NEW ORLEANS, February 15, 2008 -- We go back more than a quarter century, this mystical, magical place and me.

This city has always been a favorite getaway, one that is as versatile as it is unique. It's perfect for a romantic trip with the wife. And it's equally great for a long weekend of decadence with the boys.

So when you have a friend for this long, you can't help but feel the pain when it goes through bad times _ especially when it's no fault of its own.

The city of New Orleans still bleeds. It is in disrepair, 2 years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. On Friday, an army of 2,500 took to the streets to try to ease the hurt just a little bit.

How fitting that All-Star Weekend provided a chance for the NBA family to play a small part in the rebuilding of this city. The "NBA Cares'' Day of Service was a chance for players, coaches, fans, the WNBA, media members and anybody else who falls under the league's umbrella to pitch in.

And everybody did just that.

  • Steve Nash and Jason Kidd painted a door, a rare chance to do what they do best -- give out big assists -- together.
  • Dirk Nowitzki painted a ceiling -- without the need for a stepladder. And never mind that he got as much paint on his sweat suit as he did on the walls.

This was not about your ability as a handyman. There were some hammers that slammed mistakenly into thumbs. But even through those moments when things didn't go just right, it didn't keep everybody from feeling good about what they were doing.

"It's been 2 years ago and it's pretty sad to see,'' said Nowitzki, the Mavericks' 7-foot forward. "So maybe we can come here and get some publicity going and show that this area definitely needs help. It's tough. Us being here, that can raise some awareness.

"If you look downtown, it's not that bad. But you take a trip outside, it's definitely still tough to see and very sad.''

So everybody did what they could.

For me, it was painting a side of a house, plus the foundation blocks on which it was built. The house was on Lazardi Street. Several of the neighboring homes remain in shambles. Others either have been or need to be torn down.

But our house, the one on the corner that has been lived in by the same family for three generations, is starting to take shape. A few trees are in the ground. Some freshly planted young palms start to sway in the wind on the small patch land in the front of the house.

At one point, a splatter of paint dropped down from above. The young woman on the scaffolding was putting on a coat of light-green paint on one of the nine houses in the Holy Cross neighborhood of the Lower Ninth Ward.

"Sorry about that,'' she said.

"Not to worry,'' I said while putting grey paint on the house's foundation blocks. "Green's my favorite color.'' From there, we struck up a conversation and new friends were made.

It's an indescribable feeling what goes through you when you are done after seven hours of painting, landscaping and doing other work to help this quaint little corner of the city rebuild. For some, it was as simple as hauling trash.

For others, like Kidd, he had a paint scraper to take off the paint that had spilled onto windows.

"I've done this before,'' he said. "When I was a kid, I used to paint and do whatever I could to help around the house. It brings back memories.''

And he said he treats days like this the same way he tries to treat his night job for the New Jersey Nets.

"It's the same thing I try to do on the court _ help others,'' he said. "To pitch in and put in a window or put on a roof. When you see who owns these homes with a smile and saying thank you, it can only make you feel good inside. Throughout the country, everybody's a neighbor. For us to come out here and help out, this is what it's all about, everybody's livelihood, to help everybody have a roof.''

For somebody who has made several trips to this city each year, it's a chance to think. You remember that Sugar Bowl in 1983. You can recall strolling down Bourbon Street with friends in the '90s like they happened yesterday.

And you can remember those horrific images of the levees breaking and the water rushing in. After Katrina, only the highest points of the rooftops of these houses on Lazardi Street weren't submerged. Everything else was under water.

But on Friday, a lovely morning turned into a drizzly afternoon, but it couldn't dampen the spirit on this day.

At the end of the street, a small establishment called Mercedes' Place was serving as a rest stop for some of the volunteers. Mercedes herself was working behind the counter and after a few volunteers had come in to get out of the rain for a moment, she simply said: "Thank you. Thank you so much, all of you.''

It's amazing what can be accomplished in a few hours of giving. By the time the NBA packed up, Lazardi Street had been remade with a kaleidoscope of colors on it's small, but sturdy homes.

It's beginning to look like a neighborhood again.

Eddie Sefko covers the Dallas Mavericks and the NBA for the Dallas Morning News.