Early in the third quarter of his team’s 135-134 victory over the Los Angeles-based Drew League, Goodman League commissioner Miles Rawls looked down at the opponent to his right and said, “It’s a long flight to L.A. with an ‘L’ on the chest.”
The words elicited laughter from the crowd but seemed to fire up the players from the left coast as they immediately overcame a double-digit deficit to eventually take the lead as James Harden drove and dunked and Brandon Jennings, scored, flipped on his back and later danced. The visitors silenced the stunned overflow crowd until Wizards point guard John Wall and District native Kevin Durant brought back the Goodman League -- Wall with his quick feet and nifty passes; Durant with his high-flying dunks -- and set up a thrilling finish.
The intensity for a supposed summer league exhibition perhaps exceeded what many of the participants had expected, but also spoke to the pride that was at stake for players who earn their reputations on the asphalt at Barry Farm or the indoor gym that Washington Park. Sacramento Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins used his big body to pound Wizards center JaVale McGee on back-to-back dunks in the first half, local street ball legend Hugh “Baby Shaq” Jones exchanged some words with Los Angeles Clippers forward Craig Smith and Kevin Durant and his Oklahoma City Thunder teammate Harden threw aside all pleasantries as they staged an often physical duel at Trinity University.
“That’s why we set this whole thing up. Both teams are going to play hard,” said Harden, who scored 34 points. “I don’t want hear nothing about that Kevin Durant, Thunder up. We’re enemies right now.”
Harden made those comments before Durant won the game by sinking two free throws with 21.5 seconds remaining to finish with a game-high 44 points and then blocked Harden’s shot as time expired. Durant said he wasn’t surprised by how Harden went at him. “That’s with anything, that’s in practice, that’s in shootaround. If we’re on opposite teams, we go at it.”
Several players from the visiting squad questioned the foul call afterward and the anger and frustration that came with paying their own money for travel and lodging expenses, only to come away with a loss, had them angling for a rematch sooner than later. “We need that rematch,” Jennings said after scoring a team-high 38 points for the Drew League. “We lost on a last second shot, and a last second call. Nothing said that they was better than us. If you think about it, they was one up because they had an all-star. We didn’t have no all-stars.”
Durant, the two-time reigning scoring champion and unofficial offseason MVP for the the second consecutive year (this summer with his summer-league exploits; last summer in leading Team USA to the gold medal in the worlds championships in Turkey), was the only player on either side of the court with all-star credentials and he didn’t disappoint his hometown fans as he dropped 30-foot three-pointers and drove down the lane for thunderous slam dunks. He also got plenty of assistance from Wall, who scored 28 points, and showed off his incredible speed with mad dashes to the basket that often left all chasers in the dust. Wall attacked the basket with a vengeance and found creative ways to get there as well, spinning around two defenders to make a layup in the first half, and holding out his hands to receive some applause from the fans.
“It was East coast, West coast, we was trying to give the fans something. We got a lockout now, so we’re just enjoying our time playing against talented players,” Wall said. “We got the crown right now. I knew it was going to get like that. They traveled that far to play us, so we knew it was going to be fun.”
Wall said it was “funny” that he found himself playing against his Wizards teammate McGee, who represented the Drew League. Wall said he has been working out in Los Angeles with McGee, Nick Young and Jordan Crawford most of the summer. But when asked who the better of the big man battle between his current teammate or his former teammate at Kentucky, Cousins, Wall replied, “Former. He was a beast.”
McGee said he didn’t get a hard time from any Wizards fans for playing for the enemy. Rawls, though, who famously once heckled President Obama, did have some fun with McGee when he was substituted for Smith late in the fourth quarter and lifted his hands toward his coach to ask, “Why?”
“Who’s running this operation over here,” Rawls shouted into the microphone.
McGee had 21 points, mostly on his usual highlight dunks, and he wanted to win the game since he maintains an offseason home in Los Angeles and has been playing in the Drew League since the summer after his rookie year in the NBA. “I never played in the Goodman League, so it wasn’t like I had any ties to the Goodman. I play in the Drew in the summer,” McGee said, explaining why he represented the opponent in the city where he plays during the NBA season.
Rawls also called out Wizards guard Nick Young, who backed out at the last minute. He said “word on the street” was that Young “boycotted” the game because he didn’t win Drew League MVP after averaging 40.5 points per game. “Where they do that at?” Rawls asked.
Young disputed that explanation on his Twitter account and McGee, who is filming an Internet show with Young, explained that it might have been the result of poor planning more than anything else. “He was supposed to come, but he didn’t,” McGee said. “He tried to get his ticket too late. And it was too expensive. He figured it wasn’t worth it.”
The event proved to be worth it for players who decided to participate in what might be the last basketball game featuring NBA players for a while. That is, unless these teams can get together for a rematch sooner than later. After losing a heartbreaker, the Drew League is already hoping to see the Goodman League again – in Los Angeles. “We can do it,” Harden said. “We made this trip, they can make the trip as well.”