NEW YORK — “A technical foul in a streetball game?” someone in the crowd yelled. “Are you kidding me?”
Many who know the inside-outs of playground basketball will tell you there is no such thing as getting T’d up. It’s a forbidden unwritten rule. But what that spectator didn’t realize was that this was much more than a New York City pickup game.
It was Game 2 of The People’s Games, a best-of-three series between New York City and Los Angeles, headlined by some of the best nonprofessional ballers in each city. Game 1 had been played two days earlier in Venice Beach, Calif. The inaugural event was a chance for the “common man” — who had no playing contract, no endorsements and no threat of a lockout — to rep their hometown and come out victorious.
Of course, it was anything but commonplace.
On Monday night, an NBA-like hardwood court with “The People’s Games” painted on the surface was assembled in the North Plaza of Union Square Park on 17th Street between Broadway and Park Avenue South.
The following afternoon, a picture-perfect sunny and slightly breezy day, hundreds of passersby arrived for the 5 p.m. ET tipoff. The court setting felt like it had been transplanted from Madison Square Garden and inserted into the Gramercy neighborhood of Manhattan. In addition to the playing surface, there was a PA announcer, a DJ, mop guys, fan contests and even a halftime show featuring teenage girls from the National Double Dutch League.
To top it all off, New York Knicks Hall of Famer Earl “The Pearl” Monroe and former Los Angeles Lakers star Lucius Allen paced opposite ends of the sideline. If Monroe’s New York team won, Game 3 would be held the next day on the campus of The City College of New York. But in the end, missed foul shots doomed the hometown boys and Allen’s Los Angeles squad prevailed 58-55.
“It was a different experience,” said Monroe, who was assisted by his daughter, Maya, the head coach at the College of Saint Elizabeth in Morristown, N.J., ex-Knicks point guard Geoff Huston, and former NBA coach Cliff Morgan. “I guess I was a little more into this game than the Knicks, only because I’m here coaching it. I’m just happy to have been able to be here to participate with these guys. They’re a good bunch of guys. We played pretty well, all things considered. Free throws really knocked us out.”
To capture how The People’s Games was really constructed, you have to go back to a beach day in California a few years ago. Co-founders Terry Jastrow, a seven-time Emmy Award-winning producer, and Armyan Bernstein, the chairman of Beacon Pictures, were literally walking by the waves with their families when they came up with the idea.
“[Armyan] said, ‘I’ve always had a secret wish, a secret dream,’” Jastrow says, reflecting on their conversation. “He said, ‘What happens if we go into the neighborhoods and we section it off, sort of like March Madness, so that the neighborhoods would play each other. They would have teams and they’d play each other to a city champion. No pros, just like the common man.’ And I said, ‘Oh, The People’s Games.’ And he stopped and said, ‘You got it, you got it.’”
While Jastrow and Bernstein were brainstorming further, they decided to start with a basketball competition between NYC and LA. They then wanted two iconic coaches, one to represent each city. After getting a commitment from Allen, a two-time NCAA champion at UCLA who played under John Wooden, Allen led Jastrow and Bernstein to a New York legend.
“[Lucius] said some version of, ‘Man, I hate to do this, but your guy is Earl Monroe,’” Jastrow says, laughing. “He said, ‘He’s a really great friend of mine and he’s a lovely guy.’”
All it took was one lunch meeting with Monroe, and he was on board. Jastrow was honored to have such “basketball royalty” taking part in the inaugural event, which commenced with tryouts in March. There were only three rules for participants: They had to be at least 18 years old, a resident of New York City or Los Angeles, and have no previous professional hoops experience.
After three tryouts, the 16-member NYC team was chosen, with ages ranging from 22 to 35 and every borough represented except for Staten Island. But these weren’t just talented ballplayers. Some of them were just fortunate to be alive, let alone be able to play in The People’s Games. Each guy had the makings of his own documentary.
Majestic Mapp, 29, a former McDonald’s All-American who tore his ACL his freshman year in college, is now trading commodities on Wall Street, including heating oil, crude oil, natural gas and gasoline. Durell Watson, 28, suffered four stab wounds (one was about an inch away from causing permanent paralysis) while growing up in the drug-ridden Brownsville section of Brooklyn, and is now a caseworker for individuals with mental illness. Daniel Alotta, 35, is a Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor who is now cancer-free and working in the fashion and restaurant business. Others were holding down two jobs just to make a living and one is even unemployed, having been laid off a few months prior.
