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(SI.com) Summer Hoops (Cool on Skip; Fonde)

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by xiki, Jul 27, 2006.

  1. xiki

    xiki Contributing Member

    Jun 18, 2002
    Likes Received:

    Pickup hoops hot spots
    Where the best players ball in the offseason
    Posted: Tuesday July 25, 2006 6:16PM; Updated: Wednesday July 26, 2006 3:23PM

    An anonymous player last year, Joakim Noah returned to the Rucker this summer as a star.
    Chuck Solomon/AP

    By Matthew Waxman

    Turns out the basketball offseason isn't all piña coladas and inflatable pool furniture. We've located the summer pickup games that consistently lure All-Stars and All-Americas, despite the less-than-ideal conditions. We'll tell you who plays where, the house rules, how to sneak in and a famous rumor from each of the four most prolific offseason hoops runs in the country.

    Rucker Park
    The Regulars:Ron Artest, Stephon Marbury, Jamaal Tinsley, Jamal Crawford, Rafer Alston, Sebastian Telfair, Joakim Noah

    Access: When superstars like AI, Kobe or KG are rumored to be in town, the rickety bleachers that line the perimeter of the court and hold a couple thousand people fill up more than an hour in advance of the early game at six. If you arrive after that, do as the kids do: scale the chain-link fence that surrounds the playground or perch yourself in a tree for a view of the action.

    The Rules: NBA rules with refs, a time clock and a scoreboard.

    The Run: "You're back in school, Joakim," the emcee crows. At the free throw line Noah, the Florida Gators' sophomore forward and Most Outstanding Player of last year's NCAA tournament, dips his knees and hits the first shot. "Congratulations on winning the NCAAs, but they gonna test you here," the emcee continues as Noah prepares for his second shot. "Ladies and gentleman, he could have gone to the league. Decided to enjoy another year" -- Noah starts his shooting motion -- "spending his parents' cash." Mid-stroke Noah cracks, flashing his gap-toothed grin and shaking his bouquet of long hair before clanging the second shot. The crowd laughs in amusement.

    Fat Joe pleads his case on the sidelines while his team, Terror Squad, plays on.
    At 155th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard -- next to Mama's Fried Chicken, Nas Deli, Miny Nails and Uptown Laundromat -- stands Rucker Park. The most historic slab of concrete since the Rosetta Stone has evolved since the days when Goat, Pearl and Tiny made names for themselves there. Streetballers like Homicide, Antifreeze and the Bone Collector now suit up in the Entertainers Basketball Classic (EBC), a league in which sponsors like Fat Joe, The Game and Jadakiss own and often coach teams featuring any NBA players they can get their hands on, even for a single game.

    Despite the debris, dusty surface and on-court emcees, who lollygag within the court lines while maintaining a running commentary/comedy show for the fans ("Potato chips at three in the morning is a dead giveaway you getting high," one of them once said to the crowd), the top ballers can't resist. "You got a lot of tradition out there," said Vince Carter after he played there in 2002. "It's just something where I wanted to say, 'Yeah, I played.'"

    Regulars Sebastian "2 Fast 2 Furious" Telfair (12) and Jamal "the Essence" Crawford (8) get some instruction before a game in 2003.
    The Rucker's star power on-court is matched by those in attendance, from Fabolous and Mike Tyson to Alicia Keys, who has been known to stroll out of the stands and put on an impromptu a capella halftime performance. "I remember being at Rucker Park in the company of President Clinton," says commissioner David Stern, "and the MC says, 'Yo, Bill' and then decided it would be better to call him 'Mr. President.' It's neighborhood fun."

    The assist-to-turnover ratio may not be to Stern's liking, but the rough, And1 brand of ball helps pampered stars maintain their edge. "I got my swagger at the Rucker," says Noah, who played last summer as an unknown freshman before returning this year as a main attraction. "The basketball is completely different here; it isn't for everybody. But if you can play at the Rucker, you can play anywhere."

    Rumor Has It: When Rafer "Skip to My Lou" Alston was a junior in high school and a defender went up to block his layup, Alston is said to have let the ball roll down his arm, behind his neck and down the other arm before flicking it to a streaking teammate for a layin.

    By Matthew Waxman

    The Men's Gym
    The Regulars:paul Pierce, Chauncey Billups, Kevin Garnett, Derek Fisher, Baron Davis, Jermaine O'Neal, Earl Watson, Joe Johnson, Amaré Stoudamire, Tyronne Lue, Richard Jefferson, Grant Hill, Jared Jeffries, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Jordan Farmar

    Access: Word spreads quickly when Kobe's walking through campus, but on most days only a couple dozen spectators line the walls.

