BALTIMORE — Don’t bother telling me. I already know.
There were plenty of problems with Tuesday night’s “Team Melo vs. Goodman League” basketball game at Hill Field House on the campus of Morgan State University.
It was thrown together late with little promotion and a venue change announced only 24 hours before the event (the game was originally to be played at St. Frances Academy). It was played at a venue that was still too small to accommodate the players, fans and media attention an event with such star power would attract.
There wasn’t enough parking. There wasn’t a whole lot of community involvement from the players involved, even the stars from Charm City who participated.
But despite all that, the event put on Tuesday night was pretty magical.
NBA superstars LeBron James (Miami Heat F), Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder F), Chris Paul (New Orleans Hornets G) and local stars like Memphis Grizzlies G Josh Selby (Lake Clifton), San Antonio Spurs G Gary Neal (Towson University/Calvert Hall/Aberdeen) and Sacramento Kings F Donte Greene (Towson Catholic) converged on MSU for an event that was for all intents and purposes “hosted” by New York Knicks F/Former Towson Catholic star Carmelo Anthony.
James and Paul joined Anthony on “Team Melo”, made up mostly of former Baltimore standouts (including retired NBA G and former University of Maryland star Juan Dixon). Durant headlined the Goodman League team, made up of Washington DC-based stars.
The event was very much an exhibition, as the level of defense played was comparable to the NBA All-Star Game. It was reflected in the final score, as Team Melo held on for a 149-141 victory in the contest.
But for as much about the event that was less than desirable, there was equally as much excellent.
Hill Field House was electric Tuesday night, as the 4,500 seat venue was filled to an overflow level with fans stacked everywhere room could be found in the building. Every time a star like James, Durant, Paul or Anthony would touch the ball the entire building would explode in anticipation. When one of those players would deliver a thunderous dunk, stepback jumper, sensational crossover or alleyoop finish the explosion would literally shake the building.
I’ve attended special events at Hill Field House (namely Reggie Holmes’ Senior Night beatdown of Coppin State in which he broke the Bears’ all-time scoring record), but I’ve never attended any basketball event in Baltimore that was as electric as the event was Tuesday night.
“I think Baltimore needed this” Anthony said after the event. “I think they definitely needed this, I think just to bring the morale of the city back up. The fans haven’t seen nothing like this in a long long time. We want to keep it going.”
There’s certainly an argument that Anthony is correct. Charm City summers regularly feature little for the city to rally around, as the Baltimore Orioles have offered little for the city to get excited about. Without a NBA or NHL team in town, there is a significant void between the end of Baltimore Ravens season and….the start of the next Baltimore Ravens season.
While late in that timeframe and surrounded by the nervousness of the current NBA lockout, Anthony and company did their part to fill the void in Baltimore with a memorable event.
The star of the show was Durant, who electrified the crowd at every turn. He finished (unofficially) with a game high 59 points, just short of the 66 he posted in an exhibition event earlier this summer at New York’s famed Rucker Park. Durant scored many of points in single coverage against James, thrilling those in attendance with an array of offensive moves.
For his part, Durant seemed to have enjoyed playing in front of the Baltimore crowd.
“(It was a) crazy atmosphere, playing in front of the Baltimore fans” the former Texas Longhorns star said after the game. “I grew up in Maryland. Baltimore and DC kinda have a big rivalry, so to play against those guys was a lot of fun for me. I’m excited I got that opportunity.”
The start of the game was actually delayed nearly 30 minutes due to Durant’s late arrival at Morgan State. The superstar apologized for causing the delay, noting he had run into traffic troubles on his way to the game.
The atmosphere truly was crazy, and would be difficult to be replicated elsewhere. It might not have been a sign that Baltimore is deserving of a NBA franchise to call its own, but it was certainly a sign that the city is still basketball-crazy.
If Anthony intends to bring his superstar friends back to town next summer or other times in the future a bigger venue (like 1st Mariner Arena downtown) could be an option, but perhaps some of the atmosphere would be lost as the venue size increased.
Maybe some of the magic of the event Tuesday night was simply based on the idea that screaming, sweaty fans in a small gym would provide a retro feel and make the atmosphere as exciting as the game itself.
If that was the case, the event was a success. It was a hell of a show.