<
>

Nowitzki, Kidd team up to help Katrina victims

NEW ORLEANS -- For a while Friday afternoon, Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki actually were teammates.

Be it complete coincidence or twisted cruelty, when the NBA sent five- and six-man packs of players into the city to help rebuild flood-ravaged neighborhoods, Kidd -- the would-be Dallas Maverick -- wound up in the same group as Nowitzki.

In the NBA, outside issues have a way of creeping into or completely overshadowing the festivities and activities of All-Star Weekend. In this case, the combination of Kidd and Nowitzki -- along with Chris Bosh, Steve Nash and Deron Williams -- unintentionally brought the league's current dominant news story into what the NBA hoped would be the theme of this get-together: the players helping the city to rebuild.

The short and simple explanation of the Transaction That Wasn't is that Devean George is still exercising his right to refuse a trade, which means Kidd is still a New Jersey Net. And as Kidd climbed a ladder to chip paint off a window and Nowitzki grabbed a paint roller and went to work on the interior, as reporters peppered him with questions about the nontrade, Kidd couldn't help but notice the symbolism.

"I'm outside, he's inside," Kidd said. "They're keeping us separated. Literally."

The thing is, Kidd couldn't complain. It's impossible for an NBA player to feel deprived as he looks at ruined homes on block after block.

Kidd knows that even if the trade does not go through by Thursday's deadline, he will be playing in the NBA, on a contract that pays almost $20 million this season. And just a few feet away, outside the bus windows, were houses that still were just a mess of wrecked, rotting wood, some 2½ years after Hurricane Katrina.

"It puts a lot of things in perspective," Kidd said. "You might not have as much as you might like or you might want. But there are people who don't have anything."

And so the players came out on a rainy day and worked for free. Some, including Nash, had been going nonstop. He played against Dallas on Thursday night, then caught an early flight to New Orleans, checked in at the hotel, met with teammates, then a 30-minute session with the media. Then a quick change of clothes and off to one of the six reconstruction sites around the city.

There were no sighs, rolled eyes or cynical remarks from the players. Nowitzki offered a heartfelt thank-you to the organizers. LeBron cut short his work here only to rush off to another charity function. Nash actually had been looking forward to this.

On the day he was selected to the All-Star team, Nash said: "Giving an assist and really getting involved and learning what happened post-Katrina is really going to be a highlight for me. It's fortunate timing, in one respect, that we can go there so soon after the disaster and really try to make a difference, at least spread some more awareness of the state that the city's in now to make sure it's not a forgotten affair and that people can continue to put that city and that region of the country in their consciousness so that we can continue to help. Because there's a lot of rebuilding that needs to be done still."

To be honest, there was more awareness than rebuilding done at this site. There were so many media members around that the players could barely get a paint stroke in without a microphone popping into their face, forcing them to pause and answer questions. But that's all part of the process, part of getting the word out. You can't expect the entire population of the United States to hop on a plane, get in a bus and drive around to see it for themselves, to look at the houses still painted with shorthand markings (such as the abbreviation TFW for "toxic flood water"), another with a brief memorial, "RIP Dale," or the house that had a one-word plea: "Help."

"Everybody understands the housing issues in New Orleans," said Kristin Palmer, the director of Rebuilding Together New Orleans. "The fact that the NBA is down here to highlight that and talk about that and let us have a good frank conversation about the poverty in New Orleans and our housing structures, to me that's inspiring. This is a national issue. and we have an opportunity to address it."

Rebuilding Together New Orleans has rebuilt 75 houses and is working on another 39 right now, Palmer said. Friday, it got an assist.

"This isn't anything different than what I do on the court ... help others," Kidd said. "I try to make my teammates better. So for me to come here to help with a home or two, it's not so much the financial things that you might not be able to do -- pitch in and put in a window, pitch in and put up a roof."

The reward: a thank you from the man whose house Kidd helped repair. A basic yet powerful moment. What more can you do for a person than provide him or her with a place to live?

And this isn't just a place to live. These residents want to be in their homes, want to be in this neighborhood. Jerome Richardson, who had to be pulled out of the attic of 941 Lizardi St. when the floods came, grew up in that house.
"All the legacies start in the family house," said Richardson, who has been living in a FEMA trailer in the backyard.

The best part of all-star games is the fantasy-team-like combinations. This went one better. Not only no distinctions by team but not even any by conference. Not just Kidd and Nowitzki. James and Nash and Williams and Bosh, too. The most devastated neighborhood in the country, with a lineup Mark Cuban could only dream of buying.

J.A. Adande is the author of "The Best Los Angeles Sports Arguments." He joined ESPN.com as an NBA columnist in August 2007 after 10 years with the Los Angeles Times. Click here to e-mail J.A.