Basketball's top stars brought laughter and cheers to the same convention center that was a house of horrors for Hurricane Katrina survivors during a relaxed training session Saturday.
Players in Sunday's National Basketball Association All-Star Game joked their way through practice before thousands of spectators at Morial Convention Center, filled with basketball-themed games and activities for children.
"This is a big thing for New Orleans, especially after what they have been through the last couple years," Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James said.
"With the devastation they had in New Orleans, it's a great thing if we can lift their spirits, even for a couple of minutes."
The kilometer-long exhibit area was last in the world spotlight two and a half years ago when thousands of evacuees from Katrina's fury and the flooding that followed fled there in hopes of shelter and escape.
But there was no food, water, electricity or medical supplies. Police had only minimal control as violence erupted. Multiple deaths followed from filth, frustration, dehydration, exhaustion and a lack of aid for several days.
"You see people who had their lives taken away. It's hard," James said. "That's why it's important for us to be here and give a good effort."
Television cameras showed the unfolding tragedy as US government help was inadequate and too slow in coming. The storm killed more than 1,800 people and caused more than 81 billion dollars in damage in the Gulf Coast region.
"With all the terrible things these people have been through, for the hope and courage they showed the country and the world, this is the least we can do for them," New Jersey Nets All-Star guard Jason Kidd said.
Children, some of them not even born when the storm struck, watched their idols from the Eastern Conference and Western Conference work on a few basic plays, NBA rivals trying to come together for the once-a-year spectacle.
Shooting drills followed with players even working on half-court shots. James and Kidd each made three mid-court shots within 60 seconds, an astounding feat even for the game's elite.
"Getting off as many half-court shots as possible in 60 seconds is not the easiest thing to do," James said.
NBA players were among 2,500 people who worked upon 10 rebuilding projects Friday in the city's largest one-day volunteer recovery effort.
"We're really proud and excited to be part of it," NBA commissioner David Stern said. "We hope we can make a difference."
Multi-millionaire NBA stars toiled alongside local workers on homes, schools and playgrounds in devastated areas of the city.
"This is very important," Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. "The message is that New Orleans is coming back."