NEW ORLEANS – Markel Brown had a lot of people to see in his first trip back home as a Brooklyn Net. There were even more that wanted to see him.
Brown was born and raised in Alexandria, La., about a three-hour drive from New Orleans and Smoothie King Arena, where the Nets played the Pelicans on Wednesday night.
Brown said family and friends have been buying tickets for months to see his homecoming. By tip-off, he had secured an additional 30 tickets.
Demand skyrocketed after Brown, making his first NBA start in the Nets’ win over the Denver Nuggets on Monday night, posted a double-double – 10 points and 11 rebounds - with four instant YouTube-sensation blocked shots.
He was the most sought after athlete in the Big Easy – not named Manning – for one day.
But Brown didn’t hang with family or party with friends on Tuesday night.
He, along with fellow rookie Cory Jefferson and center Jerome Jordan, distributed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to homeless people who were scattered around the team hotel on Canal Street, which borders the French Quarter.
When asked why Brown opted to help total strangers rather than visit with own his people, he responded with the most sincere and humbling sentiments.
“My friends and family can see me today,’’ he said Wednesday morning. “Those people needed me last night.’’
Brown had a couple of highlight plays, including a 360-degree slam dunk, but the Nets went cold late and lost 102-96 to the Pelicans. The Nets, now 22-32, suffered their first loss since the All-Star break.
The Nets were led by Joe Johnson’s 21 points and Thaddeus Young’s 19. Brown had eight points, four rebounds, three steals, one assist and one blocked shot.
The loss was disappointing but it doesn’t diminish what Brown and his teammates did Tuesday night.
“Almost every time I handed out a sandwich they were all very thankful and they ended it with a ‘God bless you,’ ’’ Brown said. “I feel like it touched me as much as it touched them.’’
The idea to hit the streets on Tuesday night belongs to Matt Riccardi, the Nets’ senior manager of basketball operations. He bought bread, peanut butter and jelly at a local convenience store and spent a good portion of Tuesday making sandwiches and wrapping them in plastic bags.
Riccardi mentioned what he was doing to Brown, Jefferson and Jordan. There was no hesitation.
The Nets’ foursome became a meals-on-sneakers.
“There are people less fortunate than us,’’ said Jordan. “I’m sure they didn’t choose that life. Sometimes bad stuff happens. It was good to get out there and help out.’’
The foursome handed out so many sandwiches that when they went out again for a short time Wednesday morning, one of the homeless said he had noticed there were sandwiches everywhere.
“You just realized how blessed you are to be in the position that we are right now,’’ said Jefferson. “For one, we’re living a dream playing this game of basketball. And two, everything that we do have, a lot of people take it for granted. I’m not going to take it for granted every day.’’
KEY STRETCH: Jarrett Jack made two free throws with 8:48 left to cut the Nets’ deficit to 83-82. Then the Nets went cold. They missed seven straight shots and committed two turnovers as New Orleans went on a 10-0 run to seize a 93-82 lead with 4:40 left.
KEY PLAY: The Nets cut their deficit to 93-87 and dug in on defense. But Tyreke Evans stuck a jumper from the top of the circle over Alan Anderson’s outstretched hand, putting the Pelicans back in control.
KEY STAT: The Nets defense allowed way too many easy baskets at the rim. The Pelicans shot 51.4 percent from the field (38 of 74) and they had 26 assists on 38 field goals.
NETS GAINS: Jarrett Jack saw his first action since straining his left hamstring on Feb. 10 against the Memphis Grizzlies. He had never suffered a hamstring injury previously so this was uncharted water. Jack looked aggressive and quick, scoring 15 points.
TALK: Markel Brown on how it felt to be playing in his home state of Louisiana for the first time as an NBA player:
“It was fun playing in front of them and I know it was fun for them to get to watch me play. It’s my first time playing here since my senior year in high school. So I enjoyed playing in front of my family and friends.’’