In this basketball-hungry town, the fact that it's summer means very little to the average die-hard basketball fan.
So what if it's 90 degrees and 110 per cent humidity, even in the shady lanes of Rock Creek and Fort Dupont Parks? It's neither time to be out getting some exercise on the court with the boys, or else, watching the pros mix it up in the Urban Coalition Summer Basketball League.
The league, formerly headquartered at dank, warp-floored Theodore Roosevelt High School on upper 13th Street N.W., has moved this year to a betterlit, but still-ancient Spingarn High School gymnasium on a little knoll across the street from the newly reopened Langston public golf course at 24th and benning Road N.E.
For those who can stand the heat, and who don't mind the intimacy of a crowded, unairconditioned gym which seats less than a thousand persons, games are played every Friday evening and on Saturday and Sunday afternoons through mid-August. The action on the court is well worth the price of admission.
Where else but in the Urban Coalition League can you see players like Adrian Dantley, Leonard 'Truck' Robinson, Mo Howard, Ed Jordan, Moses malone, and members of the Bullets perform for only $1?
The league has two divisions, junior and professional. There are 12 junior high and 19 high school teams in the junior division and eight pro-level teams in the other division.
The pro teams are manned by players like those mentioned earlier, plus former collegians and graduating high school seniors.
Additionally, touring pros from New York, Philadelphia and other points north, west and south come here regularly to play for the exercise, because the league holds a good, competitive reputation nationally.
Maurice Lucas, Julius Erving, Lloyd Free, David Thompson, Marvin Webster, Marvin Barnes and other National Basketball Association (NBA) stars usually only seen on television, have dropped in unannounced during previous years to 'have a run' in a good, competitive game.
Washington native Roland 'Fatty' Taylor, who went to Fairmont Heights High, and who currently plays with the Denver Rockets, helped to persuade former ABA stars (before the merger of the two leagues) to give their time and effort to Washington.
His good friend, league director Jim Wiggins, a trim man in his fifties, said. "We started this league in 1971 so that children in the city would have something constructive to do while on summer vacation.
Various local business and civic organizations banded together in 1968, he said, in the aftermath of urban disturbances precipitated when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, to try to solve some of the city's frustrations. "With so much derogatory media exposure given problems in the inner city, everyone involved was persuaded that in summer, these people (blacks) would start a riot or something if there was nothing to do," said Wiggins, tongue-in cheek.
"When all this started, we felt it would be nice to go out and prove all people can work together if there is something to work for. Actually, it's just an experiment in capitalism for the kids. They collect the gate, run the concession stands, do much of the paperwork. For most, it's their first exposure to real business. All we grownups do is provide guidance and leadership," he said.
The league gets support from the Marriott Corporation, Xerox, Georgetown University, the Bullets organization, the University of Maryland, Smith Lithograph Company and Ely Furniture, among others.
After gym rentals, referees' fees and other items necessary for the league's upkeep are met, some volunteers, like Roy Westmore, still must go into their own pockets to help out with expenses.
"I've gotten telephone bills of more than $300 trying to reach some of the pro players," said Westmore.
Georgetown University coach John Thompson, a member of the Urban Coalition board, was asked how the league might begin to make a profit. Thompson said, "We could pack the house if we wanted to. All we'd need to do is move out to the suburbs and find an air-conditioned gym . . . but we'd be getting away from the original concept.
"This league was started so inner city kids could see top-flight basketball for a minimal charge . . . I just wish the Redskins would put their (basketball) team in here. You know, it's a helluva thing when a 10-year-old kid can go hime and tell his friends how he just brushed past a sweating Adrian Dantley. I know they (the Redskins) sell out every game anyway, but it certainly wouldn't hurt them," he said.
Urban Coalition ball is the kind of league in which a team that has a 30-point lead midway in the third quarter can eventually lose by 122-117, which is what University of Tennessee-bound James Ratiff's Executive III team did in a Friday night matchup with the Urban Coalition team.
On Saturday, while Dantley's team, Pappy Parker's, which is coached by former Bullets television colorman, Chuck Taylor, was playing only well enough to stay in front of Executive III by just a few points, Urban Coalition graduate Moses Malone was up in the stands signing autographs for kids.
Malone, now an NBA Houston Rocket, is a favorite in Washington and comes to play here in summer when family business calls, and his Rolls is usually surrounded by a crowd of well-wishers and children when he visits.
Inside, there is much gossip around the gym that Malone is only back here to try and lure the Bullets' Elvin Hayes from his off-season home in Houston to give Elvin some lessons in eating the ball and on how to drive to the basket for a layup.
"We saw you, Mo. We saw you DO it to 'E' on tee-vee," hollers a young fan from the stands. "Bet he won't say nothin' bout YOU bein' scared no more," the fan says with a big smile - a reference to statements by Hayes BEFORE the NBA playoffs that certain NBA players were afraid of him.
The Bullets, Urban Coalition league champions for the last three years in a row, have had an excellent college draft this spring and should be favorites to continue their dominance at tournament time again this year, but the speculation time again their chances continues is a favorite topic at the gym.