- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 12, 2012

It’s safe to say that the NBA finals will feature the matchup that most fans wanted to see — Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant against Miami Heat forward LeBron James.

But as any devoted summer-league fan will tell you, they saw it first. Last August, Durant and James thrilled a standing-room-only crowd at Morgan State University in a game that featured the Goodman League vs. the Melo League, and a one-on-one matchup that was highlight of the night.

The exposure helped elevate the Goodman League to arguably the top league in the country. At least, that’s what commissioner Miles Rawls has been telling the folks at Nike.

“I’ve been on the phone with Nike since last summer telling them I’m the top league in the country. They have to make my facility the same way,” Rawls said.

Nike agreed, and the athletic-apparel giant commited to a $150,000 upgrade of the basketball court and bleachers this offseason.

“Last week, we had over 1,000 people here for every game. The NBA lockout truly helped us. It took the Goodman League up another notch.”

The upgrades allowed Rawls, who is beginning his 16th season as commissioner, to make another major change to the summer basketball league that has been a unifying presence in Washington since 1977.

For the first time, the Junior Goodman League will accomodate players in two categories — 12-and-under and 13-and-over. The 16-team junior league competes in AAU competitions nationwide and plays two nights a week at Barry Farms.

“It’s something we’ve been trying to encourage them to have for a while,” said Donald Toatley, coach of the 12-and-under ‘Team Takeover’ which played against ‘Bump and Run’ on Monday night inside the gates. “We see the impact this league has on the community with the older kids, and so many of the younger kids want to follow in the footsteps of their local heroes.”

Lincoln Park coach and webmaster Mac Williams, like Rawls, credits the NBA lockout for making the junior league possible and improving the overall stature of the Goodman League.

“We got elevated to a status where we’re talked about on a national stage,” Williams said.

The league still attracts NBA talent. Sacramento Kings forward Donte Green played for Williams’ team last week, and Philadelphia 76ers forward Sam Young showed up as a spectator.

“Our Web traffic has gone up, our social media presence has grown and we have more teams than we did a year ago.”