Southwest Division roundtable: Underrated aspect of NBA cities
By now you probably know most of the popular favorable characteristics of the five cities that comprise the NBA’s Southwest Division, such as New Orleans’ well-documented nightlife and social scene, which draws worldwide attention during Mardi Gras each winter. But what are some of the lesser-known parts of the region’s cities that make them great places to live or visit? Our five-person division panel explored that topic this week. The panel was also joined by three writers from other NBA franchises, as well as a handful of Pelicans TV and radio broadcasters, who all partly played the role of “local tourism director” in this week’s feature.
What’s the most underrated aspect of your home NBA city?
Mark FollowillMavericks TV
The most underrated thing about Dallas is that we are a city for food lovers. We have no shortage of great restaurants and bars. The cuisine is varied and there always seems to be new restaurants in areas that are undergoing a transition. Hopefully that will continue when things get back to normal.
Matt ThomasRockets Radio
Houston is just one of the friendliest cities in America. Yes I’m biased but other friends who come here say the same thing. We get knocked for our humidity and traffic. But once you settle in, you’re going to have a good time here. The food, the bars, the music options, and the golf. I also love the vibe in and around the Toyota Center especially during the postseason.
Michael WallaceGrind City Media
The South Bluffs/Riverside Drive. The BBQ, Blues, Beale Street, Graceland, St. Jude Research and Le Bonheur Children’s hospitals and the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel are all fascinating places. Most folks hit up some, most or all of them on their way through Memphis. But there’s no better place to catch an amazing sunset or a refreshing jog than along the peaceful, serene stretch of Riverside Drive along the South Bluffs just off the Mississippi River. When I worked at ESPN or elsewhere covering the league and came to Memphis, I always carved an hour or two into my schedule to reset my thoughts and take in this underrated spot.
New Orleans suffers from some of the same misperceptions as the Mardi Gras celebration, because based on what most see on TV, people may be only aware of what takes place downtown and in the French Quarter. For NBA teams that visit the Crescent City, I doubt many venture very far from Canal Street, which is understandable because there are so many amazing restaurants nearby, for example. But if you have rare spare time during the season, or you’re staying here for multiple days during a playoff series – and some of those could be on the horizon – I recommend checking out Lake Pontchartrain, or massive City Park, neither of which are too far from downtown. Both will give you a much different perspective on the city’s natural beauty.
Michael C. WrightNBA.com
Again, diversity. Most people come to San Antonio thinking the place to be is the Riverwalk, and sure it’s a great place to visit if you’re a tourist. But most of that area is tourists. The city has so much more to offer, especially when it comes to great restaurants. San Antonio is probably one of the more spread out NBA cities. So, you’ve really got to venture outside of the downtown area to get a good feel for the city. Longtime NBA scribe Mike Monroe is a great resource for finding the best places to visit in San Antonio. I live here, and I even hit Mike up from time to time for recommendations. If you were covering a playoff series out here, I’d say on a day off, you should drive out to New Braunfels or San Marcos and hit the Guadalupe, Comal, San Marcos or Frio rivers, where tubing is a way of life. You can rent tubes for super cheap (or hit me up and I’ll let you borrow some of mine), bring a cooler full of cold beer and some tunes and just kick back and relax and float the rivers for hours. Along the way, you’ll meet tons of fun people and there are usually places to grab a bite to eat along the float route. I’m actually sad I haven’t yet floated any of the rivers since the NBA suspended the season.
Around the NBA
Believe it or not, it’s actually the weather … for a couple of months each season. If you’re lucky enough to come to Boston during the final two weeks of the regular season (the start of April) or in the playoffs, you’re likely going to see this city in its most ideal state. This is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in the country, with an overload of character. Experiencing all of that in 75-85 degree, sunny weather, is a good deal.
Everyone knows Orlando for Disney and its theme parks, but there are many sides of the city that most visitors never get to see. There are a number of wildlife parks, lakes and trails all within a short drive of the city center. Orlando is also only a 40-minute drive to some of the best beaches on the East Coast and just over an hour from some of the top Gulf Coast shores the country has to offer. Orlando is also an underrated food city – just ask JJ Redick. Head to downtown Winter Park for a variety of high-end dinner experiences or visit the College Park, Mills 50 and Audubon Park districts for a wide array of dining options. If you’re a partygoer that doesn’t mind being surrounded by a younger demographic, downtown Orlando rarely disappoints Thursday through Sunday.
The NBA season is in the winter. The winter is cold. Minneapolis is especially cold. That’s why we have skyways. What are skyways, you ask? They are basically walkways that connect buildings so you never have to go outside. Chances are if you’re staying in a hotel downtown to watch a Timberwolves game, you won’t even have to go outside to get to the Target Center. It turns out the cold isn’t so bad when you never have to go outside.
John DeShazierPelicans Radio
New Orleans is a place where you pretty much are accepted for being who you are (as long as you’re not a criminal, but I digress). I don’t really know how it is in other cities – I’m not there, obviously. But people aren’t “overwhelmed” by celebrity (I only have to do autographs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays) and they seem to be accepting of the fact that the famous among them also need their space. We hear a ton about how players love to be in “major” cities and the extra financial opportunities that are afforded there, but the fact is fame and fortune will find the location of the person who’s deserving of fame and fortune. Meanwhile, a familial feel can be taken for granted. True, it’s not for everyone. But for those who are attracted to it, who believe they can help create their own big stage, New Orleans is a pretty great place to be.
Todd GraffagniniPelicans Radio
The most underrated aspect about our city for NBA is that we have some of the most loyal and passionate fans in the league. We just haven’t had the opportunity to grow the fan base on a consistent level over the years for one reason or another. The hardcore fans have always been there. That change has been palpable this season with the atmosphere inside the Smoothie King Center and the vibe around town since we won the NBA draft lottery one year ago. It’s only gonna get better.
Jen HalePelicans TV
The genuine soul of New Orleans. Yes the food is wonderful, the music is amazing and the architecture is gorgeous. I truly believe though you need to experience it all away from the typical tourist traps. Nola is so unique – discovering the city needs to be personal. I love making somewhat individual recommendations for NBA and NFL friends visiting Nola, based on their interests. Cooking classes, streetcar rides, Garden District walking tours or a trip to the Spotted Cat/Maple Leaf Bar/Tipitina’s … there is something for everyone to fall in love with!
Joel MeyersPelicans TV
How good the people are, how genuine the people in this city are. For those of us who have lived here, we’ve all found out that if you embrace the city, it will give back to you, times a thousand. Everyone who comes to visits our city and walks around – whether it’s the visiting NBA teams, or anyone else – finds that out in a big hurry.
Daniel Sallerson, Pelicans radio
Daniel SallersonPelicans Radio
The history of the city. When you go on road trips to a lot of other cities in the NBA, your first thought is not to do something related to history, or to go somewhere to learn about the culture of the city. But when you’re in New Orleans, the culture and the history kind of hits you in the face, in a good way. You don’t have to go to certain places to see a historic aspect of the city; the whole city is historic. It’s something you can feel when you come here and what’s so unique about New Orleans.