LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant left the gym at King Drew High School on Tuesday night pleased with what he just witnessed.
“Great game, man,” Bryant said in the midst of signing autographs while making his way out. “Great game.”
With Bryant in the house watching courtside Hank’s Blazers featuring Clippers center Ryan Hollins defeated Kings of LA led by Portland Trail Blazers forward Dorell Wright, 104-99, to capture the Drew League championship, capping off the 40th anniversary season of the Drew League.
When it seemed the league couldn’t get any better following the 2011 season when the likes of Bryant, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James showed up to play during the NBA lockout, the 40th year turned out to be one of its best yet.
The league formed a partnership with Nike that Drew League commissioner Dino Smiley says has elevated it to even greater heights.
“Nike coming in with their websites and their social media, uniforms, and banners, floor decor really brought the league up to a level it’s never seen before,” Smiley said.
It even prompted Bryant to step away from the anti-gravity treadmill and take in the action.
“I’m sure Kobe has a lot of things to do and has a lot of places to be so for him to come here on a Tuesday night in the community and grace us with his presence was huge,” Smiley said. “He didn’t have to come. He wanted to be here and that was big.”
As Bryant looked on the teams were knotted at halftime, 53-53, in front of the standing room only crowd.
However the third quarter belonged to Hank’s Blazers, outscoring Kings of LA 32-13 in the period.
Kings of LA cut into a 19-point deficit to cut it to three but in front of one of the game’s all time great closers, former Cal State Fullerton product Frank Robinson closed up shop.
He knocked down a three-pointer with 30 seconds left to put his team up by six and end any comeback efforts on his way to a team-high 26 points.
Hank’s Blazers were the underdogs but defied the odds during the postseason as the No. 8 seed in the Sam Sullivan Division.
“Nobody expected us to win even after we beat the No. 1 team,” said Robinson, who plays professionally in Europe. “To me, it was personal.”
The game turned physical in the second quarter with Wright being the victim of a flagrant foul. Although different from that of an NBA game, the intensity was through the roof.
“It’s the streets,” Hollins said. “It’s what we grew up playing in. It’s what we grew up doing.”
From humble beginnings starting at tiny Drew Junior High School with just six teams to capping off the 40th anniversary season with Bryant in attendance, the Drew League is and always has been about family and community.
Hollins teamed up with a former high school teammate to capture the championship on Tuesday night. On the other side, Wright was joined on the court by his younger brother, Delon, a guard headed to the University of Utah, and one of his former high school coaches while another ex-high school coach served as the Kings of LA head coach.
Games are free and what makes it even more special is NBA stars come to the heart of the South Central LA/Watts community and the kids of the community get the rare chance to see, talk to, and touch their favorite players.
Smiley runs the league with the help of his family. The torch of commissioner could one day be passed to his daughter, Chaniel.
With the ever increasing popularity of the league, the net is being cast even further.
“We’re in the middle of South Central, just on the outskirts of Watts and Compton (but) the diversity of the people here (is great),” Smiley said. “It’s becoming a melting pot which we really embrace.”