“For the most part, everybody comes from some kind of situation that separates them from someone else,” Mapp said. “You just like the fact that no one has given up. Everyone is moving on, moving forward with their lives and not letting basketball be the end all, be all of their lives.”
“The most important thing is that they’re here and they’re participating and competing,” Monroe said. “We formed kind of a bond, a little family. Whatever else happens out there, that happens. But within our circle, we’re family.”
Jastrow and Bernstein’s vision for The People’s Games is to expand to other sports, including football, baseball and soccer, and add more tournament-style competitions in other major cities in the U.S. Their ultimate goal is to sell the concept to television as a reality series.
After the game, Mapp, who had played on some of basketball’s biggest stages from high school at St. Raymond to college at Virginia, said he had never been involved with an event quite like this.
“No, not at all,” Mapp said. “They put on a good show — an experience I will never forget.”
What can you say about the Mavs? Their gun is always full and they don’t stop shooting until its empty. The Mavs are 25-8 and on a tear. Caron Butler has finally found his comfort zone and has become the scoring threat they traded for. Jason Kidd is averaging a respectable 8.8pt per game and a solid 8 assist. And the addition of energy man Tyson Chandler in the middle Dallas has become a team to fear.
But let’s not pop the cork on the champagne just yet. Least we forget this is not the first time they were formidable in the regular season and washed out with the first tide in the playoffs. The Mavericks have been a more solid defensive team. But at the end of the day Dirk Norwitz is still a defensive liability and as long as he is the face of the Franchise they will never grasps that elusive Larry Obrien trophy. And this is not a statement of disrespect he is a legitimate NBA All Star but only on the offensive end. He has to be on the floor because he is a big part of the offensive, but at other end it’s 5 on 4. Norwitz is two steps to slow and still can’t remember when the last time he registered a block shot. Even with a modified zone defense everybody still knows where the hole is.
So let’s cheer and pat each other on the back the regular season is still here. But when it’s all said and done I’ll pass the popcorn while I’m watching the finals on TV. Just like them.
At the end of last season everyone thought that the spurs had seen their last to rodeo. The Richard Jefferson experiment had failed, and that the core group should be let out to pasture. That maybe it was time for Tony Parker to lead another cattle drive. Well let’s hold that thought.
The Spurs are 29-4 and have the best record in the league. Manu Ginobili opted to stay, Jefferson looks rejuvenated, and the spurs seem to be on a quest to go back to the finals. With a general like Popovich you can always be sure that he would find a way to rally the troops back to prosperity. Even though Tim Duncan is averaging a career low 13.6 points he is still an important piece of this puzzle. Popovich has an 11 player rotation; everyone knows their role and plays it to perfection.
This is a dangerous team, one that is giving notice that they can still ride the bull for eight seconds or better. With balance scoring and a solid bench it’s time that everyone takes notice that the spurs have a championship caliber team. That average fan might not like the way they play, not enough flash but at the end of the day they get the job done. You don’t want to have to play them in a seven game series. So, don’t put your saddle in the barn just yet, because the Spurs may just have one more championship ride left in them. Giddiup!!
Let’s not break out the champagne or stuff the all star ballot just yet. While it’s been great to see the Knicks on a roll, let’s not forget who they’ve been beating. All the recent wins have come against teams with subpar records.
There is good and bad to this, the good is they are doing a lot better than last year at this time beating the teams they should be. But even with that, most of these have been close calls. Last week they needed last second heroics by Raymond Felton to beat Toronto a team that won’t make play-offs. Now to this point Amare Stoudimre is having an all star season. The only true all stars New York has had in a long time, no disrespect to David Lee. This team is a definite upgrade from last season in just about every position. Wilson Chandler has become a solid option on both ends of the floor. Raymond Felton makes you forget that Chris Duhon ever conned a Knick uniform. And Landry Field has made his mark and become a fan favorite; he will be in a NBA uniform for years to come. Now back to reality.
Even with all the modifications and upgrades we’re still looking at an eight seed seventh at best and a first round ousting in the play-offs. But this is a start on the road to redemption to building it from the ground up and making the Knicks respectable one again.
