Return to Transcripts main page


New Orleans Hosts NBA All-Star Game; Basketball Tradition of St. Augustine High School is Profiled; NBA Players Discuss Cultural Life of New Orleans. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired February 18, 2017 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And of course, it's Mardi Gras. And of course I am with my great buddy here, my favorite NBA All-Star, Steve Smith. What an exciting weekend.

STEVE SMITH, FORMER NBA PLAYER: It is, Fred. When you hit the city limits of New Orleans, you feel like dancing. We're here on Bourbon Street. You talk about the music, the passion of the people. They're genuine. And the food, that's what I really love about New Orleans.

WHITFIELD: It's all about the flavor here. Take a look.


WHITFIELD: The world's most talented basketball stars together for a global celebration of the game.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: New Orleans, what's up? Make some noise.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it's on top of Mardi Gras. So that makes it even more fun.

WHITFIELD: This year in New Orleans, a city known for its vibrant culture and love of sport. LeBron James now the senior leading the east. Expected drama in the west as former teammates are forced to unite.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're here to celebrate the game of basketball and everybody's accomplishment. So we're going to have fun.

WHITFIELD: All-Star personalities, slam dunks, and style.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You like fashion?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like fashion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you wearing?

WHITFIELD: This is All Access, an NBA All-Star Weekend, a CNN Bleacher Report special.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WHITFIELD: All right, it's an electric weekend indeed. For the next 30 minutes you have your All Access pass with us this NBA All-Star weekend. And you an NBA All-Star yourself champion, a champion with the San Antonio Spurs 2003. What do you see happening in the east?

SMITH: You start off with the east. You have to talk about LeBron James. And when you really look at him and look at his career, 13 times he's been an All-Star, starting in every one of the All-Star games. He's been in the league 14 years. Look at his stats. What's astonishing is his career stats, his season stats. Then you talk about his All-Star stats. All are matched. But what separates him to me is you look at his playoff stats, he even goes a step further. It's been phenomenal the run he's had. His commitment to excellence is at that level.

WHITFIELD: It's why he's the king. And what about those stats for Isaiah Thomas? They really stack up as well.

SMITH: You talk about Isaiah Thomas. He's only 5'8". You talk about a guy who was picked last in the 2011 draft, and he's an MVP candidate. Unbelievable what he's doing. He is leading the league as of right now in fourth quarter points. And they're second, and they have a chance to catch LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

WHITFIELD: Wow, so you're really excited about this.

SMITH: I'm excited.

WHITFIELD: I think we all are.

For so many, it begins in high school. And here in New Orleans one of the most famous is St. Aug, St. Augustine, a Catholic school in the seventh ward known for paving the way against segregation and also known because of a particular coach named Bernard Griffith who says basketball is about life lessons.


BERNARD GRIFFITH: If you ask a lot of the young black men you'd see in the city, talking about what school did you go to? Most places you go to, everybody talking about the college they went to. You ask the guys are here what school you went to, they'll say, St. Aug.

AVERY JOHNSON, ST AUGUSTINE ALUMNI: My father, my uneducated father, Jim Johnson, made me go to St. Aug. St. Aug was problematic for me personally. Number one, I grew up a Baptist and it was a Catholic school. I had never made the sign of the cross in my life. Number two you had to wear a tie every day. And number three, there was no girls.

GRIFFITH: It's a large fraternity, and the whole thing about it all is founded on discipline at a time period where minority students didn't get a lot of the great opportunities that they're afforded today.

JOHNSON: Back then, you could use a paddle, and it was a paddle with holes in it. And when you were somebody like me that loved to talk, sometime talk out of turn, I stayed in trouble.

GRIFFITH: We had paddle. And the paddle was a miracle worker.

JOHNSON: Our style growing up, fast and furious, but at the same time, disciplined at St. Aug.

GRIFFITH: We never worried about winning or losing. Don't make a bit of difference what happens in any ball game. That's the two outcomes. Somebody is going to win, somebody going to lose. The only thing we're going to do is be the guy that's going to work the hardest at that particular game.

JOHNSON: I was actually scared of Coach Griffith. I mean, literally, I feared the man.

GRIFFITH: You talked about the meanest person he ever met. But said he just didn't realize that mean really wasn't mean. It was demanding and trying to get him to do what he's supposed to do.

JOHNSON: I wanted to please him and I wanted to make him proud, but it seemed like I couldn't do nothing right in my three years at St. Aug until we finally won the championship in 1983 when we were 35-0. That was probably the first time actually gave me a hug.

[14:35:05] MITCHELL JOHNSON, ST. AUGUSTINE ALUMNI: The most important thing I took from Coach Griffith is just holding everybody accountable. What I was taught and what was installed in me, I carried that tradition on. And I have time after time conversations with my high school coach, and that's the first thing we talked about, discipline.

CALEB DANIELS, SENIOR, ST. AUGUSTINE: This history is very big to me. You know, just carrying the tradition though Coach Mitch and following through the system of St. Aug. It's taught me a lot. It's taught me a lot of self-discipline and playing within the team concept.

