If anything dampened the spirits of those in Dallas celebrating the Mavericks' recent championship, it was the specter of the coming lockout. The NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement was set to expire and the owners and the players union were at loggerheads. Eighteen days after the Mavericks hoisted the Larry O'Brien trophy for the first time, the NBA effectively shut down.
The 161 days the lockout lasted were a dark time for the league and fans. Pictures of players planking became pervasive as talks continued to stall and any tangible news was scarce. Eyes were focused on David Stern and Billy Hunter; however, it was an unlikely source that almost brought a sense of relief to the frustrations felt by everyone. With one tweet, Roger Mason Jr. set the Internet ablaze: "Looking like a season. How u." It was at once a glimmer of hope and cripplingly premature. "How u" became the battle cry the lockout never needed.
What was needed was basketball. Perhaps out of boredom, perhaps out of spite for the owners, players began showing up at tournaments and courts like the Drew League, Dyckman, and Rucker to play. Others hosted their own games, barnstorming across the country playing exhibitions in college and high school gyms. Like watching the Harlem Globetrotters, they were pure spectacle.
One such game took place in Dallas. In the P.C. Cobb Field House, on the south side of Fair Park, Josh Howard held his celebrity basketball game. Howard, who was a free agent that summer, held games like this in summers past both in Dallas and Winston-Salem, where he is from, benefiting his foundation. However, this one was different. This one had the air of a once-in-a-lifetime event, given the circumstances. And this one had All-Stars.
The Washington Wizards were well represented in the game as Howard had just finished a stint with the team. Andray Blatche and Nick Young (before he called himself Swaggy P, I believe) played. Trevor Booker, who coached the Blue Team, and Hamady N'Diaye participated. John Wall was also in attendance, though he didn't play. Some of Howard's former teammates in Dallas also took part including Marquis Daniels, Desanga Diop, and D.J. Mbenga. Jason Terry, like Wall, attended but didn't play.
Filling out the rosters were Corey Brewer, Jeremy Evans, Reggie Evans, Jarrett Jack, Damion James, Damon Jones (remember him?), Jason Maxiell, Dallas native Anthony Randolph, and Isaiah Thomas. There were also a few local street ball vets.
Oh, Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge played as well.
With the game underway, it was clear that this wasn't going to be a defensive struggle. Nor was it a physical game. There were, however, a few blocks from Diop and Mbenga. And on separate plays, unfortunately, Mbenga and Evans both left the game with eye injuries. Those plays aside, this was an offensive affair as players were left to showboat, dunk, and run as much as they wanted.
Thomas, for one, was out to prove he should have been drafted higher, having recently been selected with the very last pick in the 2011 draft. Yes, it was an exhibition but he showed his speed, ability to get to the rim, and pull up from midrange. It was impressive for a relatively unknown player.
Young also played hard and did his best to command the game. He was quick in transition (no one was trying to stop him or anyone else), he got to the rim, and he knocked down outside shots. His right arm is for buckets, after all. However, no one played as well as Durant and Jones. Yes, the same Damon Jones who was a three-point specialist, seemingly always wore sunglasses, and was all but attached to LeBron James' hip for a time.
There's an old adage that the jump shot is the last thing to fade from a player's repertoire. Jones had been out of the NBA for two years at this point and it was clear that he could still shoot. He played almost the entire game spotting up behind the arc taking three after three. It seemed as though most splashed through the nylon. Time and again, it was Durant that set him up.
The pair was unstoppable. Durant accrued assist after assist as Jones kept knocking down shots. It was comical but that was the point. This was a charity game. It was for fun. It was everything those in attendance could have asked for with their $10 admission.
Raffle tickets were handed out at the door upon entry for a signed Durant jersey to be given away at halftime. I came one number away from winning.
In the end, Howard's team won the game 139-128. No stats were kept and many players sat out the second half. It is safe to say, though, that Jones was the leading scorer and Durant likely set a career high in assists. Aside from the money raised for charity, the game didn't really mean anything, but that didn't really matter. It was a respite from the negativity surrounding the CBA negotiations for a few hours. And it was fun.
After the game, Blatche and Young were casually flirting with several women outside. I yelled that I hoped they would have a season. Young agreed. Blatche was distracted.
It was a high point in an otherwise fretful summer.