by Eldon Khorshidi | @eldonadam
This past Wednesday, Nike Basketball unveiled its newest home for summer basketball, the plush, newly constructed Rivington Court in New York City’s Lower East Side. The complex features a parquet floor placed in the middle of the schoolyard at Lower East Side Prep, with two sets of stands and VIP seating bordering the court. On one end of the fence is a digital scoreboard, while across the way is a giant, movie-theater video screen to provide instant replays and help milk the iconographic “oohs” and “aahs” of playground basketball.
To kick off the summer festivities, Wednesday night’s schedule featured two undercards and one main event. First, the best high school kids from Queens and the Bronx faced off in a precursor to the 3rd annual Battle of The Boroughs, a one-day, four team win-or-go-home tournament in late August. Each of the four teams—Queens, Bronx, Brooklyn, and Harlem—will use Rivington Court for practices and scrimmages leading up to game day.
After the impressive scrimmage, the 700-plus fans were treated to a Nike+ Dunk Contest, which included five contestants and two celebrity judges: NBA swingman JR Smith and renowned New York disc jockey DJ Enough.
And finally, in fitting fashion, the main event of the night featured reigning Dyckman champions Team NIKE returning to defend its name against its newly formed counterpart, Team NIKE II, in a battle for streetball bragging rights. The game was close throughout and featured a number of college and professional ballers, both past and present.
The Queens-Bronx tilt was narrated by a familiar voice of the streets, emcee Joe Pope. On the court, the Bronx squad commanded an early lead and continued to apply pressure late to emerge with a 65-48 victory. Deandre Bembry of St. Patrick (NJ) scored a team-high 14 points, Terry Larrier of Our Savior Lutheran (NY) contributed 9 points, Christ the King’s (NY) Adonis DeLaRosa added 8 points and Putnam Science Academy’s (CT) DeShawn Smith had seven in a winning effort. Boys & Girls’ (NY) Rashad Andrews scored 15 points to lead the Queens squad, and Holy Cross’ (NY) Marquise Moore contributed 14 points.
There were a plethora of highlight-reel plays throughout the afternoon, starting with both teams engaging in a dunking exhibition during pre-game warm-ups. One-handed, two-handed, off the backboard, you name it; these boys were no joke. In the actual game, it was DeShawn Smith who took home the cake for best highlight. Late in the fourth quarter, Smith pick-pocketed Andrews at half court, had a clear path to the basket, waited for Andrews to catch up and then caught a vicious right-handed dunk over him at the rim. It was a monster finish, and seemingly left the Queens squad demoralized for the remainder of the game. The game was labeled as only a scrimmage, but to high school kids it’s all the same. Basketball is basketball, and losing is losing. Not a good feeling for the Queens kids, to say the least.
After the game, the 6-2 Smith reflected on the play: “I knew I was gonna dunk on him… Rashad’s a great player, but I could just feel it. I told my teammate Adonis [DeLaRosa] the play before, that I was gonna catch a dunk. Rashad just happened to be in the way on that one.”
Andrews and his teammates will have their chance to get revenge, though. When these two next meet in August, Queens will likely have former St. John’s and Dayton commit Jevon Thomas and New York State’s top-ranked player Jermaine Lawrence (2013), neither of whom played on Wednesday. The Bronx will also have its full roster next time, as five-star recruit Chris McCullough (2014) was absent for the practice run.
For the remainder of the evening, the legendary Bobbito Garcia hopped on the microphone. In the Nike+ Dunk Contest, Kiwan “Smooth” Smith was crowned the winner by dunking over all four of the other contestants at once (photo 17, above). The dunk was enough to get JR Smith out of his chair and almost led to Kool Bob Love turning off the microphone and imploring everybody to just go home.
Good thing he didn’t, because what followed next was worth the stay.
In a classic back-and-forth, no blood no foul streetball contest, reigning Dyckman champion Team NIKE reaffirmed its dominance of the New York City circuit, using a strong second half to defeat Team Nike II, 87-77.
Team NIKE’s roster boasted some iconic streetball names, including Adris “Too Hard To Guard” DeLeon, Antawn “Anti Freeze Dobie”, Anthony “I Robot” Glover and Kenny “KSatt” Satterfield. Coach Bingo’s squad fell behind 47-40 at the half, but applied full-court pressure in the second half to trim the deficit and eventually take control of the game. Team NIKE newcomer BJ “The Beast” McFarland scored a game-high 18 points, Al Shep had 14 and Greg Plummer, the reigning Nike Streetball Player of the Year, added 11 in his first game with the team.
Team NIKE II’s roster was nothing to sneeze at either. In fact, its talent could’ve very well topped Team NIKE’s. Brooklyn Net Sundiata Gaines bullied his way up and down the court, and on the eve of the Draft, NBA hopefuls Erving Walker (Christ The King/University of Florida) tallied 18 points, while Tu Holloway of Xavier scored 15 (for more on Holloway’s night, click here).
Even if they didn’t have as much talent, Team NIKE’s, teamwork, cohesion and experience eventually trumped any individual performances. They’ve done it to Gaines, Gary Forbes, Michael Beasley and countless others, and once again showcased their toughness and resiliency on Wednesday.
But despite the victory, this is the last New York City will see of Team Nike for a while. Yesterday, the super-squad flew out to Europe to train for its World Basketball Festival tour, which includes trips to London and Paris to take on fellow all-star teams from around the globe. Bingo’s troops will then return to the States to play in the U.S. World Basketball Festival in Washington DC in a four-team tournament against all-star teams from Chicago, Los Angeles and D.C. And after that, in fitting fashion, Team NIKE’s summer will conclude with a rematch against Nike II and then against Ooh-Way, the only team to knock off Bingo and Co. at Dyckman last summer.
In the meantime, Team Nike II will call Rivington Court home. They will take on different teams every Wednesday night, under the bright lights of downtown New York City.
The energy, fan excitement, and game intensity will all increase in the following weeks. If Wednesday’s prelude was any indication, even with Team NIKE’s imminent furlough, streetball is officially off and running.
Game on, World.