JOHNSON: Here was a kid who grew up in the projects. I was 5'3" and 135 pounds, and he always wanted me to play with heart. I'm so glad I made that decision. And I had some of the roughest and hardest coaching in my life at St. Aug, but it paid dividends for me.

GRIFFITH: Basketball was just an avenue for life lessons. You get your education. You learn. You're disciplined enough to be on time for work, how to dress for work, how to do things in life, how to take care of your family, teamwork. It's a great relationship and, like I said, it's just a great big fraternity. I just happened to be the old man in it.


SMITH: Fred, we know about all the championships, but when Avery got a chance to talk about the impact that St. Aug had on his life and Coach Griffith, then you go into Coach Johnson, the impact all of these guys are having on the community and young men's lives is just unbelievable. WHITFIELD: I love it. And then talk about impact. How about nine

time NBA All-Star Chris Paul? He's made an impact on New Orleans and vice versa. More of his story coming up.


[14:40:26] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. I'm Fredericka Whitfield in the heart of New Orleans on Bourbon Street. It is an exciting NBA All- Star weekend. Back with me, Steve Smith. All right, lots of buzz on the west.

SMITH: Yes, indeed. And the storyline is Russell Westbrook, Mr. Triple-Double, and Kevin Durant. Former teammates, now they are teammates again at the All-Star game. Four Warriors, one coach, Steve Kerr. How will those two interact during the game?

WHITFIELD: Oh my goodness. These reunions are extraordinary that happen.

SMITH: It is. And this is the one I think everybody is looking to see. Russell Westbrook not starting but we shall get a chance to see will they pass to each other, and how friendly will they be.

WHITFIELD: Meantime, a perennial favorite for the west, Chris Paul, but he's not here because of injuries. But it doesn't mean that he's not making an impact in a very big way here in New Orleans.


CHRIS PAUL, NBA PLAYER: The city of New Orleans, the day I got drafted became part of my extended family. I was there, just bought a house and closing on my house and then, boom, Katrina hits. A few of the people that I met in a short amount of time were all displaced. Some people lost their lives. And I remember 2007, 2008 season was my third year in the NBA and my first year back in New Orleans. I think out of all the seasons I've been in the NBA that may be one of the most memorable not only because that was one of my best seasons but just the relationship that our team had with the city at the time was kind of irreplaceable.

Man, when I see this, I think about, not only that night that we had an opportunity to do this at the ESPYs, but I think about what took place before. I think about, you know, these guys as my brothers. We sort of brain stormed with each other. We did a phone call and we talked about it and how we felt like we could make the most impact. We even talked about what we were going to wear, because we were like, we don't want people looking at our clothes and wondering. We want them to hear what we were saying, and I think the message got across.

I think the challenge that lies ahead for each one of us, not just each one of us four but the challenge for everybody is the action, especially us as professional athletes. It's easy to say one thing and then go into our nice homes in our gated neighborhoods and not have to deal with these real issues.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's bring Chris Paul out.

PAUL: It's always about doing more and doing better. I'm not a saint by any means. I'm not perfect by any means. I try to do the best that I can, and what I do have a passion for is for people and for trying to make change. To see a smile on these kids' faces, something that they may have thought they would never have an opportunity to have, no better feeling. I take that feeling over hitting a game winning jump shot any day.


WHITFIELD: It's not the first time, but certainly we're seeing more athletes take a stand, use their voice to promote social change.

SMITH: You're totally right when you talk about social change. The NBA is at the forefront. That's the reason we're here in New Orleans. And then you talk about individuals and athletes using their voice for activism. My advice is, yes, lend your voice, lend your brand, but first do your research, do your homework. Also, fact check, and then go out there and use your voice and your brand. But I also believe also another way is less talking and the more you do gets results.

WHITFIELD: Knowing your stuff, certainly key. Coming up, we've got one coach, not only does he know his stuff, but he has some remarkable lessons about what it is to go home.


[14:48:20] WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. I'm Fredericka Whitfield along with Steve Smith in one of my favorite cities of all time, New Orleans. And we're having an incredible time. It's like all of my favorite foods. It's the gumbo, the jambalaya, it's a great mix of Mardi Gras and the NBA All-Star.

SMITH: I totally agree, Fred. And our Andy Scholes is having too much fun.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka and Smithy, New Orleans is arguably the best city in the world to host a big event like the All- Star game. Between the culture, the food, and the music, the big easy has it all, and it's even better during Mardi Gras.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a great way to start All-Star weekend and enjoy the festivities.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: New Orleans is the best city in the world. Who dat!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's southern hospitality and then there's New Orleans hospitality.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The food, the music, it's so much fun. It's outgoing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been coming here for 30 years. It's always fun. People here are always very, very hospitable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a personable nature about New Orleans.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The food, the people, the city, the warmth, the story of New Orleans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They've got everything here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You walk around, you see people smiling and everybody is a friend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: New Orleans is a city full of passion, full of culture, man.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's the best place to be on earth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you wear this Monday through Friday?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wish I did but unfortunately it's only once time a year for me these days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I tell you what, man, this is an amazing city. You could some get some good food here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get some gumbo.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got to have crawfish.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Something gator.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Eat, eat, and then eat again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got to get a beignets.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm in love with the beignets here man, in love with them, in love with them.

