Friday, July 20, 2012

Some reasons why NC Pro-Am rises above another summer league

The Jordan brand "Rise Above" truck parked outside of  Greater NC Pro-Am
For the past two days, the Jordan brand “Rise Above” truck has been parked outside of McLendon-McDougald Gymnasium, home of the N.C. Central Eagles basketball team and the  Greater NC Pro-Am Summer Basketball League. If you wanted to, you could put your name on a list, put on a pair of borrowed Jordans, and test your vertical leap on a measuring apparatus that’s attached to the end of the truck.  The truck started in Portland, Oregon and has been traveling across the country promoting sneakers and it’s four-part documentary series, “Rise Above”, which tells unique and inspirational stories.  Inside the gym, the stories were centered around Barton College’s Jon Hart nearly tearing down the rim with an endless supply of mean dunks, Duke’s Quinn Cook putting on a dazzling point-guard clinic, and Alex Johnson single-handedly destroying the undefeated, P.J. Hairston-led team, Sheraton Imperial.  All of the in-between action made me glad I wasn’t stuck somewhere watching the NBA’s version of “summer league”.  Here are nine reasons why attending the NC Pro-Am basketball games is much more gratifying. 

1.      It’s the Rucker of the South:  You can sit at home and watch the NBA Summer League games all day and you might catch one or two highlights worthy of recording to your DVR box.  For every game being played at NC Pro-Am, there’s more than a dozen highlights. For every NBA Summer League game there’s a a few dozen yawns.  It’s boring. The Thomas & Mack Center and the COX Pavilion are probably two of the best places this summer to take a nap.  Inside N.C. Central’s McLendon-McDougald gymnasium, on the other hand, there’s so many highlights happening back-to-back, that if you glance at your IPhone for one second, you might miss one of NC Pro-Am’s most unbelievable plays.   

2.     There’s better music at NC Pro-Am.  It’s no secret that a lot of NBA teams have their own well-known, resident DJs for regular-season home games. But during the NBA Summer League, there’s probably an amateur DJ  who got the gig as an internship to earn some summer credits at UNLV.  Or no DJ at all.  This summer, NC Pro-Am has been jamming to the sounds of K97.5’s Wade Banner and Brian Dawson, as well as DJ Bobby Drake and it’s resident DJ Coke.  The music stays on during the games and people actually DANCE in the stands.  The players dance too.  Now, how fun is that? 
3.      SHEED (Rasheed Wallace).  Because nothing is more entertaining than watching four-time NBA All Star and Tarheel legend, Rasheed Wallace run over to the scorer’s table and yell at everyone about how there should be a shot clock and how much the referees suck.  His basketball shoes are gigantic, green and glossy and he refuses to talk to reporters.  He still plays passionately, catches mean alley-oops, and can still hit a three-pointer from anywhere on the court.  There are no SHEEDS in the NBA Summer League.  There are no SHEEDS anywhere on earth, except for at NC Pro-Am. 

4.       Las Vegas is overrated.  Durham has character.  Everyone knows, or at least thinks that Las Vegas is a fun city, but I’ve never met anyone who’s ever actually wanted to live there or stay there for the whole summer.  There might be a lot of distractions here at NC Pro-Am (music, food, women, adorable children) but it’s nothing compared to whatever might be happening in the gambling capitol of the world at the same time as an NBA Summer League game. Why would you attend one of those games when you and your friends could go out on the town and recreate any scene from the movie The Hangover?  Maybe this explains why Las Vegas still doesn’t have a professional sports team.  There are too many other fun things to spend your money on in that city. As the saying goes, “Whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” As far as we’re concerned, NBA Summer League basketball can stay there too.  
5.      N. C. Central University—Not since the Jerry Tarkanian era has anyone really wanted to play basketball at UNLV.  Sure, the Runnin’ Rebels handed the Tarheels an early season loss last year, but that doesn’t mean that all of a sudden it’s a basketball haven again.  It definitely doesn’t mean that people are dying to go there like it’s Rupp Arena. The NBA Summer League could have picked better venues.  The point is that a couple of thousand people getting together in the off-season to watch a bunch of talented collegiate and pro basketball players in a gym on the campus of a historically black campus holds more sporting and cultural significance than a bunch of overpaid ballers hoopin’ in the middle of the dessert.  You could consider NC Pro-Am to be a community basketball festival.  Sometimes it’s a party, sometimes it’s a family reunion, but most of the time, it’s a showcase of raw basketball ability in a gymnasium with more history than the Thomas & Mack Center and the COX Pavilion combined.  Plus, there’s a lot of people (including black folks) who admit to never have stepped foot on an HBCU’s campus.  NC Pro-Am brings people of all races to McClendon-McDougald Gymnasium and changes all of that. 

6.      Michael Deloach, J.P. Tokoto, Quinn Cook, Jon Hart, Alex Johnson, P.J. Hairston, Marcus Fisher, Chris Lightner, and Jon Hart.  You might recognize some of those names, but all of those guys have racked up multiple, jaw-dropping plays at this summer’s NC Pro-Am.  Sometimes it’s better to watch up-and-coming college players and under-the-radar hoopers in freakish, streetball mode rather than sit through game-after-game of the stuffy, over-disciplined basketball that the NBA Summer League offers.    

7.     The hecklers.  At NC Pro-Am, fans have the right to yell at, harass and tease (within reason) any player they choose.  For example, this summer there’s been a crew of three or four boisterous Duke fans who sit courtside and make it their duty to try to frustrate UNC’s P.J. Hairston and N.C. State’s C.J. Leslie with whatever trash talk they can come up with.  It’s NC Pro-Am, so of course, Hairston and Leslie take the opportunity to respond with their own trash-talking, but their polished, collegiate game  and competitiveness usually speaks for itself when either of them end up dominating the game.  Everyone has fun and the rivalries continue.  If you tried this at an NBA Summer League game, you might get kicked out or thrown in jail. 

8.     NC Pro-Am is a free event.  Courtside seats at an NBA Summer League game are nearly $150.00.  They even have the nerve to charge “Juniors” $12.  For a summer league game; at UNLV.  This would be like if any one of this area’s universities (UNC, Duke, N.C. State, N.C. Central) charged an admission fee to watch their basketball team shoot around at the YMCA. 

1.      Our P.A. announcer, Bill Murphy.  If you’ve been to an NC Pro-Am game, then you’ve heard Bill’s signature lines like pointing out the “Euro step”, shouting “all out ballin!”, and my favorite, “grown man ball”.  He calls out airballs, bad free-throw shooting and he takes no prisoners.  Along with the players, he’s the life of the party and he stays enthusiastic up until the final buzzer of the last game.  Not that the NBA Summer League would ever hire an in-game announcer, but they’d have to hire Charles Barkley for anyone to care.