As a steady trickle of fans worked their way inside the Palestra, a 20-something wearing a classic Kelly green DeSean Jackson jersey and sporting a few days worth of beard stubble leaned against a bike rack and jabbered loudly into his phone. He sounded frantic.
Well, is he coming or not? he asked. It was half question, half pout. I cant believe this. He has the tickets. Ive been waiting for this for so long.
He looked so forlorn. After all, he had been waiting for this for so long -- for a pick-up basketball game during a lockout. What a disappointment?
Im not sure if Sadface McCriesalot made it in to see the hysterically hyped Battle for I-95 on Sunday night. Either way, he didnt miss much. The game pitted Team Philly against Team Melo in something billed as The Chosen League. Really it was a low-rent carnival disguised as basketball -- loud music, loud fans, loud dunks, but not much in the way of actual competition. It was like an NBA All-Star game, only with fewer All-Stars and even less defense.
Team Philly featured Lou Williams, Hakim Warrick, Kyle Lowry, Tyreke Evans and some others. Team Melo included Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, LeBron James and...some others. It was hard to nail down who was actually playing for which team. When I asked someone who helped organize the exhibition if there was a roster somewhere, he pointed to the back of a random dudes T-shirt. The names were stamped on there, he said. I tried to write them all down, but the guy kept moving.
And so it went. The Palestra was packed by 6 p.m. -- tickets went for between 35 and 50 -- but the crowd had to wait longer than expected for tip-off. The people in charge whispered that the game was delayed because some of the bigger names were busy getting massages. You cant rush a deep-tissue rubdown. These things take time.
In lieu of their names, the players wore jerseys with BBNS across the shoulders -- supposedly an abbreviation for Basketball Never Stops. I guess the copy editors missed the superfluous b, or maybe they didnt care. In any event, Philly beat the Melos, 131-122. If youre wondering, there were officials on-hand and fouls were called and everything. Given that not much defense was played, they should have just taken the ball out at the top of the key instead of shooting free throws.
I think LeBron, who got booed quite often, led all scorers with something like eleventy hundred points. Thats unofficial. There was a stat sheet, but I didnt bother reading the final version since the half-time print-out had John Salmons going 0 for 2 from the field.
Neat trick. Salmons didnt play and wasnt at the game.
As effort goes, you have to give the players (some) credit for getting together and putting on a show -- it was a better atmosphere than most Sixers games -- in an attempt to stay relevant as the lockout slogs along with no end approaching in the foreseeable future. Similar contests have already been played in New York, Los Angeles, Baltimore and Las Vegas. And with the recent news that training camps and preseason games have been canceled through at least mid-October, there might be more of these sloppily cobbled-together exhibitions still to come. Even so, you have to wonder how many people are broken up about the work stoppage and eager for the NBA to return to business as usual.
I suppose it was nice enough that some professional talent packed the Palestra in the interest of remaining relevant, but in the grand scheme the event probably didnt do all that much to get more publicity for the sport or the NBAs attendant business unrest. This is still only the second most important lockout of the last year, after all. When the NFL was going through its labor negotiation issues, the NFL Network and other sports stations bombarded viewers with daily reminders that nothing was happening: This is Day 98 of the NFL Lockout, an over-earnest anchor would drone breathlessly each morning, doing his or her best to deliver the news that there was no news.
That hasnt exactly been the case with the NBA lockout. Its been covered, but the media hasnt two-hand thunder jammed it down anyones throat, and it doesnt seem to carry the same what-will-we-do-without-hoops hysteria that accompanied the NFL lockout. Hardcore NBA fans clearly care about all this, but comparatively the NBA lockout is like the middle child of work stoppages -- desperate for attention but mostly ignored.
People will wake up on Monday and check the NFL scores and Major League Baseball scores, but its hard to imagine too many people closely examining the "Battle for I-95" stats. Thats Ok. As battles go, it wasnt much of one.
E-mail John Gonzalez at firstname.lastname@example.org