The game started almost 45 minutes late, but the fans didn’t mind. They were waiting for Kevin Durant. The assembled roster was worthy of an NBA All-Star game, but in this city, Durant is the player that moves the needle.
It was the second marquee summer league game in as many weeks, with the Drew vs. Goodman game held at Trinity University in D.C., on Saturday, and the Goodman vs. Melo League held at Morgan State University in Baltimore on Tuesday. Both were NBA All-Star game wrapped in the casual atmosphere of the summer leagues, and both games delivered.
“Traffic was really bad,” Durant said after the game, apologizing for his late arrival. He was worth the wait.
In a battle that would rival any NBA finals contest, the highlight of the evening was a hard fought, one-on-one battle between Durant and LeBron James, each delivering a show-stopping offensive performance while being guarded by the other.
“He’s such a great player. I have so much respect for him. He’s one of the greatest players to ever play this game. He’s a great defender and a great scorer. It was fun,” Durant said of going head-to-head with James for much of the game.
Durant won the scoring contest with 59 points, while James scored 32, but the final score was almost an afterthought. The Melo League, up by as much as 20 points, held on for the win, 149-141.
The Goodman League team had Durant, Jarrett Jack, Jeff Green, and Trevor Booker among the NBA players, while the Melo League had a little more star power, with James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul as the headliners. Inevitable comparisons will no-doubt be made to how one great player can hold his own against a team that has its own Big Three.
“They have a couple of nine millimeters, but we have a bazooka,” Goodman League Commissioner Miles Rawls said before the game. Rawls, who helped organize the game, called it a special night.
“When you have players like this on the same court, when you add KD and LeBron and Carmelo and CP-3, it really steps up the summer league games. I’m proud to be a part of this,” Rawls said.
Durant’s reputation as a summer league legend is well know in the Washington–Baltimore area, but being active in the summer league is the only way the Oklahoma City Thunder forward, and the NBA’s two-time scoring champion, wants to spend his summer.
“Even before we had a lockout this season, I was playing summer league basketball. I was always playing in pickup games. That’s all I’m doing right now is playing basketball,” Durant said.
“Before the lockout, my coaches said that the best thing I can do is to simulate game time situations, so that’s what I’m trying to do. That’s the way to get better as a player,” Durant said.
Other than the defense, which was about the same level of intensity as a typical all-star game, the excitement level was at a fever pitch throughout the game. The standing room only crowd cheered from the opening tip, and was not disappointed in the level of basketball on display.
Paul, who put on a dribbling and ball-handling display worthy of a Harlem Globetrotter, connected with James and Anthony on several highlight plays, including cross court passes, spin moves past defenders, and rim-shaking dunks.
“The summer league is where we learn to play,” Paul said.
Fans are waiting in anxiously for the next all-star summer league showdown, but Durant said he’s not sure when the next one will be just yet.
“That’s the reason why we want to end the lockout and get the season going,” said Durant, who called the atmosphere “crazy.”
“It’s for fans like this.”