Matt from Hardwood Paroxysm headed to New Orleans for the All-Star madness last weekend. Well, actually, he was there for the Celebrity Game and the D-League All-Star Games. Today: The D-League All-Star Game.
"Basketball is basketball."
That's what I kept telling myself on the long drive through the swamplands to New Orleans. I'd be covering the D-League All-Star events in the "Dream Factory" on Friday Night. This was to include a three-point contest, a dunk contest, and most noticeably, a HORSE contest. The word was that this was a test to see if the format was marketable for inclusion in the League's All-Star events next year.
But D-League? I'd seen some of the play, but not enough to really get a feel for the whole league, and not in an All-Star competition. Would this somehow be worse than the actual All-Star events? Would the players have the same level of intensity, just less talent, resulting in a cringe-inducing affair that I would of course have to rip mercilessly? I was hoping for aptitude, not excellence. I was hoping for "king of cool" not "the most amazing thing I've ever seen." I was hoping for anything better than, "that sucked."
And honestly? It was pretty cool.
I could try and make it out to be some sort of jaw-dropping display of unseen talent, under the radar, like the White Stripes playing in your neighbor's basement. Or I could try and make this into some sort of deep struggle, the players all vying for their shot at the big time in front of scouts and coaches. Or I could pull the "dreams" approach and spin it like it had something to do with the players wanting to prove something to themselves and others.
But that, of course, would be bullshit.
It's not to say that there wasn't talent. On the other hand, the entire weekend I was impressed with the flashes of brilliance I saw. Kasib Powell's agility. Jeremy Richardson's stroke. Elton Brown's force, Lance Allred's basketball IQ, and Brent Petway's ability to forcefully throw the ball down through the hoop in what is referred to as a "dunk." And the step above everyone else that Morris Almond has.
But for the most part, it was just a collection of D-League players hanging out and showing off, while trying not to get hurt.
I had a chance to interview a few of the players, and they all had the same thing to say when I asked them if they felt like this was a good opportunity to showcase their talents for scouts, coaches and fans.
"Not so much," they all said. It was mostly jut a chance for them to have fun.
I spoke with Rod Benson ("Boom Tho!") and he summed it up best. The All-Star game is more of a chance for the players to be recognized for their contribution and have some fun than to showcase their talents.
The HORSE Contest
The big draw of Friday night was the HORSE contest. Anything that brings out Abbott, Skeets and Tony Mejia is kind of a big deal in D-League terms. And considering it's been hailed by bloggers as the missing piece of All-Star weekend in the League, it was the biggest D-League event of the weekend.
Jeremy Richardson: Frequent NBA call-up and leader of D-League in 3-point percentage. Also, leads the league in number of times he's been called up and said "Holy shit, Fabricio Oberto is actually considered a better baller than me. Kill me."
Lance Allred: The All-American hero. Told me before the contest that he was still rehabbing a bone bruise (and he showed it to me!) so he was going in cold. A colleague of mine responded, "Yeah. Bone bruise" and mimed masturbation (and he showed me!). Also, a center and therefore a huge underdog.
Morris Almond: Arguably the best player in the D-League. Arguably the biggest mouth in the D-League. My favorite line from his blog? "It's the D-League... I'm supposed to wreck it." Almond scored 53 points in a game earlier this season, and followed it up by taking home the most D-League groupies ever (1).
Kasib Powell: 20 pts, 6 rebounds per game. Voted Best D-League Website by Ukranian Thunder Whores.
The games were only slated to last five minutes, to make sure they didn't drag on in case they bombed. Good call. If this was a disaster, you want it over with as soon as possible. They used the 24-second clock, which was also pretty smart, since there's nothing funnier than seeing unimpressed professional minor-league basketball players trying to vomit up a shot because they're out of time. Because that's awesome.
You apparently couldn't dunk, but layups were allowed. Probably so the dunk contest would have a point. Unfortunately, the first round abandoned this possibility.
Allred apparently thought it was crappy that no one thought he had a snowball's chance in hell. Because he pretty much wrecked Richardson in the first round. They started out not really knowing what to do, just shooting bank jumpers. The crowd started looking at one another, like "What? Is this it?" Allred did manage to hit an eyes-closed free throw that sealed the deal to advance.
Almond and Powell had no such plans to keep it straight up with jumpers. Off the floor shots, 360 three-pointers, and behind the backboard shots were all a part of their contest. Here was the interesting part. While Allred and Richardson hit more shots, the junkfest was way more entertaining.
The finals was a clash of styles, with Allred's standard bankshot jump shooting versus Amond's flair. While everyone was pulling for the trash-talking Almond, you have to appreciate the way Allred went for the jugular. I asked him afterwards why he was so focused in such ridiculous contest.
"I was nervous, because believe it or not, I have NEVER won any sort of trophy in my entire life! And I finally had a chance to win one, because, I can't retire without some cool trophy to put on my shelf right? I really did want to win, and I was nervous, and I also went in for the kill. But so was Jeremy Richardson. Neither of us were doing any trick shots, and I followed his tone, and when we were done, I kept the same approach and went for the jugular, while Morris, who has an NBA contract, was just having a good time."
So when Allred matched Amond's on one knee layup and knocked him out with a long range bank shot, it was actually the little guy winning, with fundamentals and determination. A much better story than it seemed. Even Allred admitted that he wanted to do a lot more trick shots, but with the injury and how nervous he was, he didn't think of it.
That's pretty much the perfect D-League story, don't you think?
My favorite quotes from the event? Both from the official write-up:
Almond: "Yes, it's embarrassing that I lost to a center, but all white guys are good at H.O.R.S.E. for some reason"
Allred: "Oh, and never leave the white guy open."
The D-League Dunk Contest: Air Georgia Gets Sick
I really wasn't expecting much out of this. One of the primary knocks on D-Leaguers is their lack of size. So I was not expecting this to be the best contest of the night. But then, I always underestimate how entertaining it is to see guys jump really, really high and then scream.
I'd heard rumors about this kid, nicknamed "Air Georgia," Brent Pettway. I saw it in person on Friday when he came away with the win.
There were some problems with the dunk contest. First off, they brought kids out of the audience and sat them with the players. The players then gave the kids the option of one of the dunks. This is bad because it limits what the players can do, and it makes them reveal what they're going to do. Second, the M.C. was about the most annoying human being in the city of New Orleans. That's counting everyone in the celebrity game, all of the performers, Vince Carter and Chris Tucker. He was irritating the players and the crowd.
The good news is that these guys could seriously throw down. Rookie Eric Smith threw down a nasty 360 that I'd take over any of Gay's dunks the following night. Pettway offered up two options. The "A-La-Carter" and the "Dominique Special." The "A-La-Carter" was a takeoff on the arm-through-the-hoop hanging dunk Carter pulled in 2000.
His opponent in the finals was 6'2'' Mike Taylor. Taylor got there with a baseline lob dunk to the other side that was damn impressive.
But in the Finals, Petway killed him. After a massive lob East-Bay Funk dunk, he then place the ball on the ground under the goal, stood, leaned down, then jumped up and dunked it, standing. It wasn't impressive when you watched it. Then you thought about it. And realized how much leg power that took. The man's a freak of nature.
The D-League All-Star Contests weren't as good as the League's, but they did show that the D-League has a ton of talent, and that they're worth watching. It also showed that HORSE can work as an event, and that white people are really good at it.