[14:50:00] SCHOLES: There you go guys, the consensus is you've got to get a beignet when you're here in New Orleans. I actually picked us up some and I'm going to bring them over to you guys, maybe.

SMITH: Andy, I am so jealous.


WHITFIELD: I am too. We got a chance to really tour New Orleans and get a chance to see the Ninth Ward, particularly devastated by hurricane Katrina 11 years ago, with assistant coach of the New Orleans Pelicans Robert Pack. And he demonstrates that even after that devastation, he still had heart for this city.


and play ball, and coaching my city, it's a great experience. I love this city. It's an amazing city and it made me who I am.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's determined to get it going but he just can't. And Robert Pack goes coast to coast.

PACK: It's been a tremendous journey, and it makes coming back and working here now even more special.

This was my grandmother's house. I spent a lot of time here. The water was completely over the top. Just the fact that it's still standing, it's still here when I come back here, it still brings a smile to my face despite the way it looks. Jersey number 14 from the Ninth Ward.

Some businesses are back going, but in the lower Ninth War we'll still waiting for it to completely come back.

This place here is a place everyone to get the local food. This is like my tier.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good to see you.

PACK: To have a place like this back up and running, this is the big part of the city, the food. This is one of the spots that I would come that makes me feel like back in New Orleans.

That's when you know right there.

This is my high school. This is 11 years since the school has been opened since Katrina. For the people that are here, they have a place, a high school to call their own again back in the lower Ninth Ward. That's what was missing, something to call their own.

My foundation, the Robert Pack Foundation, Team HOPE, and HOPE is for Helping Our Players Excel. I want to excel on part of the field, but also want them to excel in the game of life. I couldn't sleep at night if I didn't give back to basketball and education. I've seen the world, and I want them to see it. I want them to have the same opportunities. And I'm talking to these kids and I see them. I look in their eye and they feel like they can do it. When I get the feedback from them that they feel they have opportunity, that's what this means. That's what satisfies me.


SMITH: Wow. The New Orleans pelicans do so much for the community and now we can tie this together. Robert Pack, the assistant coach here, playing here, what a phenomenal job and a phenomenal piece to see the work he's doing.

WHITFIELD: He really exemplifies hope, but at the same time, he emphasized still lots of work to be done.

Still ahead, it's the moment so many anticipate. It really is an exciting time. The slam dunk contest and some of Smithy's best predictions.


[14:52:30] WHITFIELD: We're just a few hours away from the fan favorite, the skills challenge, three-point and slam dunk contest. You've got any favorites over the years?

SMITH: I do. You talk about slam dunk competition, there's some guys that have elevated this dunk contest and some dunks. I'm going to take you through my list. Are you ready for this?

WHITFIELD: I'm ready. Let's go.

SMITH: Let's start off. Number one is Zach LaVine. Reason why, he dunked from the free-throw line, but not just from the free-throw line. I have never, ever seen anybody take it through their lanes and be able to fly. That dunk to me was all time number one.

Second, Vince Carter. When you talk about the arm in the rim, Fredericka, it was more. People didn't cheer. They paused. I said, what did he just do? He was hanging from the rim. So Vince Carter to me took the dunk contest again to another level.

And then we go back in time, I'm sentimental about this because Dominique's two hand windmill. They cheered Dominique with that dunk, everybody talked about. Guys were windmilling with one hand, but he did it with two hands against Michael Jordan.

And then the next one is M. J. himself, the kiss-the-rim dunk. He was sideways. Everybody is usually going forward.

WHITFIELD: New meaning to hang.

SMITH: You talk about sideways, like he took a picture, smiled, kissed the rim and then dunk.

And then then last one, creativity. I usually don't like props, but Aaron Gordon last year with the mascot, unbelievable. You talk about a guy with a dunk under his legs and pause and dunk it. That was phenomenal.

WHITFIELD: What are your expectations tonight?

SMITH: Tonight I'm picking Eric Gordon. Last year he could have won the dunk contest. So this year with his ability and his creativity, and I think he has something up his sleeves that's going to really surprise everybody. I'm picking Eric Gordon to win it tonight.

WHITFIELD: Might there be props?

SMITH: Maybe.

WHITFIELD: OK, we're all on the edge of our seats. And you can watch it all on our sister network TNT at 8:00 p.m. Coverage begins in just a few hours with the NBA talent challenge at 5:00 p.m. on TNT. Tomorrow, the main event, the 66 NBA All-Star game live on TNT. Coverage starts at 7:00 p.m. with tip-off set for 8:30 p.m.

SMITH: I'm excited.

WHITFIELD: I am so excited.

SMITH: But we're done right now, right, Fred? So we can go get some gumbo.

WHITFIELD: I like it. And let's cap it off with some beignet.

SMITH: I am ready.

WHITFIELD: All right, Steve Smith, thanks so much. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Enjoy this All-Star weekend here from New Orleans.