Walt Wiggins watched in a frenzy yesterday as the guard on the Bata Shoes team snatched the ball from the big center on the Smirnoff squad, Wiggin's favorite team.
The guard, a streak of green uniform and brown legs, dashed toward the hoop.
It looked as if it would be an easy layup. But then he lofted the ball into the air near the side of the rim and watched an airborne teammate soar across the court, snatch the ball in midair and ram it through the loop.
"Nasty! OOH!" came the cries from a delighted crowd.
Wiggins was irate. "CHURCH!" he screamed across the gym at a disgusted Chuck Taylor, onetime sports announcer who is coach of the dispirited Smirnoff team. "Chuck! Why didn't you call timeout when I told you to! Pump 'em up, Chuck! Pump 'em up, Chuck -- or dont' come over this way!"
Fans of Urban Coalition Summer League Basketball don't withhold comment until the postgame show. Thousands of the faithful turn out every weekend for league contests at Dunbar High School, First and N streets NW. It's the best summer game in town.
"It gets more popular every year," said James Wiggins Rj., (no relation to Walt Wiggins), son of James Wiggins Sr., who founded the league in 1971. The league comprises 10 men's teams -- whose players range from college recruits to National Basketball Association stars -- and six women's teams. Players are not paid. "You watch," James Wiggins said, "by the end of the afternoon we'll have 4,000, maybe 5,000 people in here," as well as 200 to 300 waiting outside for the privilege of squeezing their way into the 2,500-seat gymnasium.
However, several disappointments awaited fans this weekend.
On Saturday, John Thompson's Metromedia 5, comprising Georgetown University recruits -- including Patrick Ewing, the top slam-dunk specialist in American college basketball -- failed to show for a match against some of the Washington Bullets. The anticipated confrontation had become the talk of the league.
And yesterday, Moses Malone, the rugged Houston Rockets center nicknamed the "Chairman of the Boards," failed to appear, depriving fans of a display of the rebounding and scoring prowess that led his team to a second-place finish in this year's NBA playoffs.
Neither of the no-shows dimmed the enthusiasm of loyal regulars such as Walt Wiggins and dozens of others who watch the free games no matter who decides to play. Often the lineups include professional players either home or visiting during the summer break.
"I come every weekend, and I'm here from the first game till the last second ticks off the clock," said Pearl Leonard, 19, who rides the bus for an hour and a half from far Southwest to attend. "The Georgetown team's my favorite; the tell me I'm the coach, the cheerleader and the number one fan."
Other fans last weekend included 6-month-old Jason Allen, who was passed from the arms of his mother Donna to his aunt Marcia to his grandmother Juanita Castle and back again as the game went on. The family came out to watch Jason's daddy Vernon play for the Smirnoffs, who took a 142-117 drubbing from the Batas despite the high-volume instructions of Walt Wiggins and his friend, D.C. police officer J. R. Shaw.
"That's STUPID, Chuck!" screamed Wiggins and Shaw -- sometimes in unison, sometimes in rapid-fire succession. "Let your big man shoot outside if you don't have anybody. . . . Aw, man!
"Teach your boys how to play defense!" shouted Wiggins, as the Batas again penetrated the befuddled Smirnoff defense to execute another slam dunk.
Later, during the break before the second game, Shaw described his reason for attending the games. "See, I really come just to yell. I shouted so much this week I'm hoarse."
The men's teams play 40 games between mid-June and early August, followed by a playoff.The women play 15 games during June and July.
"These games are great becuse they're free," Shaw said. "Not everybody can afford the price of a ticket to the Bullets, so with this, I can bring a bunch of kids from the neighborhood, and they have the opportunity to come out here and really get close to the stars. They can see that there's something to be gained by working hard.
"Right?" he asked one young fan sitting on the edge of the adjacent front-row seat.
"Yeah, it's kinda fun," answered Gary Lewis, a shy 10-year-old from Southeast. "But I really wanted the red team to win, because they're always losing."
There are also "lessons" for players who fail to live up to the expectations of the more vocal members of the crowd.
"There's a lot of, uh, direct criticism," laughed Greg (Mr. G) Sanders, a 6-foot-6 guard with the Big M Trotters who was a draft pick of the New York Knicks in 1978. Sanders failed to make the team, but still hopes for a career in professional basketball.
"If they don't like what you're doing," Sanders said, "you'll hear somebody yelling, "Take him out! Did you get him off the street?' and a lot of other stuff. But I don't mind. I can develop my skills, I can improve on the things I need to make it into the NBA."
"This is a community thing, really," said another fan, who identified herself only as Joyce. "Everybody likes the sport. They've been coming here so long that everybody knows each other. It's like a family. That's the only way they could get away with all this."