Sons of Katrina: Eddie Lacy, others recall aftermath of hurricane, flooding
One athlete was deep into his NBA career. Another was playing college football. Three were just kids too young to really think about pro careers. But for all of them, sports took a back seat in late August 2005 to the realities and destruction of Hurricane Katrina.
Saturday marks the 10-year anniversary of the devastating storm that ravaged New Orleans and other areas along the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in more than 1,200 deaths. For a handful of athletes that Yahoo Sports spoke to about the tragic events, much of their Katrina stories revolve around the immediate and/or lasting impact the hurricane had on their families, particularly their parents.
Here's a brief collection of tales of the hardship and triumph experienced by an NBA rookie, NFL rookie, two NFL veterans and a retired NBA player with ties to New Orleans:
It has been 10 years since Katrina ripped away the only life Eddie Lacy and his family knew, and some wounds still haven't healed for him.
Approached during a training camp practice to look back a decade later, the uneasy look on his face said it all — he'd rather not.
"I never really talk about it. Ever," the Green Bay Packers running back said. "I just don't like to. Why would I?" Asked to keep it forward-looking, Lacy reconsidered.
"Oh, you want to talk about the positive stuff?" he asked.
There is a good ending, after all.
Lacy, 25, has done his best to tuck away his teenage memories about that Sunday night in 2005 when wind, rain, terror and fear ripped through the family's Gretna, La., house and left it for naught.
The house's foundation cracked. Furniture was ruined. Mold made its way up the walls. Water took down everything in its wake. The few valuables that were inside and not packed in a pinch, including Lacy's change-filled piggybank, were taken by looters.
The people who could afford the least had suffered the most.
"Having your life taken from you in a matter of hours, everything gets left behind …" he said, his voice trailing off. "I hate reliving it."
Lacy's family did what it could to survive, and though the family moved dozens of times to wherever it could safely stay for a while – going as far as Texas to have a temporary roof over its heads – it never permanently left the area. The family was not going to let a storm push it away from the place it knew was home.
"I don't know exactly what made them to decide to stay [near Gretna], but it was pretty much our only option because we didn't have money to just go where they wanted," Lacy said. "They had to bounce around in the area for a long time, live with people they knew. Just people looking out for one another."
When Lacy signed his $3.39 million rookie deal with the Packers, he knew what one of his first big purchases would be: a new home for his parents. One that would last. One he'd spent time living in during the offseason. One that other people could come and stay whenever they needed shelter from any kind of storm, meteorological or metaphysical, that might be blowing through.
"They wanted open doors there," Lacy said of his parents' new home, "and that's what they have."
Has everything returned to the way it used to be 10 years ago? No, Lacy said, but the most important change is one he made sure he'd personally see to with their year-old home, completed last August.
"I love seeing my parents happy," he said. "That's what matters most to me."
– By Eric Edholm
In the aftermath of Katrina, current Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti received a frantic overnight phone call from an NBA journeyman:
Please help my mom.
"I called Sam Presti at 1 in the morning because I didn't know anybody other than him in San Antonio," former NBA guard Randy Livingston told Yahoo Sports. " 'Can you pick up my mom, put her up and I can take care of it?' "
Livingston's mother, Ada, was trying to find a way out of New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina. Livingston made her promise that she would not go to the Louisiana Superdome for refuge because of the horrible living conditions and danger. Ada Livingston eventually departed New Orleans on a bus with other evacuees that took her to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio with a 2 a.m. arrival.
Randy Livingston reached out for help to the only person he knew in San Antonio in Presti, the San Antonio Spurs' assistant general manager in late August 2005. Presti quickly agreed to aid the Livingstons, but there was a challenge in finding a woman he never met amongst hundreds of evacuees.
"I recall driving up to the base and seeing what looked like hundreds of yellow school buses," Presti told Yahoo Sports. "I thought to myself, 'How am I going to find this woman?' It didn't dawn on me the amount of people that would probably get evacuated to the same spot. Somehow Randy kind of directed me toward where she was. He was the navigator for us and I was able to find her much more quickly than I would have imagined when I first arrived.
"I took her to a nearby hotel near the practice facility that we used for all the draft picks and friends of the program. I just let her recover there and get herself together for about a week."
Ada Livingston, who has since returned to New Orleans, spent several days in San Antonio before departing to Tennessee with family. Presti kept in touch with her before she departed.
"It's one of those things that is way out of the scope of basketball," Presti said about aiding the Livingstons. "It's kind of makes you realize it's a small community of people who are involved in it."
Randy Livingston, who now lives in Australia running a basketball scouting service, said: "That was the start of our [friendship]."
– By Marc Spears
On the week the dream came true, Landon Collins recalled the nightmare.
"What do I remember about Katrina?" he asked at a hotel in Chicago, the day before last spring's NFL draft. "Everything. I remember everything."
There were no NFL plans back then, not even college plans. Collins, 21, was in elementary school in New Orleans, and his mom was fearful enough to move his entire family north to Mississippi, even though they had stayed home for prior storms.
That may have saved her son's life. Collins' father's house, in Plaquemines Parish, split in half. "One part of it was five miles up the road," Collins said.
Collins and his family rode in a 10-car caravan to relative safety, but life grew difficult.
"We were 25 deep in one house," Collins said. "One three-bedroom house."
Some of the family's food came from MRE's (meals ready to eat) – "So disgusting," Collins remembered – and the extended stay meant a temporary school and a lot of unsettling looks from strangers.
"Everybody stared at us," he said. "We were just trying to go about our day. But people would stop and stare."
