NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis is tiring of the narrative that his pro basketball career would be better served if he played somewhere other than New Orleans.
During All-Star weekend, the face of the Pelicans franchise will have a chance to exhibit why building a winner in the Big Easy matters to him. And if his enthusiasm for his adopted hometown proves contagious among some of the elite talent gathering in the NBA’s Gulf South outpost, all the better for the “Brow.”
“I was definitely excited for All-Star to come to New Orleans again; New Orleans is a fun place,” said Davis, who was a second-year pro and first-time All-Star when the NBA’s annual marquee event last came to the city in 2014. “It will be a good chance for other players to experience our city, the culture in New Orleans with Mardi Gras and all, and see why we feel New Orleans is one the best places to play basketball as far as the fan base that we have and the culture of the city and everything like that.”
The All-Star game wasn’t supposed to return to New Orleans quite this quickly, but the league pulled the game Charlotte earlier this year because of a North Carolina state law that limits protections of LGBT people.
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But this All-Star weekend will be different for Davis than his first, when he was still getting comfortable with pro basketball and life in New Orleans. Davis, nicknamed “the Unibrow” since his college days at Kentucky, was a Western Conference reserve in 2014. Now he’s among the most popular players in the world and an All-Star starter boasting gaudy statistics of nearly 28 points and 12 rebounds per game — not to mention season highs of 50 points, 22 rebounds and six blocks.
What Davis needs now is more help. The Pelicans missed the playoffs in three of his first four pro seasons, and their postseason prospects are in doubt again. Entering Wednesday night’s action, New Orleans was 12 games below .500 and 3 ½ games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
While Davis doesn’t expect to spend the whole weekend recruiting, he acknowledged that playing host to the NBA’s elite gives him an opportunity to help them envision what it might be like if, via a trade or free agency, they wound up joining him.
“There definitely is a time for that,” Davis said. “The main focus is for everybody to just go out there and have fun.”
Davis was pleased that this year’s All-Star festivities coincide with Mardi Gras. Normally, the NBA schedule takes the Pelicans away from New Orleans during most of pre-Lenten Carnival, which draws millions of tourists to New Orleans for rollicking festivities centered on parades and balls.
“I’m excited to actually be in town,” Davis said.
Then there’s the food. Davis expects to double as a restaurant guide this week. Growing up in Chicago, Davis was all about pizza, which he still eats when he goes home. But in New Orleans, he’s refined his palette, sampling the city’s renowned creole cuisine and fresh Gulf seafood.
“The food is amazing. The little spice it has to it is amazing. The gumbo is amazing,” Davis said. “When you go to other cities and they have New Orleans gumbo or New Orleans-style food or whatever, it tastes nothing like it. I’ve been around the city and got a chance to experience all types of food.
“I actually eat seafood now.”
Davis’ strengthening ties to New Orleans go well beyond fun and flavor. He arrived in the first decade after Hurricane Katrina, an epic disaster from which rebuilding is not entirely complete. Some of the hardest-hit neighborhoods needed help before the storm and even more so afterward, and Davis has immersed himself charitable and community endeavors. His AD’s Flight Academy features events with kids such as basketball camps, bowling and movie nights.
“He keeps himself involved in the community whether that’s helping kids or building up the city. He truly cares,” said Pelicans forward Terrence Jones, who won a NCAA national title with Davis at Kentucky in 2012 and rejoined his college teammate in the NBA this season.
“People have so much joy when they see him at any events we have for the Pelicans,” Jones said. “He’s excited to be able to represent the city.”
Pelicans general manager Dell Demps got a sense of Davis’ commitment to New Orleans when the star big man seized the earliest possible opportunity to sign a five-year, $127 million extension that runs through 2020-21.
Said Demps: “Although Anthony’s from Chicago, he treats New Orleans like it’s his home.”
He wouldn’t mind if one or two of his fellow all-stars did, too.