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      A trip to New Orleans

      NEW ORLEANS --- Apparently, Missouri basketball players Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown have declared for the NBA Draft.

      Good for them ... and good luck!

      With them, the Tigers went to the NIT. Without them next year, well ...

      There's always the CBI. Or the CIT. Or the DBI --- that would be my Driveway Basketball Invitational for a few neighborhood teams and college teams teams that weren't good enough to make the other four tournaments.

      Some DBI rules: The dumpster is in play, so play on. Stepping on or kicking one of my dogs is a technical foul, two shots and the ball. Free water from the garden hose.

      Other than that, play ball!

      That's enough of that.

      Clarkson and Brown both declared when I was out of town on a six-day sojourn to New Orleans, so I was out of the loop. I went to see a good friend of mine --- so good, we hadn't seen each other in 32 years.

      But my friend Kurt and his wife, Marsha, were better hosts than you'd get at a 5-star restaurant. Or at your mom's on Thanksgiving.

      The sights, the sounds, the flavors and the experience of the Big Easy are unmatched. If you've been there, you know. If you haven't, make it a point.

      This was my first trip to New Orleans, but it won't be my last.

      This is the City of jazz, Voodoo and gumbo. The City of Marie Laveau --- the Queen of Voodoo, whatever that actually means --- Louis Armstrong, Truman Capote and Drew Brees.

      It's also the City of the grandson of Mr. Green Jeans of Captain Kangaroo fame. He was actually our bartender ... how cool is that?

      Sadly, I did not see, or meet, Mr. Bunny Rabbit or Mr. Moose.

      Every day in New Orleans isn't just New Year's Eve, it's 11:59 p.m. on New Year's Eve. The vibrant electricity is palpable, because these people are nuts. They aren't just partiers, they are the Tigers Woods of partiers --- except they have good backs.

      Or perhaps, they're just numb from the experience.

      They start early, go late, and always have a smile on their face. You will never meet a friendlier group of people.

      Sidewalks, by definition, mean walk on the side. Not in the French Quarter, as walking down the middle of the street is the preferred method of getting around. And no, the streets have traffic and are not blocked off.

      Honk, honk, honk!!! Repeat over and over and over.

      That really didn't add much to the ambiance.

      Of course, these people come from everywhere. I saw a gal wearing a Mizzou shirt so, of course, I did the Missouri mating call.

      "M-I-Z!," I said.

      "Z-O-U!," she responded with a smile bigger than a jumbo shrimp.

      As it turned out, her and her two friends were from ... drum roll, please ... Jefferson City, Mo.


      Kurt was a fraternity brother of mine. I graduated from MU in 1982, he graduated the following year. Yes, we bent a few elbows in our day and on some days, perhaps more than a few.

      In many ways, 32 years felt like 32 minutes. Not sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

      Kurt --- I call him Franchise --- is a big man with a big heart and a big mind. He's a huge man at 6-foot-5 with girth, a huge presence and a huge following.

      He is the Norm of Pat O'Brien's in the French Quarter. Everybody knows his name, everybody is his friend. He's a smile and a handshake waiting to happen.

      The only thing better than the spirits and food in New Orleans is the music. Take a walk and you'll see it on the streets, there's no need to go into an establishment.

      Jaw-droppingly good. And that must be a good gig, as people open their wallets in droves for the tip bucket. I'm pretty sure those would be tax-free $$$.

      It wasn't always fun in New Orleans, but it was always interesting. Good, bad, ugly.

      We've mentioned the good. The bad is seeing people passed out on the streets. The ugly is the three-hour tour Kurt took me on, showing some of the remaining carnage from Hurricane Katrina.

      He took me over Lake Pontchartrain and the longest bridge in the world, 24 miles. It was a breach in Lake Pontchartrain in 2005 that led to much of the flooding in the city. A lot of the other levees were toppled, as no less than 18-19 feet of water pummeled parts of New Orleans.

      More than 1,800 souls lost, more than $81 billion in damage.

      He took me to some of the worst areas, including the Lower Ninth Ward. Almost eight years and eight months to the day, there were still some very sad and devastating sights, even though most of the city has fought back.

      That's enough of that.

      This won't be my last trip to New Orleans, but it will be my last for a while. Perhaps I can go back next year and see Jabari Brown and/or Jordan Clarkson in a New Orleans Pelicans uniform, as he/they sit on the end of the bench.

      But that would sure beat seeing them in my driveway.