BALTIMORE — Carmelo Anthony, back in his home town, generated considerable cheers when he strolled onto the court at Morgan State’s Hill Field House, wearing sunglasses and lifting his hand to acknowledge the crowd. LeBron James was right behind his friend and former Olympic teammate and fans got up on their feet, suddenly turning the most star-studded exhibition game of the summer into a standing room affair.
Fans flocked the court to catch a closer glimpse of Anthony as he warmed up, shooting jumpers; James, as he stretched out at center court, and Chris Paul, as he walked around, searching for some scissors to adjust his extra large shorts. But the anticipation of the game was muted for some time, as the other all-star expected to perform was conspicuously absent, with organizers ready to get the game started without him.
After Kevin Durant — wearing a backpack — finally sauntered into the gym, about a half-hour or so late, the game could finally begin. “It was a lot of traffic coming from my side of town, so I tried to hurry up,” Durant explained afterward. “I apologize for making everybody wait.”
Durant made the wait worthwhile, as he continued his domination of summer hoops by scoring a game-high 59 points, many coming with James playing tight defense on him, but he was unable to keep the Goodman All-Stars from avoiding a 149-141 loss to the Melo All-Stars, who were led by the stacked trio of James, Anthony and Paul. James sparked his team with 38 points, Anthony scored 36, and Paul had 18 in an entertaining and hastily-planned game that hinged heavily on the availability of James and Paul.
When asked how he was able to convince James to play in Baltimore for the first time, Anthony smiled and said, “It was easy. I use my favors when I can. I don’t like to call them and say, ‘I need this, I need that.’ There’s no money involved, we don’t take no money. We’re just good friends, and I told him, I said, ‘Look, man, you’ve got to come through.’ ”
The game was originally scheduled to be held at St. Frances Academy, which held nearly 1,000, but the presence of four all-stars in Anthony, James, Paul and Durant forced organizers to find a larger venue and Morgan State stepped up the day before to open its doors. About 5,000 people, some paying $100 for floor seats, were stuffed inside and witnessed some acrobatic dunks, dazzling dribbling displays, and an impressive duel between Durant and James, who guarded each other almost exclusively the entire night.
James had the early edge, hitting back-to-back jumpers over Durant, but Durant repeatedly attacked him with dribbles jukes, drives and pull-up three-pointers. At one point, Durant caught James off balance with a dribble, blew by him baseline and dunked, forcing fans inside to go berserk and beg James for a response.
“I have so much respect for LeBron, one of the greatest players in this league; going to go down as one of the greatest to ever play,” Durant said. “It’s kind of like, you want to see where you’re at as a player. Playing against the best is the only way to get better.”
Summer league basketball has garnered more attention than usual with the NBA and its players in a heated labor dispute. On Aug. 20, Durant and John Wall helped the local Goodman League defeat the Los Angeles-based Drew League, 135-134, in a game at Trinity University.
The lockout is in its second month, and players and owners are expected to meet for just the second time on Wednesday, with the hope that the two sides can at least make some progress in negotiations. Paul wasn’t sure what message the players have been sending with these games, but added, “We don’t do it for that. We do it for the love of the game. Why it was so fun is because this is what we grew up doing. People see me play in the NBA on TV, under the lights and think that was how you was born. This is where we learned how to play.”