Collins got through it with the anticipation of football tryouts and a possible season. Neither happened.
"We didn't even have a football season," he said. "That was the breaking point."
Eventually the family returned to New Orleans and Collins became one of the nation's top prep players in 2012. He signed with Alabama, over the protests of his mom, who wanted LSU, but both are devoted to their hometown.
In the hours leading up to the draft, he allowed himself to think about playing a pro game in the Superdome. "It would be crazy," said Collins, who was drafted in the second round by the New York Giants. "Amazing."
If Collins stays healthy – he has a mild knee sprain – he'll get his chance to live his dream where the nightmare happened. The Giants are scheduled to visit the Saints in November.
"That team did so much for the city," he said. "That team, and the Hornets, gave us hope."
– By Eric Adelson
Kelly Oubre, 19, departed with a bag full of his clothes on the eve of Katrina at the age of 9 with his family. After the storm, Houston welcomed in him and his family, taught him the game of basketball and educated him through high school. But while the Washington Wizards rookie swingman hasn't lived in New Orleans since Katrina struck, he still considers the recovered town home.
Here is Oubre's recent Q&A session with Yahoo Sports about how Katrina affected his life.
Question: You were 9 years old at the time of Hurricane Katrina. What do you remember about how your family responded to the news that the storm was coming?
Oubre: We got out of there before the eye of the storm hit. The next day my dad turned on the news and we saw tragedy, people dying and people losing their houses, people losing their families through evacuation. I had a stepmom at the time and she was crying.
I was 9. I didn't know what was going on. I didn't know what a hurricane was. I was kind of clueless. I couldn't really help. I could be there emotionally. But it was kind of tough just seeing people cry who were close to you. I tried to get through it by being as tough as I could be.
Question: Your family moved to a Houston suburban town called Richmond. What was different between living in New Orleans and Houston?
Oubre: It was special for me. It brought opportunity. It allowed me to spread my wings. It provided me with more resources than I would've had in New Orleans. When I first found out we were moving, I really didn't want to do it. I was in elementary school. I lost a lot of friends, but I gained more."
Question: What was the hardest part for you as a kid transitioning from New Orleans to Houston?
Oubre: The hardest thing for me was seeing my family struggle and not being able to do anything with money or all of that. I was frustrated with that. I couldn't really put a smile on their face the way I wanted to. It was pretty tough on me.
Question: Do you still consider yourself a New Orleanian now?
Oubre: One hundred percent. I would never disclaim it because I am and will always say that I am from New Orleans. That is where I was born. That is where I was partially raised. I would never give up my loyalty to New Orleans. Houston is down for me because Houston took me in and I thrived in their city. For a kid that is an outsider and not from (Houston), I did my thing in Houston. I would say Houston is my second home because they adopted me.
Question: What will it be like to play in your first NBA game in New Orleans with the Wizards against the New Orleans Pelicans?
Oubre: I went back playing on AAU teams when I was a young buck. I am going to have to buy a lot of tickets for that game. All of my family is out there.
– By Marc Spears
Denver Broncos offensive tackle Chris Clark is thinking about his hometown of New Orleans, and the places from his childhood that don't exist anymore.
He lived in the Lower Ninth Ward In his early years, and that area has never fully rebounded from Katrina. The house Clark's family moved in to before he reached high school had to be gutted and rebuilt. Most of his belongings, including high school and college football jerseys and helmets, simply washed away in the storm.
When he goes back, he sees the parts of New Orleans that are still affected by the devastating storm 10 years ago.
"You look back like, man, that's crazy. Because I know the change, from living there," said Clark, who started at left tackle for the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII two seasons ago. "Other people, like tourists, don't understand it. You have to be from there to understand."
Clark, 29, was in college at Southern Mississippi when the storm hit his hometown. His mother has strong roots in New Orleans, and she told her son she wasn't planning to leave.
"The last I heard was, 'I'm just going to stay, like we always do,' " Clark said. "We waited out every hurricane – maybe the lights would go out, but nothing extreme."
Then the phones went out. Hattiesburg, where Southern Miss is located, was hit hard by Katrina, too. As news slowly trickled in about how the storm was ravaging New Orleans, Clark got one call through, to his brother in Dallas. Chris heard that their other brother had gotten their mother out of New Orleans before the storm started in full.
"I said, 'Thank God,' " Clark said. "Katrina had hit and I thought she was still there."
All of a sudden Clark's simple college life was not so simple. Clark's roommate was also from New Orleans, and there were eight people living in their small two-bedroom apartment for a few days as family members were displaced out of their hometown. All they had to cook with was a charcoal grill, so they cooked everything on it.
"It was a hectic time," Clark said. "We had no food, no water, no electric."
Clark's half-brother Avery and his grandmother were stuck at the Louisiana Superdome. Clark heard the horror stories from them, of crimes being committed at the stadium and the people being packed in with what they felt like was little help from the city.
"You hear the sad stories and you're like, geez, that really happened to you?" Clark said.
Clark said his half-brother moved out of New Orleans and will never move back. His grandmother felt the same way, although circumstances forced her to move back a few years ago.
"She pretty much hated the way they treated them," Clark said. "She said they were treated terribly. They never thought they would treat them like that, the city they know and love."
Clark's mother did go back, and she still lives there. Clark drove back to New Orleans every weekend during the college football offseason and help her rebuild the house. He proudly says he painted just about all of it. He still loves New Orleans, and is glad the city has been able to move forward in the 10 years that have passed.
"I love New Orleans," Clark said. "But it has changed so much."
– By Frank Schwab