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Summer league is the only game in town
In the NBA, announcers don’t usually compare players with shaved heads to cancer patients going through chemotherapy, arenas are at least 10 times the size of the one used Saturday and there is just a tad more defense.
That doesn’t mean there wasn’t some geographical pride taken in Saturday night’s exhibition that pitted arguably the top two summer leagues in the nation — Washington’s Goodman League vs. Los Angeles’ Drew League — for a contest hyped as “Capital Punishment.”
“There are competitors on both sides,” said Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, a member of the Goodman League, which eeked out a 135-134 victory. “Bragging rights were on the table, so both sides were trying to win. We did what we had to do.”
Added area playground legend and Goodman team member Hugh “Baby Shaq” Jones: “We knew we were going to come out with the victory. Cali was talking all that trash. Now, they have to eat all their words and go back home.”
Those lucky enough to make their way into the 1,600-seat gym at Division III Trinity University paid as much as $60 (face value) for the right to watch a display that was heavy on alley-oops and light on precision shooting from the outside. A dozen NBA players — headlined by the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant — took part in what could be the best showcase of talent for a few months as the NBA work stoppage threatens the season.
“With the lockout and all, it’s good to find some NBA basketball,” said Joe Kim, an information technology professional who lives in the District. “It puts them in a new light. That’s the entertaining part of it. This gives them a chance to let loose and do their thing.”
Durant, who scored 66 points at New York’s famed Rucker Park earlier this month, buried a few from beyond the arc, but didn’t have the same scoring touch. Regardless, he finished with a game-high 44 points and earned MVP honors.
“It means a lot for the city,” Durant told FOXSports.com “That’s all I was worried about. We appreciate the love.”
Boston Celtics guard Delonte West, who said on Twitter this week that he applied for a job at Home Depot, filled another role during the game: assistant coach for Goodman. Even as the Drew League overcame a double-digit deficit to take a lead in the fourth quarter, West said he wasn’t too concerned.
“I already knew that was going to happen,” West said. “We play better basketball here on the East Coast. It’s fast-paced and hard-nosed. It’s quality basketball. You see that by the score. We grinded it out.”
The East vs. West rivalry hinged on the closing seconds as Durant hit two free throws with 21.5 seconds left in regulation for the game’s final margin. Durant’s Oklahoma City teammate, James Harden, was called for a block on the play, although it very easily could have been considered a charge.
“The officials (were) consistently terrible,” said George Preciado, the announcer for the Drew League. “You have a game like this and there are AAU refs officiating.”
Miles Rawls, commissioner of the Goodman League and one of the event’s main organizers, attempted to find a bigger arena that would have accommodated the hundreds of fans turned away.
“I asked for a bigger venue and they denied me,” Rawls said. “I knew it was going to be a big crowd. We need an arena that would seat 5,000, but we couldn’t find any takers.”
A rematch, however, could be only a few weeks away. Drew League commissioner Dino Smiley said there’s a “70 percent chance” the two leagues will play in Southern California in September — maybe even with Nick Young, the Washington Wizards guard who refused to play Saturday because he was not selected as the Drew League MVP.
“It wasn’t a real big deal,” Smiley said of Young’s snub.
Cousins admitted that this kind of game could be the only way fans will see NBA talent anytime soon, at least in the US. He said he is among an increasing group of players exploring the possibility of playing overseas.
“To be honest, no,” Cousins said when asked if he thought the lockout would end anytime soon. “Neither side is meeting. They are too far apart right now.”
Wizards guard John Wall said he’s glad he was able to give backers of the home team a pro hoops fix — one that may have to last for a while.
“We just wanted to do this for the fans,” said Wall, who finished with 28 points for the Goodman League squad. “It’s not about the money or anything else.”
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