by Irv Soonachan
If you’re going to roll in Oakland, you’d better roll hard.
High-level basketball players from across the country converged on the beat-up courts at Mosswood Park this weekend, joining locals at the last qualifying event for the Red Bull King of the Rock competition. They were treated to a taste of what the Big Bad O is all about.
There was T.J. Mann, a 6’5,” 200-lb. forward with some D-I experience who took time off from his 9-to-5 to fly in from Philadelphia. There was Gil Llewellyn, a 40-year-old basketball junkie who drove up from Los Angeles after getting eliminated in both L.A. and San Francisco. He split the ride with David Vik, a 6’11” center who played collegiately at Washington State. Stanford grad David Moseley was out of shape but brought Final Four experience. Vili Morton, a 6’8,” 250 lb. rock out of UC-Riverside drove in through the Caldecott Tunnel, the thin strand connecting Oakland to suburbia, and probably thought he’d cruise just as easily through the two games needed to qualify for the national finals.
But that’s not how things work in Oakland. It’s a place where people don’t hold much back, because nobody is sure they have the time. There are homicides regularly here, and if you’re darker than blue there’s no guarantee you’ll be any safer when the police show up.
If everybody doesn’t hurt each other first, living directly on top of one of the world’s most dangerous active fault lines might.
So Morton shouldn’t have been surprised during his match-up against Henry Davis, a college-age regular at Mosswood who could generously be listed at 5’9”, 135 lbs.
Morton, who was recruited to participate by his employer, 24-Hour Fitness (a cosponsor of the event), consistently drove to the basket and grabbed the early lead. Davis, realizing he couldn’t stop Morton, did the only logical thing: He stepped back and took a three. Swish.
It’s what Davis did next that surprised everyone… except park regulars. As naturally as breathing , he looked at Morton and said, “That’s on you, b*tch.”
The local crowd immediately got behind him.
A few seconds later Davis hit another trey from even further back, and called Morton the “B” word again. Then it was on.
Morton, suddenly at risk of being both eliminated and seriously punked, went to the rim even harder and held on for the win, despite Davis continuing to rain down threes and insults.
“It’s just a part of the game,” Davis said unapologetically.
Suffice it to say, nobody talks to Morton like that on the other side of the tunnel. But that’s how it goes sometimes in Oakland.
A determined Morton went on to win the day’s competition, and will be in the national finals next week on nearby Alcatraz–the historic prison site–with Llewellyn, Mann, Moseley, and 12 others who qualified in Oakland. Vik and Davis were invited as alternates for the event in case any of the winners don’t show, a distinct possibility given that it occurs at the end of Yom Kippur.
Most of them were happy to make it out of Oakland. Out-of-towners usually are. Compared to Oakland, Alcatraz almost seems inviting.
Thanks to Oakland-bred rapper Too $hort for the header of this write-up.