center in Uptown New Orleans. The film celebrates the 40th Anniversary of the basketball game that changed Israel and international sports forever. Prior to the screening, guests had the opportunity to mingle with Tal Brody (Maccabi USA Alum, and Israel’s Goodwill Ambassador), CEO Fielkow, NBA Hall of Famers Rick Barry and Nancy Lieberman, and NBRPA Chairman Dwight Davis.
Friday saw the intensity pick up as NBRPA members and vendors began the first official day of NBA 2017 All-Star weekend with arrivals to the Legends Lounge, wherein addition to credentials, NBRPA Mardi Gras beads, and swag bags, Legends and their guests were able to pick up king cakes courtesy of Rouses Supermarkets and were treated to traditional po-boys from Mahoney’s of New Orleans. The spacious accommodations at Doubletree’s 16th floor ballroom not only provided one of the best panoramic views of New Orleans, but some incredible displays by partners:
Kristin Beal of Wintrust Wealth Management provided counseling on financial investments and wealth management, as well as offered leather-bound personal journals to make planning that much easier;
Kathryn Chu with the NBA Players Legacy Fund provided information to retired players who are experiencing financial difficulties;
Jon Harris of AthLife provided information about the incredible Sports career counseling they provide to Legends members;
Dane Jensen and Schoolyard All-Stars showed a line of jerseys that Legends can personalize to their former schools and donate sales proceeds back to the playgrounds where they started;
Perennial partner Rebound Magazine and Phoenix Chapter President Matt Fish had an incredible interactive display with Isodiol sports performance products and a unique SchoolPro financial literacy program available from the Phoenix NBRPA chapter;
Gooch Gallery moved along with the All-Stars from Charlotte, NC to New Orleans and showcased original sports artwork and custom all-star painting;
Annual Civil Rights Tour partner Plessy & Ferguson Foundation provided information on the efforts to build inclusive museums and monuments in the New Orleans area;
Alabama State University recruited players for its online degree programs;
Ear Q offered free hearing screenings and assessments and provided health counseling;
NASA showcased its technology and career opportunities;
Applied Sports Psychology discussed transition to life after the game;
Reel Media Group provided a boot-camp training experience for those looking to improve their on-air presentations and explore media careers; and
Dr. Gregory Stewart discussed ways to enhance orthopedic and cardio health services to former players.
While much of this was still going on, hundreds of volunteers, NBRPA Members, and current NBA stars braved cold, rainy weather for the NBA Cares All-Star Day of Service. In the historic Hollygrove neighborhood of New Orleans, over 150 volunteers joined up with NBRPA Legend Dikembe Mutombo and local non-profit Rebuilding Together to paint, beautify, and renovate three houses and build a community garden. Across the Mississippi River in Gretna, nearly 100 volunteers worked with Kenny Gattison to build a Kaboom playground at local William Hart Elementary.
After a full-day of networking, Legends met NBRPA Board Members at the opening reception sponsored by Harrah’s Casino, where they were officially welcomed to the city by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Councilwoman Susan Guidry, New Orleans Convention and Visitor Bureau Chief Steve Perry, local radio personalities and other dignitaries who thanked the NBRPA for investing in the city. Out-going Chair Thurl Bailey honored all Legends for making his years of service so meaningful on the Board. “NBRPA is at a terrific place—we’ve doubled our membership and are at nearly 900 members. With the new CBA the future is only going to get brighter for our organization. We are an integral part to the NBA family,” he said. Then, Dwight Davis recognized Thurl Bailey for his service.
One highlight of the evening was the announcement of the NBRPA’s Legends Empowerment Program with Minor League Baseball that will include internships and mentoring programs with Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau presented a $10,000 check as seed funding to kick-start the Legends Empowerment Program.
The stage then welcomed remarks by many contributors: Kristin Beal and Brian Brown from Wintrust; NBPA Director of Player Programs Purvis Short, Hall of Famers Nancy Lieberman, Spencer Haywood, Rick Barry, and Julius Erving; and NBRPA founders Dave Bing, Archie Clark, Dave Cowens, Oscar Robertson, and Peter DeBusschere sitting in for his late father Dave. National Urban League President and former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial underscored the achievement of these great men and women of sports by thanking them for being leaders in integration and equity for all Americans.
Saturday morning kicked-off with as much excitement as Friday ended, beginning with the NBRPA’s All-Star Athletes in Action 2017 All-Star Breakfast presented by Janssen Pharmaceuticals. Janssen Pharmaceuticals strives to provide access to effective and affordable medicines and related healthcare services to the people who need them and is proud to help present such a positive event.
