by Nima Zarrabi / @NZbeFree
I decided to opt out of participating in the Li-Ning media pickup game during NBA All-Star. It was Sunday morning, and I was coming off another late night of ASW madness that included zero sleep. I was damn near delusional and a pickup game this early in the a.m. seemed impossible. I left Orange County in some low top Chuck Ts and a gameplan: I will show up, watch the guys play and also attend the post-game brunch, but under no circumstances will this body run on hardwood today.
When I arrived at Santa Monica High School at 9:30 a.m., I was greeted by Burton Chawla who helped conceive and organize the event with Li-Ning Brand Initiative Director for Basketball, Brian Cupps. Ric Bucher was pushing jumpers nearby and SLAM EIC Ben Osborne, who came into town sick and with no voice, was already suited up. Burton handed me a backpack stacked with a pair of sneaks, socks, shorts and a jersey with my name on it. Two refs stretched on the court and a scorekeeper and shot clock operator were testing their machines. A video crew and photographer lurked around for angles.
It was time to knuckle up.
I was slated for the blue squad which consisted of Money Players author Marc Isenberg, NBA.com’s Art Garcia, Sole Collector’s Nick DePaula and four journalists from China. Ben was on team black/red, featuring Bucher, ESPN the Magazine’s Sam Alipour, ESPN New York’s Jared Zwerling, ESPN Rise’s Jay Corbin and Julian Benbow of The Boston Globe.
As both teams figured out starting lineups, I hoped I could limit my minutes and make it out of the game alive. I felt good about my chances early, but Garcia had to bounce immediately after tip to make another engagement and we were already down a good man. Ben’s squad came out gunning behind the sensational play of Bucher and Zwerling. Bucher goes hard as hell. He had a nice aggressive game and NYC’s Zwerling was giving everyone a lesson in skills and lungwind. DePaula—the best player on the court—was keeping us in it with his play, but his shot wasn’t falling as it normally does and we were down 10 at the half.
While Isenberg told our team to just relax and try to get open during the second half, I was having major difficulty breathing. I could only play in three minute spurts before the fear of puking on the court started becoming a definite reality.
Ben’s squad was comfortable with their lead and we came out with better movement in the second half, led by our main man from China, Mr. Guo. Dude was beasting in the post with crafty inside moves and put backs. With Nick running the point, we managed to close the gap and I surprised myself with a few buckets before having to run off the court and puke in a nearby trashcan—true story.
Chawla instructed the camera crew to interview me following my mishap and I got cleaned up a bit and obliged, with sunglasses. I told a few tales before removing the shades and checking back in. Blue squad managed to push the game into double OT, but the offensive combination of Zwerling/Bucher/Corbin and Benbow’s D were too much. With the majority of players on the court staggering around on their last breath/legs and seconds remaining in double OT, Corbin rebounded a missed 3-point attempt and converted a lovely reverse layup a-la-Ron-Artest at the buzzer, for the 52-50 win. He stormed off the court with his finger pointing in the air, camera crew following. It was a difficult defeat after our valiant comeback, but a great way to finish the inaugural Li-Ning media run.
NBA All-Star weekends are usually filled with a good amount of work and appointments for most writers. While that work is very fun and rewarding, rarely is there an opportunity to get together with a bunch of other scribes for an official basketball game. It was a great concept and I really want to thank Brian, Burton and Li-Ning for giving a bunch of dudes like us a chance to play a game we all love.
Zwerling led all scorers with 22 points and also grabbed 7 boards. Bucher beasted to a finish of 10 points and 13 rebounds while Corbin also added a double-double: 14 points and 15 rebounds. Ben finished with 4 points and 6 boards despite being in MJ-flu mode. The Blue team was paced by Guo who dropped 13 points and 14 rebounds. I managed 10 points and 3 boards, Isenberg had 7 points and 5 rebounds and our leader DePaula dropped 7 points and 8 rebounds.
Guo was named the Li-Ning Make the Change player of the game for his solid performance for the losing squad. Corbin edged out Zwerling for MVP and was extremely proud of his achievement. While sitting on the bench, overjoyed with his work, the fellas set up Corbin for a Gatorade bath courtesy of Zwerling, who had snuck above to the stands. It was hilarious. When it came time for pictures and the MVP announcement, Corbin asked for his teammates to join him at center court. He hoisted his hardware high and proclaimed, “I want to thank my teammates and Li-Ning for this MVP. Now, someone please take me to the hospital.”