by Ryne Nelson / @slaman10

Breezing from the SLAM Dome this past Tuesday evening, Abe Schwadron and I admitted we were nervous. In less than an hour, we would be playing in our first league basketball game in a minute.

We weren’t worried about being rusty—we played in pick-up runs throughout the winter at an Indoor Hoops facility and Masaryk. But Tuesday’s game would have two refs, a full-sized court, 20-minute halves, an electronic scoreboard… the works.

Butterflies aside, our team of SLAM and XXL editors and writers—called LeBron’s Headbands—was missing bodies. A lot of bodies. Two of our best players, editorial assistant Peter Walsh and contributor Jeremy Bauman, were 2,500 miles away covering Team USA and the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. Three more players had previous commitments.

We told you about ABC Hoops NYC a couple weeks ago. The majority of players discovered the league simply by word of mouth. And they keep coming back. Many have stayed from jump.

Our opponent in Game 1, the Weekday Warriors, was one of those veteran squads. They were an average team last season that only did one thing well: rebound. They lost in the first round of the postseason but supposedly were returning with a new-and-improved roster.

We only dressed six—myself, Abe, associate editor Adam Figman, XXL executive editor Jayson Rodriguez, XXL digital content director Carl Chery and XXL video director Tarik Sykes—but we weren’t outmanned by much. The Weekday Warriors came into Game 1 with seven players—all but one was over 6-feet, including two players over 6-5. Carl, our tallest player, stood at 6-1. No one else was above 5-10.

There wasn’t much time for strategizing. We snapped a quick team photo and the game was underway.

The Warriors were aggressive early, making their money in the paint. Taking full advantage of their height advantage, they drew quick fouls by driving to the bucket. They kept our man defense honest by connecting on a couple triples in the first half.

We kept the game close through the first 10 minutes. They had no answer to Carl’s size and athleticism in the paint. Abe moved the ball and attacked the rim. I manned up on defense. But our short-handed roster began to slow down. Their zone defense hassled our small lineup. And the Warriors took the momentum with them into halftime.

Nothing changed in the final 20 minutes. The Warriors continued their balanced attack, shooting the ball well—six of seven players drained at least three buckets—and getting to the line more often. We connected on only 15-49 field goals and missed every three-point attempt. Only Carl and Abe made it to the line, where they shot a combined 27.3 percent.

Abe and Figman fouled out before we eventually surrendered, 57-33.

But it wasn’t all bad news. Carl did work on the inside, finishing with the game’s only double-double—16 points and 12 rebounds. Abe deftly handled the ball, played solid defense (culminating with a sick break-away theft in the second half) and cleaned the glass 9 times. I missed a couple unforgivable gimmes around the rim but finished with 6 points, 7 boards and 6 assists.

Jayson proved he’s a more-than-capable PG who can handle and distribute the rock. Tarik displayed a sweet stroke and can contribute long-range buckets. Figman’s an offensive X-factor and proud owner of an unstoppable running floater.

Normally a dead-eye shooter, Abe had an off night shooting. He can easily contribute 12-plus points and a couple treys per game. With some consistency at the free throw line, Carl has all the tools for an All-Star season. And me, I’m focused on doing whatever it takes to win that chip.

The biggest plus is that we got that loss out of our system early.

Next week, the team will be near full strength. Walsh and web designer Shanti Garcia provide much-needed interior presence and sharp-shooting, respectively. King editor-in-chief Sean Malcolm brings an unstoppable motor and has a chance to lead the league in rebounding. And SLAM advertising-sales rep Sean Brown, well… this guy could be the team’s MVP with his polished game.

We’ll need the added firepower next week, when we face last season’s runner-up, the PF Flyers.