Rudy Gay had a courtside seat at Trinity University when the local Goodman League defeated the Los Angeles-based Drew League two months ago in a pro-am duel that has spawned a flood of star-studded exhibition games since the lockout began.
Gay was still recovering from surgery to repair a partially dislocated left shoulder that led to a premature end to his first season after signing a maximum extension with the Memphis Grizzlies. As he watched James Harden and Kevin Durant trade buckets and John Wall and Brandon Jennings taking turns going on all-out sprints to the basket, high-fived fellow Baltimore native Josh Selby and heard an intense home crowd react to every score, Gay kept the significance of the event in proper perspective.
“It was cool. It was just a game to me,” Gay, 25, said recently. “It was basically, for entertainment.”
But apparently, the battle for bragging rights was enough to convince Gay that he would participate in the next show to determine which coast has the best players. After weeks of wrangling and tense negotiations, the Goodman League-Drew League rematch will finally take place on Sunday at Long Beach State University and Goodman League commissioner Miles Rawls confirmed that Gay would join forces with Durant, Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Michael Beasley, Sam Young and Donte Greene.
Gay is the only player on that list to never suit up for a Goodman League game at Barry Farm, Spingarn High or otherwise, but Rawls said, “I wasn’t going to turn him down!”
Gay, Durant and Wall are also expected to participate in another exhibition game hosted by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on Saturday at Florida International University in Miami, but Rawls said all three would complete the difficult South Beach-Long Beach back-to-back set. They will meet a fired-up Drew League team eager for revenge and featuring Harden, Jennings, Nick Young, Derrick Williams, DeMar Derozan, Dorell Wright, Craig Smith, Marcus Banks and Ryan Hollins.
Gay was cleared to participate in full-contact drills two weeks ago and play a few games at the Impact Basketball Competitive Training Series. He was noticeably rusty in his first game, having sat out since Feb. 15, but he appeared to closer to regaining his old form when he scored 38 points in Chris Paul’s charity pickup game in Winston-Salem, N.C., last weekend.
The past seven months have been a grind for Gay, who missed the Grizzlies’ surprising playoff run that included an upset of the San Antonio Spurs and a seven-game second-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. “It’s been tough,” Gay said. “This is the longest I’ve ever been from the game. That’s the biggest thing. I like the camaraderie, the competition. That’s my job. Whenever you are not able to do your job, that’s tough.”
He has been splitting his training between Phoenix and Las Vegas, while making trips to Pensacola, Fla., to visit with renowned orthopedic surgeon James Andrews, who performed his shoulder surgery in March. Since Andrews isn’t connected to any NBA team, Gay was able to stick to a consistent workout plan after the lockout was instituted.
Gay is eager to for the lockout to end, so that he can get back to Memphis and possibly help the team go further in the postseason. Though he was mentioned in several trade rumors as the Grizzlies found a way to win with Tony Allen getting a more enhanced role, Gay is confident that he can fit in once again. He also believes he has one responsibility when he returns. “Just come back 100 percent, that’s all,” said Gay, who averaged 19.8 points per game before his injury. “Basically, I understand how we played. I understand that we had it. We just did it on the main stage. Just figuring out what I can do to make the team better.”
For now, Gay will continue to work out, test his shoulder and stay competitive on the lockout exhibition circuit.