by Eldon Khorshidi / @eldonadam

Over the past 10 years, streetball and the NBA have for the most part been regarded as mutually exclusive. Aside from local products returning to the playgrounds that bred them, very rarely did flocks of NBA stars come out to neighborhoods across the country and compete without any monetary or branding incentive.

In theory, this recent trend makes sense. Pros don’t have much of a reason to compete on asphalt; career-wise, the benefit of gaining a few fans and spreading their brand is microscopic compared to the risk of suffering a mild, or even worse, lingering injury. Besides, NBA players have a salary to earn, which requires hard work in the off-season.

After the NBA season, most guys vacation for a little then get right back on it. First it’s getting shots up, then it’s two-a-day workouts. Then there’s summer leagues, including the NBA’s own. Then, at some point in the near future, players return to team facilities, continuing to develop with training camp looming and anticipation for the upcoming season building. A few pre-season games and then poof, they’re back on the biggest stage in the world.

But welcome to the summer of 2011. Welcome to right now, where the NBA doesn’t exist. Team practice facilities, along with the League, are locked out. Communication between player and front office is prohibited. The League is in a state of turmoil we haven’t seen in over a decade, and there’s nothing to indicate progress. The owners and players are hundreds of million dollars apart on a new collective bargaining agreement. In essence, NBA players are currently unemployed, albeit with the comfort of an overflowing bankroll.

For example, Brandon Jennings was supposed to spend his summer working with the Bucks training staff in Milwaukee, gaining muscle and sweetening his mid-range jumpshot at the Cousins Center. Instead he’s on highlight reels three times a week, in gyms and parks throughout the country, crushing whoever is next in line.

The current inaccessibility of League resources coupled with players’ desire to play ball at a high level has resulted in NBA players settling into the streetball circuit. And it’s been nothing short of amazing.

NBA stars have made pit stops everywhere, from California to Indiana to North Carolina to New York. This past week, the courts of New York City were at the mercy of Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant, who garnered national headlines Monday when he scorched Rucker Park for 66 points. Durant then followed Rucker with a smooth 41-point performance at Pro City on Tuesday. And On Thursday, it was time for KD to suit up for the highly touted Dyckman super-squad, Team NIKE. Team NIKE head coach Bingo Cole had previously shied away from utilizing Dyckman’s open roster rule, but an opportunity to coach a top-5 player on planet Earth led Cole to reconsider.

Even with the 6-11 goblin, Team NIKE suffered its second loss of the season, falling to 914, 80-77. In fairness, 914 had its own monster in former top-2 pick and Durant’s right-hand man, Michael Beasley.

“The game was bittersweet,” Cole said. “Having Durant and Beasley out there was great for Nike and for Dyckman, but our team chemistry was off with having such overwhelming guys playing.”

Beasley posted 20 points and 7 rebounds to help 914 pull the upset, while Durant continued his abuse of New York City with 35 points and 6 rebounds in a valiant effort. After the game, Dyckman’s favorite son, Adris “Too Hard To Guard” DeLeon was in awe of the two pros.

“Beasley was going OD hard,” DeLeon said. “He was on going at it like it was his life. And Durant, oh my goodness. You can just tell he’s the best. He’s 6-11 doing what a guard does. It’s unreal, it doesn’t even make sense.”

Keydren “Kee Kee” Clark and Al Shep were the only Team NIKE players besides Durant to score in double-digits, as Clark scored 13 and Shep 10. In comparison, 914’s Aaron “The Problem” Williams poured in 21 points and former Providence big-man Geoff “Big Bully” McDermott had 17, including a nasty baseline flush on Durant’s head (above).

Team 914 jumped ahead to an early 18-10 lead, taking a 41-34 lead at the half. For the second straight game, Team NIKE would have to play from behind, and once again they came up short. After cutting the lead to three, and eventually tying it all at 77, a loose ball landed in the hands of Williams, who proceeded to square up and bury the game-winning three.

Team NIKE had one last attempt when Clark heaved an off-balanced 3-pointer at the buzzer, but it was to no avail.

Although it was an unforgettable experience, DeLeon was still upset with his team’s performance. After suffering its first loss of the summer in their last contest, Team NIKE looked to regain its footing against 914. Instead, The Boys In Black will enter the Dyckman Playoffs with a 5-2 record and a two-game losing streak.

“We’re headed downhill right now so we need to put our guard up,” DeLeon said. “I’m really unhappy with the outcome of the game. I feel like we let another one slip away.”

Losing two in a row isn’t the end of the world, but going forward it’s win-or-go-home, and a newfound sense of urgency will be pivotal for Team NIKE’s playoff run.

“I haven’t spoken to the guys but I know they understand what’s at stake,” Cole said. “Every game counts now, and the guys need to get it together. I’m confident they will.”

Team NIKE will try to rebound next week in the first round of the Dyckman Playoffs, and both DeLeon and Cole are confident they will hoist the trophy at the conclusion of the Championship on August 18th.

If there’s one thing to take away from the last 37 days of NBA non-existence, it’s that the gap between streetball and the NBA has narrowed, if not disappeared. It’s not just TruWarrior Ron Artest anymore making unannounced appearances at parks and gyms throughout the country. It’s now Durant, Beasley, Jennings, LeBron, Wall and countless others.

“This is the Mecca,” Durant told NikeBasketball.com the day before he graced Dyckman. “Every great player should come here and rep and show what they do.”

While it’s true playground basketball and the NBA may never be able to coincide, this summer has proved the two can certainly coexist.