How the playground gave basketball fans hope.
by Carron J. Phillips
Due to the NBA lockout, our lasting images of basketball included a lackluster NBA Draft, a horrific NCAA championship game, and Jason Terry and Dirk shocking the world. But after Mark Cuban and Weezy were done popping bottles of Ace of Spade at Liv with the Larry O’Brien Trophy, we figured that would be the end of it all.
Deep down inside we all knew that this lockout was coming. And that meant no summer league games would be played in Vegas or Florida. We would have to wait until the start of Midnight Madness for hoop season, because it looked like the NBA would be gone for a while.
But then, something happened.
Cats stopped worrying about vacations and being featured in off-season shoe commercials; they went back to their origins—the place where their games were crafted. The old sweaty gyms with no AC and the playgrounds became their 2011 summer homes since arenas were closed. And thanks to the camera phone and YouTube, we all got a chance to see it.
DWade, CP3 and Melo may not have gotten the memo, but it seemed like everybody else did. While those three were over in Asia on their Jordan Brand tour, I sat at my computer watching basketball mixtapes as Karl Ravech and “Baseball Tonight” was muted on my TV.
The NC Pro-Am really kicked things off as its popularity has blossomed over the past couple of years. John Wall put the league on the map two summers ago with the highlight of the summer when he posterized Jerry Stackhouse before his only year at Kentucky. Last summer, we witnessed future No. 1 pick Kyrie Irving, and Nolan Smith gave us a preview into why he would later be crowned ACC Player of the Year.
But while this year’s version was again full of John Wall highlights, bad defense, fast breaks, and alley-oops, most of the spotlight was centered on Austin Rivers. Everybody wanted to see if Rivers would live up to the hype, and for the most part he did. In the words of Dennis Green, “He was what we thought he was.” He has deep range, can score on anybody, and plays shaky defense.
This summer also served as a reminder to hoop fans, as it resurrected a name we’d forgot about. While Eric Gordon did what he always does at the Indy Pro-Am, it was Lance Stephenson who may have stolen the show. Most of us had disregarded ole Lance, but if he can get his act together and stay out of trouble and remain healthy, Born Ready could be another weapon for the up-and-coming Pacers.
While the Goodman/Drew League game may have been the culmination of the summer, it wouldn’t have been possible without the run that Kevin Durant and Brandon Jennings went on this summer. The two former Oak Hill products were our saviors.
Jennings was a manic as he played in any and every league possible. He was a mainstay in Baltimore at the Melo Center, played at Berry Farms, traveled down to Durham for the NC Pro-am, and went back home to Cali to play in the Drew League. But his 1-on-1 battles against Josh Selby at the Melo Center were works of art. Two dudes just going at each other’s throats. No passing or sharing the rock, just Jennings and Selby going bucket for bucket.
As the two biggest names in the sport, Kobe and LeBron made their appearances at the Drew League and dominated as usual. But it was the League’s two-time defending scoring champ that ruled the summer.
Everywhere that Kevin Durant went, he got buckets.
Drew League, check.
Nike NYC Pro City, check.
And while he eventually sealed the Drew League’s fate at the end of the summer finale, it was his night in Harlem that wound up being the crescendo of the summer.
We all saw it. Jay Crawford couldn’t believe his eyes when they showed the footage on “First Take,” and Sports Illustrated writers probably had to cover a playground basketball game for the first time in their lives.
When it was all over, Durant’s night could be summed up in a few short words.
Thank you BallisLife and Hoopmixtape, without you I don’t know what I would have done this summer. I probably would have been forced to watch baseball, and we all know what a tragedy that is.