Once the Los Angeles-based Drew League committed to a showdown, Goodman League commissioner Miles Rawls knew exactly whom he needed to call first in order to assemble his all-star team of area talent.
“Kevin, of course,” said Rawls, speaking of Oklahoma City Thunder all-star forward and two-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant, the District native who has been playing on the asphalt courts at Barry Farm ever summer since he was a scrawny 16-year-old high school star.
Rawls didn’t have to make a long sales pitch to Durant, because he had been ready to participate in the competition the moment Drew League commissioner Dino Smiley had mentioned the possibility to him when he played two games while visiting Los Angeles in June.
“I told him, ‘It would be great if we could ever get the Goodman League and the Drew League together,’ ” Smiley said in a telephone interview. “Him and ]Golden State Warriors forward] Dorell Wright starting conversing and that’s how it came about.”
The only obstacle Rawls faced with Durant was finding a date on his busy summer barnstorming tour around the globe to make it happen. “Kevin’s an eager guy. He supports me,” Rawls said of Durant, who will headline the East-West battle for pro-am supremacy featuring several NBA players on Saturday at Trinity University in the District. “He plays for me whenever he gets the chance. We never had no problem with him. He said he’ll be here, so he made a couple of adjustments to his schedule.”
Once they settled on a date that worked, Rawls didn’t have a hard time convincing other NBA players to join the team. Rawls didn’t bother going through the players’ agents. He reached out directly to all of the players on his roster, either by phone or in person. It didn’t hurt that he already had a big-name commitment from the start.
“Once he told me had K.D. on board — a guy who has influence throughout the league — it was easy,” said San Antonio Spurs guard Gary Neal, who has been playing in the Goodman League since he was a freshman in college. “When you have a guy like Kevin Durant, he can get on the phone and call pretty much anybody in the NBA and make it happen.”
Rawls needed about a month to eventually add Wizards point guard John Wall, Minnesota Timberwolves Michael Beasley, Denver Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson, Sacramento Kings teammates DeMarcus Cousins, Donte Greene and Tyreke Evans, and Memphis Grizzlies teammates Josh Selby and Sam Young. Beasley had to back out this week because of a scheduling conflict, and he’ll be replaced by Charlotte Bobcats forward Dante Cunningham.
“I told guys, ‘Now, I don’t want to put you on the flyer if you can’t do it,’” Rawls said. “Those guys said they would play. They are committed to play and I think they are eager to play.”
Wall’s representatives called last week with some concern over insurance for the game, but that problem appears to have been settled, as Wall is expected to make his debut at Barry Farm on Friday after the game was rained out on Thursday.
The Goodman League doesn’t feature as many NBA players as the Drew League, so Rawls wanted to add some of his best local playground products. That is why he made sure Hugh “Baby Shaq” Jones, Emanuel “Duce” Jones and Warren “D-Nice” Jefferson were on the roster.
“These guys can play on that level,” Rawls said. “They are not going to get overshadowed.”
Hugh Jones already has an established reputation as a muscle-bound, high-flyer as a participant with the And1 Mixtape tour and is looking forward to taking on the Drew League, which features Wizards center JaVale McGee, Thunder guard James Harden, Toronto guard DeMar DeRozan, Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings, Minnesota forward Derrick Williams, Los Angeles Clippers big man Craig Smith and former Georgetown star Brandon Bowman.
“I just want to let them know that D.C. got players, too,” Hugh Jones said. “You want to overlook D.C.? Fine. Kevin Durant, the league’s leading scorer is from D.C. You can’t overlook that. That’s why I’m going to use this game as a statement maker, like, you can overlook me as far as the NBA season, but here, you can’t overlook me because I’m right there with them. That says a lot. Me being on a roster with these guys says a lot by itself.”
And Durant understands how his presence has helped generate some of the hype for this game. “I really just want to do it for the people, man. They really don’t get to see that,” Durant said. “Both leagues are great. They got great players, but I think we’ve got more guys that have not been in the league but can play, though. Those guys have a lot of NBA guys, but we have guys who maybe didn’t make it, played college or play overseas now. I want it to really be D.C.-L.A. It should be fun.”