The event provided an opportunity to honor the individual spirit and highlight how hard work and good deeds can better the game and change a life. The first award winner, Randy Pfund, said he couldn’t understand how anyone could not have faith when times get tough: “When you look at how God can change your life by trusting in him, it just makes sense to me,” he said.
The event then shifted to a conversation with NBPA and NBA representatives discussing their shared success in player pensions and health care in the new CBA. This new agreement provides the best benefits package ever offered and includes significantly improved benefits when retired players turn 50.
The crowd then welcomed to the stage the big man in the room- Shaquille O’Neal. During the conversation, Shaq's personality and humor were on full display, beginning with his wish that the event could have started at 10:30 a.m. instead of 8:30 a.m. He said he always wanted to be a break-dancer, then a rapper, and then an actor “until I made Kazaam.” So he decided he made the right choice with basketball. “The true legends - Dr. J, Magic, Michael Jordan - they are the ones who made the game possible for all of us,” said Shaq.
The breakfast then recognized local ordinary people doing extraordinary things, much like the Legends themselves. Those honored were New Orleans barber Wilbert “Chill” Wilson and legendary chef and restaurateur Leah Chase, both of whom persevered through the catastrophic impact of the flooding following Hurricane Katrina to help the city and community of New Orleans become stronger than ever.
The culmination of the event were the deserving honors to former NBA Coach/GM Randy Pfund with the 2017 Jerry Colangelo Award and 12-year NBA veteran Mike James with the 2017 Bobby Jones Award.
The Jerry Colangelo Award, named in honor of the Basketball Hall of Famer and former CEO of the Phoenix Suns & current Chairman of USA Basketball, awarded for unparalleled professionalism both on and off the court by showing strong character, integrity, and leadership.
The Bobby Jones Award, named after former All-Star Bobby Jones, is annually given to a current or former NBA player exhibiting exceptional integrity and service both on and off the court.
Later in the day, about 25 Legends and family showed up at NOLA Motorsports in Avondale, LA to race Lamborghinis, Corvettes, Porches and other high-flying cars. Though some of the legends were just too tall to fit in any of the cars with the proper safety equipment, they were still able to race, albeit at a much lesser speed and with monitored use.
After a hard day of networking, work, play, and Mardi Gras parades, the Legends of the NBRPA made their way to The Little Gem Saloon to enjoy a private party among their peers and families.
Saturday night ended with an inspiring tribute to the NBRPA’s founding members in honor of the organization’s 25th Anniversary.
The Legends Brunch at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center Sunday morning was, as usual, the standout event of the weekend. Commissioner Adam Silver emphasized from the start of the program that the power of an idea can change the world. In this case, it changed the way we honor and support the men and women who created today's game of basketball.
Dave Bing, Archie Clark, Dave Cowens, Oscar Robertson, and the son of the late Dave DeBusschere, Peter were recognized for the 25th Anniversary founding of their game-changing organization, the National Basketball Retired Players Association.
Later, David Robinson accepted Humanitarian of the Year; Grant Hill was presented the Community Ambassador Award; and our own Dwight Davis presented the Legacy Award to Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor.
While Legends Bob Lanier, Magic Johnson, Ruth Riley and David Robinson talked about the contributions of current and former players to the game, the NBRPA Board was making moves of its own to continue to contribute to this story: Dwight Davis was announced as new Chair, Mike Glenn as Vice Chair, Casey Shaw as Treasurer, and Nancy Lieberman as Secretary.
“This is a great way to cap another incredible NBA All-Star Weekend, especially at a time where this organization founded to serve the men and women who created today’s basketball, are doing so much to promote excellence and equality through sportsmanship all over the world,” said Chairman Davis, whose extensive history of public service in New Hampshire has earned statewide recognition. “I'm humbled by the opportunity to serve as Chair of the NBRPA. Over the past six years the bar has been raised incredibly high. It is my intention to move our mission even further forward.”
About the National Basketball Retired Players Association
The National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) is comprised of former professional basketball players from the NBA, ABA, WNBA and Harlem Globetrotters. It is a 501(c) 3 organization with a mission to develop, implement and advocate a wide array of programs to benefit its members, supporters, and the community. The NBRPA was founded in 1992 by basketball legends Dave DeBusschere, Dave Bing, Archie Clark, Dave Cowens and Oscar Robertson. The NBRPA works in direct partnerships with the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association. Arnie D. Fielkow is the President and CEO, and the NBRPA Board of Directors includes Chairman of the Board Dwight Davis, Vice Chairman Mike Glenn, Treasurer Casey Shaw, Secretary Nancy Lieberman, Rick Barry, James Donaldson, Spencer Haywood, LaRue Martin Jr., David Naves, Johnny Newman and Eldridge Recasner.