The first time I watched the Goodman League at Barry Farm was in August of 2007. Gilbert Arenas was playing, so there were hundreds of people there, mostly standing, completely surrounding the undersized hard-topped court.
Sure, it was atmospheric, but it wasn’t perhaps the best spectating experience of all time. But as the legendary summer league continues its journey into the mainstream, that viewing experience will change.
And so Monday’s summer circuit will begin on a new court, installed by Nike last month, that’s just a few feet short of regulation length. (The direction the court faces has been reconfigured, to allow for the extra space.) There are new stadium-style bleachers that provide seating for up to 600. And there’s a new, softer playing surface, which should help lessen the injury fears when NBA players make their occasional sojourn to Southeast.
“Everybody that’s seen it loves it,” said commissioner Miles Rawls, as he prepared for opening night. “It’s better for the league guys when they come. It gives a new look, and it’s a real good look.”
The Goodman League — which has been featured in The Post at least three times since Arenas and Kevin Durant helped boost its profile late last decade — got several additional shoves into the national basketball consciousness over the past 12 months. There was the much-hyped meeting with the Southern California Drew League during the NBA Lockout, for example. There was also a Barry Farm tribute on Kevin Durant’s sneakers, and the inclusion of Goodman League uniforms in a Kevin Durant shoot for Nike.
“That was major, that was super major, to see that on a commercial, a guy of his magnitude, doing a commercial, wearing your jersey,” Rawls told me this week. “Durant represents the Goodman League to the fullest when it comes to stuff like that. That was big-time.”
Unfortunately, it will be much tougher for Durant to represent the League in person this offseason, at least as much as he has in the past, because of his playoff and Olympic responsibilities. Rawls has already heard from a few NBA guys — including John Wall and Metta World Peace — about possible appearances, but these things are touch-and-go, and usually don’t start materializing until later in June.
The NBA players, of course, help bring the crowds, including the white kids like me, who weren’t going to watch many Barry Farm games when Rawls started running the league in 1997.
“Weren’t no white people down here 15 years ago, and I don’t blame them, because of the reputation,” he said. “I don’t blame them. Now they know, anybody from any race, they know they can come and watch and get out of there safely.”
Rawls, who turns 50 next week, has gotten no shortage of publicity in recent years, from his heckling of President Obama to his insult-heavy play-by-play at Goodman games and for celebrity games hosted by Steve Francis, Mike Beasley and others. He still works his regular job as a federal officer for the Department of Homeland Security, although his office is flexible about his hours once the season arrives.
And Rawls — who grew up in the neighborhood, although he now lives in Landover — was slightly enthusiastic for Monday’s opening night festivities, which will be catered by Nike.
“Very excited, very excited, very excited, very excited,” he literally said. “I wear my feelings about the Goodman League on my sleeve. I take great pride in what I’ve done with that for the last 15 years, not only for me, but for the city, and especially for my neighborhood... It’s all worthwhile, all worthwhile. Any time you can get something done for the city, bring that many people together from different parts of the city, different parts of life, I’ll take it.”