The sun seems to be rising once again in south beach. Lebron and coach Sopolta have seemed to kiss and made up and any ill effects that Dwayne Wade was feeling have worn off. So now the 3 amigos work for midable. Even Igulskous has been rejuvenated but we won’t be planning any parade just yet, there are cracks in the amour that would leave to their demises. While Chris Bosh is still an all star he’s not having an all star season. Team has discovered his weakness and is surrounding him like Custer. He is the only real inside at his last stand threat but has been relegated to making the jump shot his main weapon. I still contend that an upgrade at point guard is needed to carry this team deep into a play-off run. With that and no real strong role players the heat are at this point a good team but not a great team. Christmas day will be a good gauge of were they are at this point when we all get a gift in a Lakers vs. heat showdown. I do think that next season will be different and they will be stronger and a lot more dangerous. But this season they will take a backseat to the Celtics who made them look like a deer caught in the head lights in their previous encounter. The road to the finals will go thru Shamrock City and unfortunately for the heat at the end of the rainbow there will be not pot of gold. So for now we will enjoy some high lights and a good competitive season, but when it is all said and done the sun will set in south beach with the three amigos seating on lawn chairs and drinking mojitos.
As with anything in life, nothing is guaranteed. If it were up to the masses, we would have our ring ceremony now and bow our heads to the new basketball royalty, the “Miami Heat”. But….. let’s not do that just yet; there is still a season to be played. As good as it all might sound, “Bosh with the rebound passes it to Wade, Wade with a long pass to James who finishes with a monster dunk”. Now back to reality. For now, the Celtics are still the reigning Eastern Conference champions. No one is going to step aside to crown new champions without a fight.
Miami’s Big 3 should be good for at least 60 points per game, after that, it could just be pot luck. Miller has to return to his form of a few years ago, as 6 man-of-the-year and a dangerous knockdown shooter. You have a core of veteran players that, truth be told, are at the end of their careers (i.e. Ilgaukus and Howard). Eddie House can still show sparks of being a threat, but can he do that consistently? Arroyo has an easy job– all he has to do is get the ball past half court, pass it, and move out of the way. That glory game of Puerto Rico vs. USA is a distant memory and he has yet to return to that form.
Face it, if any one of the Big 3 go down it won’t be a large margin that separates the Heat from the other teams in the pack. As much as everyone wants to have ring ceremony in south beach, lets face facts: it’s not going to be a walk in the park. So, lets not start looking for a place on the mantle just yet for the O’Brien trophy because there are still miles to go before anyone reaches the finish line.
Last year the Knicks wallowed in mediocrity, and waited to anoint a King. Well the king ran to Miami and we settled for a Prince. When you stack up the numbers, the Knicks look a lot better on paper than they did the previous two seasons, but you still have to play the game. You’ve lost David Lee, that’s 20 points and 11 rebounds a game ,to go along with a “never-say-die” attitude. You’ve gained Amare Stoudemire, 22 points and 7 rebounds per game; not as tough, not as gritty, but a lot more spectacular and respected as an elite player. You’ve improved the front line with Anthony Randolph, 11 points 6 rebounds, Azubuike, 13 points 4 rebounds, and grit to the bone; Turiaf, 5 points 5 rebounds, who will do the things that don’t show up on the Stat sheet. Gone is Harrington, 17 points 5 rebounds, a good scorer but a paper dragon on defense.
Along with him is Chris Duhon. What can you say about Duhon except he played for Duke, and with that, enough said. Gallinari at 15 points 5 rebounds had a solid year, but this season could rely a tad bit less on the jumper and try some of the dribble moves, preferably toward the basket. The loss of Rodriguez will hurt as the season rumbles on if Felton goes down. Felton is a solid hard-nosed guard, not the same as Nash who spoon-fed Amare for dunks and easy lay-ups. But nonetheless, should be able to lead this team to a few more wins than last year. I can see the Knicks scrapping and clawing to the 8th spot, respectfully, and making the playoffs. After that, all bets are off. One can only hope that coach D’Antoni understands by then that defense is what champions are made of, and will start to emphasize this to his team.
It would be nice to bring the Knicks back to their glory days, and remember the Willis Reed “walk-down-the-tunnel” for what it was, one of pride, glory, sacrifice and team spirit. Let the basketball Gods once again shine upon the building that is considered the Mecca of Basketball. It starts here from the first jump ball and goes to the last tick of the clock. Lets take that long walk back to glory!