WASHINGTON, D.C. - As the third quarter of Saturday's Capital Punishment game came to a close, the LA-based Drew League all-stars ran to their bench with a seven-point lead after outscoring their opponents 45-27 in the quarter, sending their small pack of fans into a frenzy.
At that point, the DC home crowd came to a collective realization: This game matters.
Sure, the game's outcome would have no impact on NBA standings, nor would it eliminate anyone from the playoffs, but something much different was at stake: Pride.
For some, the event's mere existence already represented a win for the D.C. area. Here, at a local college, local players from the local league were hosting an event that created national buzz. That was until the small minority of Drew League supporters made it clear that D.C. couldn't earn bragging rights just from hosting the event. They needed to win it, too.
With that pressure-filled atmosphere as their backdrop, D.C.'s Goodman League all-stars responded with a strong fourth quarter that ended in a 135-134 victory and cemented the event's status as a true source of local pride.
On a day that featured NBA talent playing with pro-level intensity on a hardwood floor meant for Division III female athletes, everything about the event's quirky atmosphere just seemed to work:
- The crowd that packed Trinity's tiny gym was both animated and passionate, but never crossed the line into belligerence or violence that Cleveland or Detroit fans know all too well.
- The players they came to see put on the highlight-reel fast breaks and alley-oops normally saved for an NBA all-star game, but without the pathetic defense that kills a game's intensity.
- The game's announcer, Goodman League commissioner Miles Rawls, was just funny enough to send fans (and players) into fits of laughter without taking away from the game's serious feel and intense flow.
All of these factors combined to showcase the talent and relevance that D.C.'s basketball scene has on a national level while staying true to the city's roots and paying homage to its history.
Perhaps no player personified this mix more than Hugh "Baby Shaq" Jones, the local streetball legend whose importance in D.C. far outweighs his national significance.
Jones has played in D.C.'s Goodman League for over a decade now, and throughout his basketball career (which includes stints with the AND1 Mixtape Tour and a season at the College of Southern Maryland) he has toiled in somewhat of a a professional athlete's no-man's land. On the one hand, his tremendous skill and showmanship has earned him a living playing the sport he loves, but on the other hand, his abilities have never afforded him the opportunity to compete against the game's best players for its ultimate prize. He has street credibility, but little fame; too much ability to be an amateur, but not enough for the NBA.
So, after getting a chance to play in Saturday's unique event that brought national significance to his local town, putting some of the world's best onto his hardwood territory, Jones was elated.
"It's like watching my daughter grow up," he said. "At first people were scared to come down, now it's in the newspapers, cameras You see how big it's gotten. ... It's a court full of NBA players."
Still, mere participation was not enough for the 6'3'' Jones. After all, what good is a strong local reputation if your city itself loses its pride at the hands of another town?
As it is, Jones can brag alongside all of his more-famous Goodman teammates, and he's not shy about doing it:
"We're number one. Now everybody's gonna be gunning for us," he said.