They weren’t playing for bragging rights, as they did when the local Goodman League challenged the Los Angeles-based Drew League last month at Trinity University. Kevin Durant wasn’t staging an individual duel with LeBron James, as he did at Morgan State three weeks ago.
But, while the “Clash of the Superstars” exhibition on Saturday lacked the intensity and jam-packed, energetic crowds of previous charity games in the region, there wasn’t a shortage on NBA talent, with Durant, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Jeff Green, Greg Monroe, Michael Beasley and Kemba Walker taking the floor at Calvin Coolidge High in Northwest.
The game started about an hour late, with several players strolling into the gym after the scheduled 3 p.m. start. A sparse crowd of a few hundred fans was in attendance. For the players, it was a chance to stay sharp, even as little progress has been made in labor negotiations between the owners and the players’ union.
“I just want to play basketball. That’s why you see me out here,” Wall said after scoring 40 points as his black team won, 144-128. “I’m ready for them to get [the lockout] over with so they can see us play during the season.”
Talks stalled when both sides met in New York on Tuesday, suggesting that the season won’t start on time, if at all. Owners are demanding a hard salary cap and players refuse to budge. Training camps are scheduled to begin on Oct. 3, and Wall suggested that more would have to be done to reach an agreement.
“I think we’re going to have to have guys like Kobe [Bryant], LeBron, the face of the NBA, to step up and say something,” said Wall, who was in Las Vegas this week when National Basketball Players Association President Derek Fisher and executive director Billy Hunter updated the players on the labor impasse. “Derek Fisher and those guys are doing a great job, but I just want it to be over. I can’t really say too much. I only have one year under my belt. . . . I just want to sit back, learn and listen and see what’s going on during the meetings.”
Durant, who played on the same team as Wall and Cousins, has moved into the NBA elite in recent years and was asked if he felt that more of the league’s premier stars, such as Bryant and James, needed to take a more prominent role in the negotiations. “That could help as well, but everybody knows all the top-tier guys in the league want to be involved in it, they want to be locked into what’s going on, but because of what we have going on as players, throughout the summer, we can’t be in some of the meetings,” he said. “But we are going to stand behind the union. We all want to get a deal done. We want to start on time, but we have to stand up and fight for what’s right for us as players. Just stand up.”
While Durant doesn’t want to lose a large chunk of the season, he said the players have to push for a deal that works for them. “I think we’re going to stand up and stick to what we want,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to give into a deal just because we want the season to start. I know fans don’t want to hear that, but it’s kind of tough to put us in that position. but hopefully everything gets resolved here soon and we don’t have to worry about it. That’s a tough one to swallow, if the season is not going to start, but I’m staying positive.”
The uncertainly of the labor situation wasn’t lost at the game. When Walker, a first-round draft pick of the Charlotte Bobcats, made a long jumper in the first half, commentator Miles Rawls remarked, “Kemba Walker, yet to get a paycheck. He’s upset.”
“It’s basketball. It’s what we get paid to do, unfortunately, we’re not getting paid to do it now. But the show don’t stop,” Beasley said. “I have no control over it, so I’m just going to keep working hard and keep working on my game and I’m going to showcase my talents to whoever is watching.”
Wall will return to Las Vegas next week, where about 70 players are participating in the Impact Basketball Competitive Training Series, which has affectionately been called “the lockout league.” Durant won’t play in Las Vegas, but he said last month that he would wait until Oct. 1 to make a decision about playing overseas, since he had attracted attention from teams in Turkey and Russia. He appeared to hedge when asked on Saturday about playing overseas.
“I’m thinking about it, but I’m going to take it a day at a time. We’ll see what happens in these next few weeks,” he said. “If I do go over there, so be it, but if not, I stay here and work out and try to get better. It’s looking like more a chance I stay here than anything. But I don’t know, anything can happen. We’ll see what happens.”