Miles Rawls initially thought of the idea in April, offered a challenge shortly thereafter, exchanged some cross-country trash talk for several weeks, then finally got serious once an NBA superstar got on board. In a matter of weeks, all of the pieces fell into place, the logistical hurdles were overcome and some players reached into their own pockets to make it happen.
Suddenly, a contest that was simply meant to replace his usual summer charity event became the most anticipated basketball game since the league decided to lock out its players in June.
So, when the local Goodman League hosts the Los Angeles-based Drew League in a friendly exhibition to settle which is the best pro-am in the country on Saturday at Trinity University in the District, fans will marvel at seeing Oklahoma City Thunder teammates Kevin Durant and James Harden going one-on-one, Wizards point guard John Wall teaming up with former Kentucky teammate DeMarcus Cousins and Wizards center JaVale McGee providing highlight dunks for a team from the opposite side of the country.
Rawls, however, will revel in how it all came together. And, how it could possibly lead to more of the same elsewhere. “I’m pumped. To be honest with you, I’m more than excited; I’m ecstatic,” Rawls, the longtime commissioner of the Goodman League, said in a telephone interview. “The game is a long time coming. I didn’t think it was going to happen at first, but it’s here.”
Billed as “Capital Punishment,” the game has garnered some national publicity because of the collection of NBA talent expected to participate — especially with the league’s labor dispute leaving many to wonder when players will return to play meaningful games again. Although games at the Goodman League and Drew League are free to the public, organizers sold tickets ranging from $25 to $60 and they have also created a Web site, www.thebasketballchannel.net, that will stream the game on Ustream for $4.99. ESPN and TNT, which broadcast NBA games, were unwilling to partner with them.
Rawls said the money from Saturday’s game would be used to fund the various charities of each non-profit league and to reimburse the players for their plane tickets and lodging. Nike is a partial sponsor for the event.
If all goes well, the organizers would like to stage more exhibitions across the country and have already begun preliminary discussions about having a rematch in Los Angeles in September.
“The timing is perfect. The lockout worked out well for us,” said Dino Smiley, commissioner of the Drew League, where some of the best talent in Los Angeles has been playing since 1973.
Rawls had always heard about the Drew League from afar, and reached out to Smiley after he was unable to work out a deal with Harlem’s famed Rucker Park. In the initial phone and e-mail correspondence with Smiley, Rawls questioned the toughness of players in the Drew League because they compete in an air-conditioned gym instead of outdoors; Smiley mocked the Goodman League for playing on a converted tennis court at Barry Farm, because “we don’t play tennis.”
When Durant — a Goodman League regular since he was 16 — played at Drew League while visiting Los Angeles in June, Smiley mentioned the possibility of an East-West battle for pro-am supremacy and asked if the two-time all-star would be interested.
“Of course, I said, ‘Yeah,’ ” Durant said recently. “The rest is history.”
From there, Durant and Golden State Warriors guard Dorell Wright started talking and making phone calls to players, then Rawls and Smiley approached some of the best players from their respective leagues after games and got commitments.
Rawls had to scramble to find suitable insurance for the players, and an indoor venue, since Smiley refused to have his players on concrete. The game was originally slated for Georgetown’s McDonough Arena, but had to be moved because volleyball practice was previously scheduled. Next Rawls went to Calvin Coolidge High, but then it backed out. He eventually settled on Trinity.
Smiley convinced his players to play, but also had to convince them to pay their own way to Washington.
The Drew League team is made up of several players who grew up in Los Angeles, including Harden, Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings, Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Derrick Williams and Craig Smith of the Los Angeles Clippers. McGee spent part of his youth in Los Angeles when his mother played for the WNBA’s Sparks. Wizards guard Nick Young, also a Los Angeles native, is still on the roster but his status is somewhat in doubt after he failed to attend a scrimmage earlier this week.
“If Goodman comes out thinking this is just going to be a showcase game, it will get ugly,” Smiley said. “This is all about pride.”
In addition to Durant and Wall, the Goodman team features local products Ty Lawson of the Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies forward Sam Young and Charlotte Bobcats forward Dante Cunningham, and Baltimore natives Gary Neal of San Antonio, Memphis guard Josh Selby and Sacramento Kings forward Donte Greene. Cousins is from Alabama but works out locally in the offseason and his Kings teammate Tyreke Evans agreed to play as well. Goodman League regulars Hugh “Baby Shaq” Jones, Emanuel “Duce” Jones and Warren “D-Nice” Jefferson round out the team.
“It’s going to be fun,” Durant said. “It’s good for the game of basketball — especially with the lockout. Guys coming together, two big cities coming together, that’s something that really doesn’t happen too much. I really just want to do it for the people, man.”