There are few things in life better than silence. Knowing precisely when to shut up would be one of them. Billy Hunter, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, has gotten continuously schooled by NBA commissioner David Stern on collective-bargaining agreements. But this latest case eclipses them all.

Just nine days after the NBA's annual all-star festivities, after 403 people were reportedly arrested by Las Vegas police (nearly 200 for prostitution), inciting some kind of moral referendum on the behavioral tendencies of the NBA, Hunter decided he'd fan the flames by intimating New Orleans is not equipped to host next year's all-star festivities.

Basically, he exercised a level of stupidity unheard of since, well, some player from the National Football League showed up at a strip club with $81,000 in cash.

"If the union is not convinced that [New Orleans] can accommodate the All-Star Game, it's an issue that will be subject to litigation between the union and the league," Hunter said, speaking to New York Newsday.

"Their police force is dissipated. They're probably dealing with half the force they had before. They don't have all the resources that we will need to properly police the city. They've got a serious crime problem as it is. What are they going to do?"

Here's a better question: What is Hunter thinking?

During the NBA All-Star Weekend, the most notable transgression was allegedly committed by Pacman Jones - a player in the National Football League - yet somehow this is publicized as a problem in the NBA?

Even more, how does Hunter place himself in the inexplicable position of validating accusations of lawlessness that have little to do with his league, knowing yet another NFL player has managed to stain the festivities more than one of his own? (Hunter could not be reached for comment.)

If commissioner Stern wasn't tempted to scold Hunter for such foolish comments, there's no doubt Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association, was tempted to send flowers to Hunter's office. Mainly for failing to mention the nine Cincinnati Bengals arrested in the last 14 months, the shooting death of Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams, or the eight times police have had to pay Pacman Jones a visit since he was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in 2005.

By bantering about security issues in New Orleans in the aftermath of all the rhetoric regarding Las Vegas, Hunter crystallized safety issues and placed the NBA smack-dab in the middle of it all, doing so at a time when there were so many other viable alternatives to blame.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, 85,000 people descended upon Sin City to enjoy the NBA All-Star Weekend festivities. Of the 403 arrested, 172 were actual residents of Las Vegas.

It didn't stop the city from generating a non-gaming economic impact of $90.6 million. Nor did it stop the stars from coming out. And it won't put New Orleans on pause, either.

"We're looking forward to New Orleans playing host to next year's all-star events and are equally excited about the Hornets' return to the city next season," commissioner Stern said via a statement regarding Hunter's ill-advised comments. "The reports we have received about other major events and conventions recently held in New Orleans have been very positive, and we fully expect All-Star 2008 to be a great success.

"While progress is still necessary in the continued rebuilding efforts, we hope the return of the Hornets and the coming All-Star Game will be part of the rebirth and vibrancy of the New Orleans community."

Amen!

Of course, there's reason for Hunter to have some concerns about next year. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, 3,000 arrested suspects were released in 2006 because prosecutors failed to indict them within the required 60 days, and 580 have already been released this year for the same reason.

Local prosecutors and police, alike, are blaming one for the other's ineptitude. Meanwhile, criminals are running the streets in a city where local police are requiring the help of the FBI and DEA.

Considering the congestion in New Orleans, along with the displaced and disenfranchised, things could be a disaster if the city doesn't shape up within a year.

But that's next February. A full year for New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and his administration to get things in order and ready for the two-month blitz consisting of the Sugar Bowl, the BCS Championship Game, Mardi Gras, and NBA All-Star Weekend.

Until then, the focus needs to be on the NFL and all of its transgressions, rather than the NBA and the myriad of false perceptions contaminating its image.

You would think Billy Hunter should know this better than anyone.

Then again, that may have been expecting too much.

Stephen A. Smith |

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Contact staff writer Stephen A. Smith at 215-854-5846 or ssmith@phillynews.com.