Monday, February 20, 2006

Houston's image and the NBA All-Star Game

As usual, it's a "good news, bad news" story.

The Good
  • TNT's aerial shots of the Toyota Center and downtown looked great. Everything was well lit, and darkness hid the less attractive aspects of the city.
  • TNT's "rocket-basket, meteor-ball, space, constellations" theme was a little cheesy, but it sure beats cowboys or oil rigs for our image. Gave the impression our city is run like the bridge of the Enterprise on Star Trek.
  • The pre-game show actually included the trivia question "What was the first word spoken on the moon?" The answer, as all natives know, is "Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed." Of course, Charles Barkley, Kevin Smith, and Magic Johnson had no idea, and Charles actually mocked it once he heard the answer: "Well there's a useful piece of information to know..." (sarcasm).
  • The Houston Symphony was a great choice for music introducing the players. They projected a more sophisticated image for the city (than, say, country music or rap), and they played a combination of cool space-themed music (like "2001") and more modern stuff (I'm pretty sure that was a symphony version of an Eminem song).
  • Destiny's Child did the best rendition of the national anthem I've ever heard. Note to all future sports event programmers: the anthem is much better from a trio than solo.
  • Bush 41 made an appearance.
  • The Rockets had two starters on the Western team: Yao and T-Mac.
  • T-Mac was the high scorer for the West.
The Bad
  • The West just barely lost 122-120, so local-hero T-Mac didn't make MVP. (LeBron James got it) It's too bad, because it sounds like he needed the perk-up too.
  • After a great January, our weather really sucked for all the guests over the weekend. 40s, overcast, and rainy. Blah.
  • I'm disappointed we didn't do more to handle the traffic around the Galleria (day 1, day 2). I'm sure it left a bad impression on the guests, who probably now think our traffic is as bad as LA (it's not by a longshot). In retrospect, it might have been wise to encourage those retailers to delay their Presidents Day sales for a week.
  • Bill Simmons of ESPN, is, as always, unhappy. (Thanks to John Sterling for the tip)
I'll reprint Bill's stuff here in case the link is unstable, with a few of my highlights and comments:

The Phil Connors Award for "City that I can't seem to escape"
In the past four years, I made four separate trips to Houston and spent a total of 24 days here. And you know why I did it? For you, the reader. I covered the Bowl, the Super Bowl, baseball's All-Star Game, and now, the NBA All-Star Game. And you know what? That's too much freaking time to spend in Houston. My editors just bleeped me, I don't care. Maybe Houston doesn't suck any more or less than 20 other major cities, and maybe the people are friendly and likable, but the fact remains, you would never come here for any reason, other than these three:

(1) For work.
(2) To gain weight. (a backhanded compliment to our restaurants?)
(3) To get shot.

You just wouldn't. And yet, dating back to the Super Bowl XXXVIII in February 2004, three of the last eight major sporting events were held in Houston. Does this make any sense? (yes, if you have a relatively wealthy city that builds three new stadiums in six years) There are 30 to 35 American cities that could host the Super Bowl and/or either of the All-Star Games ... and yet Houston pulled off the Ultimate Pro Sports Trifecta in a 24-month span, despite the fact that it's a sprawling city with traffic and safety problems (the three intangibles you always want to avoid for major sporting events). Here's what really frightens me: I have spent so much time here, I actually know my way around. Can I have this information removed from my brain? Is there a pill I can take?

Anyway, I have the following announcement to make: I am never, ever, ever setting foot in Houston again. I don't care if the Red Sox play the Astros in the World Series. I don't care if the Celtics play the Rockets in the NBA Finals. I don't care if my daughter gets engaged to an astronaut and has to have a quickie wedding in Houston hours before he gets launched to Saturn. I'm never coming back to Houston. Twenty-four days were enough. No offense.

Well, at least he threw in the "no offense" conclusion to soften things. I can understand where he's coming from. We're simply not a tourist town. I've had trouble keeping out-of-town guests entertained for 3 or 4 days, much less 24. And for what we do have, you really need a knowledgeable native to show you around (maybe the GHCVB needs to provide these volunteers to major journalists?). There is no "French Quarter" or "South Beach" where you can just go and it's all right there.

That said, I think the "sprawling city with traffic and safety problems" comment is unfair when it comes to hosting sporting events. The stadiums and major hotels are not that far apart - certainly no worse than most other major cities. The traffic is generally not bad outside of weekday rush hours (although the previously mentioned Galleria breakdown makes the comment justified for this trip). And our safety is about average for most major cities, even with the post-Katrina spike, and certainly not a problem in the major stadium and hotel districts.

The "never returning" comment is just being sensationalist. He's counting on nobody remembering it when he's here for the Final Four in 2011.

Well, at least he liked the arena:
The Sheryl Crow Award for "Person, place or arena that could look good or not good depending on the light"
To the Toyota Center, which had many pluses (tons of food options, very spacious, cool scoreboard, stylish lighting for the games, center bars, spacious food areas for the club seat holders) and two major downsides:

(1) It's in Houston.

(2) Walking around the generic concourse feels just like walking around an airport terminal. You keep waiting for someone to say over a loudspeaker, "There's been a gate change, the flight to Austin will now be out of Gate 42B."

(My overall grade: B-plus. Second-best NBA arena that I've seen, other than the Staples Center, only the food options are vastly superior.)

Beyond the stadium, I think that B+ seems like a fair grade overall for Houston's hosting of the 2006 NBA All-Star Game.

If you have info on how the event was perceived relative to Houston - especially links to articles by outsiders - by all means please post them in the comments. Thanks.


At 9:47 PM, February 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Houston Symphony and Destiny's Child definitely showed a side of Houston I prefer outsiders to see. Let Dallas play the cowboy angle. I'm ready for Houston to move on. Thank you to the NBA for putting together a show that did us proud.

PS - That WAS an eninem song the Symphony played. That was a riot. Maybe they gained a few new fans.

At 11:42 PM, February 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never read any of the ESPN guy's other articles, but it seemed like this one had some pretty disturbing racial overtones. Who goes to a Snoop concert just to speculate about what would be the racial/musical opposite? Why repeatedly refer to the All-Star game as the "black super bowl" and then denigrate one of the few cities capable of staging an event with such a title? If the All-Star game were in Seattle or Salt Lake, would that shut him up? I mean really, now.

At 1:28 AM, February 21, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill Simmons is not really alone in his criticisms, and he is hardly a racist. He pretty much wants the big sporting events to be isolated to LA, SD, New Orleans, and Miami especially since they are in the winter. With the weather we had this past weekend, I cant blame him.

Trust me, if the All Star game was held in Salt Lake I doubt he would go.

Houston is a really boring city for tourists to go to. So is Dallas. San Antonio and Austin can keep people entertained for a while, but we dont have "it" and as long as we dont average 75 degrees in February the only way we are winning major sporting events is by building new arenas.

I for one hope we stop building new sporting venues for the next 20 years and focus on improving our education and crime.

At 10:40 AM, February 21, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its common for sportswriters to complain about any city that isn't their own. Most of his complaints stem from the fact he stayed at the Galleria but hung out downtown all weekend. Why not stay where you are going to be working/partying?

At 2:04 PM, February 21, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So Bill Simmons vows to never step foot in Houston again.

Let's hope he keeps that promise.


At 6:12 AM, February 22, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really generally like Simmons's stuff. I even enjoyed the All-Star column save the H-Town bashing. I thought his crime comment came out of left field. Simmons is based in L.A. 30 seconds of googling led me to this link comparing the crime in Houston favorably with L.A. Simmons employs an intern, but fact checking doesn't seem to be part of the gig.


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