Arriving at Rucker Park thirty minutes late and with a shooting pain in my right temple, I realise that I’m not ready for tonight’s first game. An hour in and with no sign of either squad, it appears that the EBC isn’t either. A handful of players amble through the VIP entrance at a few minutes past seven, and it looks as if we have the semblance of one team, the first promising sign to this point. With no more having arrived twenty-five minutes later, however, it doesn’t look as if anything’s about to go down unless someone picks players out of the bleachers and sets up a shirts vs. skins game.
Still, the crowd isn’t showing irritation at the delay, waiting patiently for the tip while the announcers stall them with a series of protracted pre-game giveaways. Finally running out of prizes, the organisers reach deep into their pockets and put cash money on the table, selecting children from the crowd and giving them the chance to win prizes of up to a hundred dollars. When the first dozen or so attempts to take the dough clank off the rim, Hannibal steps out and knocks down what The Politician claims is his first make of the year. He doesn’t take the cash, though. I would have.
It’s soon confirmed that the first game has been called, although it’s not clear why. My guess is that one or both of the teams expected bad weather and didn’t show up as a consequence, with the lack of rain catching them off-guard. Regardless, it’s announced that Game Two is going ahead as scheduled just as JR Smith and his D Block teammates make their way through the VIP section the court.
The opening minutes of the contest justify the two-hour wait the crowd has had to endure, with the teams trading quick jumpers to make it a 2-2 game within twenty seconds of the tip. Moments later, JR Smith really gets the party started when he finds himself with a clear look at the bucket on the break, cocking the ball way back and throwing down a huge one-hand jam that more than makes up for the cancellation of Game One. Vezzeo tie things up at six with a pair of free throws, but JR Smith again puts his team ahead with a highlight play, this time a nasty crossover followed by another tomahawk slam.
The next few minutes see the sides battle one another to a standstill, with D Block knocking down jumper after jumper, and Vezzeo attacking the rack for easy layups. Midway through the first half and with the score at 18 apiece, however, D Block begin to take pride in their defence, putting a stop to their opponents’ repeated drives to the hole while continuing to convert at the other end.
Although Vezzeo’s Donald “The Last Don” Copeland manages to salvage a few points from the wreckage, he can’t stop his team falling behind 31-24, and when he has his shot blocked and ensuing fastbreak sees the ball thrown up to JR Smith, it looks as if the game may be about to end. Fortunately for them, his double-clutch, double-fisted alley-oop attempt fails to find the mark, the miss rebounding all the way out to the officials’ table at halfcourt. Although Vezzeo make the most of their second chance with a few fast points to cut their deficit to three, Robert Jacobs doubles D Block’s lead with a three from the left wing seconds before the half.
I’d like to take a moment here to publicise the cause of the EBC’s charity of choice, DKMS. In the midst of an ongoing drive to raise funds to register new bone marrow donors, the organisation is currently auctioning a Harley-Davidson Fatboy motorcycle signed by a host of celebrities, the proceeds from which will go towards saving yet more lives. You can click here to check out the bike, but for those of you who don’t quite have the cash to pick up a new set of wheels, monetary donations can be made at this link.
The second kicks off with more impressive play from JR Smith, who converts his first touch of the half into a fastbreak flush, following it up with an underhand dime in traffic and a turnaround jumper over two defenders. The Last Don again does his best to carry Vezzeo through the rough patch, but his individual performance is no match for the team effort of D Block, who stretch their lead to double figures with a pair of free throws at the fourteen-minute mark.
While the next phase of the game sees neither team keen to make a real difference to the final outcome, Smith – known in here as “The Prodigy” – sets the park on fire with a fastbreak facial so violent it might legally constitute assault, knocking the hapless defender flat on his back as he hammers it home emphatically. Before I can even finish writing my notes on the slam, he’s in the air again, catching an alley-oop way above the cup and shaking the stanchion with a vicious two-hander. When he receives a lead pass on the wing three plays later with only one man between him and the bucket, the crowd rises to their feet in expectation of another posterisation, and he doesn’t disappoint. Bringing the ball from his right hip for a half-windmill, he takes a big hit in the air before completing what I can only describe as a fade-away dunk, the type of play that defies explanation.
Folks, if you weren’t there, you really missed out. I’m sure other things happened in the final minutes of the game, but they hardly seemed relevant given what the kid just did, and I didn’t bother to note them anyway. The final score was similarly unimportant in the context of the dunk-induced party in the park, but, for the record, D Block took the game, eighty-something to sixty-something.
I would say more about the post-game celebrations, but I need to find something to soothe my throat right now. Even while maintaining a façade of journalistic objectivity, I screamed hard enough in the second half that I think I may have strained a vocal chord. I’m sending my medical bills to you, Smith.