Perhaps these games are becoming commonplace now. Or perhaps, with just one week to get the word out, not enough people knew about the game. But whatever the cause, a surprisingly sparse crowd of about 200 showed up at Coolidge High School to see the "Clash of the Superstars," the latest in a series of summer-league games starring locked-out NBA players.
And just like one would expect at an All-Star game, the NBA's best did not disappoint. They put on a great show for the crowd, displaying jaw-dropping offensive exploits, and playing little to no defense. The headliners were John Wall and Kevin Durant, along with Michael Beasley, Jeff Green, DeMarcus Cousins and Kemba Walker, among others.
Like the recent Drew vs. Goodman League game held at Trinity on Aug. 20, or the Goodman vs. Melo League game in Baltimore on Aug. 30, this game also featured a myriad of sensational plays. On display were cross-court and behind-the-back passes, alley-oop dunks, spin moves to the basket and 3-point shots launched from just inside the half-court line.
"Playing in these games is great," Wall said. "It's a chance for the fans that don't have the chance to come to Verizon Center to see us play. I still get a chance to work on my game and play against other NBA players."
Wall has also been lighting up the Impact Basketball lockout league in Las Vegas.
"It's going great. I'm averaging 42 [points per game] right now," Wall said.
But unlike the previous contests, Saturday's game had none of the fierce competitive fire of the other two. There were no bragging rights on the line this time, and by the fourth quarter, several players, including Wall and Beasley, were entertaining the crowd with 360 slam-dunk attempts. Both teams wore identical, Nike-sponsored uniforms with the words "Basketball Never Stops."
Durant and Wall were teamed up, wearing the black jerseys, and connected on more than a few crowd-pleasing plays. The final score was 144-128 in favor of the black-shirted squad.
"He's going to be an All-Star in the league for years to come," Durant said of Wall. "It's a joy to be on the same court with him."
Despite his commitment to summer-league games, Durant also expressed disappointment with the lack of progress in the labor talks.
"We all want to get a deal done. We want to start [the season] on time, but we have to stand up and fight for what's right for us as players, and hopefully everything goes well," Durant said. "I'm going to continue to keep being positive about the situation."
Durant admitted that he's at least considering going overseas to play, but as of right now, it looks like he will stay here and just continue to work out.
There are other lockout games on the schedule in addition to the Vegas league. The Goodman League players will play in a Pro-Am game in Indianapolis on Saturday, Sept. 24, and are scheduled to take on the Rucker League in New York on Oct. 1. The Melo League team from Baltimore will play in Philadelphia on Sept. 25.
There will also be more local games, although like Saturday's "Clash of the Superstars," there's no telling how quickly it will be put together.
These lockout-league games are the next best thing right now, since labor talks have stalled and the actual start of the NBA season could be months away. In the meantime, players are able to stay in shape and continue to play, and fans can come and watch stars in action for a fraction of the cost of an NBA game.
The only problem with the next best thing is, it isn't the real thing. There was no better evidence of that than watching a few NBA stars play a pick-up game in a half-empty high school gym on a rainy Saturday afternoon.
"We all love the game of basketball," Durant said. "Hopefully we can get back to showing our skills in the NBA."
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