    The Rules: Games to seven by ones. Call your own fouls. Winners stay on center court.

    At the Men's Gym, UCLA students like Cindy Mosqueda can rub elbows with Magic Johnson and other NBA stars.
    Courtesy of Cindy Mosqueda
    The Run: Like all things basketball in L.A., the high-water mark of the pickup run at UCLA was caused by Magic Johnson, during summers in the '80s. JohnWooden's Bruins squads may have won two championships in this old gym, in the shadow of Pauley Pavilion, but the fierce pickup games that begin in June and gain steam through July and August have Magic's fingerprints all over them.

    Adam Mills, a blond 6-foot-0 basketball junkie, and former television actor, has coordinated the games here for the past 20 years. "If I have three courts of 30 NBA guys, I'm happy," says Mills, who divides the teams evenly, keeping teammates together and filling out the rosters with local college and European talent, even tossing himself in the mix when one more is needed.

    The well-oiled, NBA-quality, NBA-style run is the antithesis of playground ball. "Pros get pissed if you try and take them one-on-one to show them how great you are," says Mills, who claims to have had every great player in but Kareem and Larry Bird. "They want to come in and get a nice two-hour run with no arguing." GMs such as Elgin Baylor, Kiki Vandeweghe and Mitch Kupchak respect the game enough to send players there for auditions, as the Lakers did in 1999 with Brian Shaw before eventually signing him.

    During a recent game, Paul Pierce takes a seat while Chauncey Billups (far left) looks on.
    Adam Mills
    Kobe shows up occasionally; Shaq did too when he was with the Lakers. But it's Pierce who has stepped up to take the torch from Magic. "Where else can you go in the summer and play against NBA guys at the same level?" asks Pierce, who pitches in to help Mills pay for the gym time, while the other players "forget their wallets every day," according to Mills.

    "I've had a lot of battles there," says Pierce. "I played against Magic even after he retired and he'd still beat up on a lot of people."

    Rumor Has It: Former UCLA coach Larry Brown claims that in the early '80s, Wilt Chamberlain, a decade retired from the NBA, would drive down from his Bel Air home to play and stay in shape. "[Magic] called a couple of chintzy fouls and a goaltending on Wilt," says Brown, "so Wilt said, 'There will be no more layups in this gym,' and he blocked every shot after that."

    By Matthew Waxman

    Tim Grover Game
    The Regulars:Dwyane Wade, Shawn Marion, Antoine Walker, Shaun Livingston, Devin Harris, Chris Kaman, Michael Finley, Corey Maggette, James Posey

    Access: Limited -- the only spectators allowed are family members, agents and Michael Jordan.

    The Rules: Game to seven by ones. Actual NBA refs, scorekeepers, 24-second shot clock.

    Michael Jordan receives a hand stretching from Tim Grover, his personal trainer, during his comeback in 2002.
    The Run: Michael Jordan's days as kingpin of the Chicago pickup games may be over, but that doesn't stop him from lording over the scene. Though His Airness no longer laces up, he occasionally drops by to talk trash. "He's the only one that has that right," says Jordan's former personal trainer Tim Grover, who as CEO of Attack Athletics, an athlete training company, organizes this workout exclusively for his NBA clients.

    The notorious game shifted this year from Hoops the Gym to the University of Illinois at Chicago after Hoops was bought out, but the top-tier talent that follows Grover remains constant. A gym official recently did a quick mental tally of the contracts of the 30 or so NBA players warming up and remarked, "Wow, there must be three quarters of a billion dollars on the court."

    The Attack Athletic clients, most of who grew up or played in the Midwest, battle every offseason against the same players, developing rivalries that raise the intensity of play. When devising the teams, Grover matches like-minded stars against each other, like Harris and Livingston, and tries to pair current regular-season teammates. "As soon as Antoine Walker got traded to Miami," says Grover, "we put him and Dwyane Wade on the same team so they could get acclimated and develop a feel for each other."

    Attack Athletic client Chris Kaman works on his jumper at Hoops the Gym in preperation for the 2003 draft.
    While Wade, a Grover client since his days at Marquette, may be the latest superstar to earn the "next MJ" tag, only Jordan himself can really crank up the level of competition. Says Grover, "He'll come up and tell guys, 'When I was playing, there's no way you could have scored on me. Remember when I gave you 50? Remember when we knocked you out in the first round of the playoffs?'"

    How could they forget, Mike? You keep coming back to remind them.

    Rumor Has It: In 2002, when Jordan was playing pickup in preparation to join the Wizards, his comeback was stalled when he broke two ribs. According to the Chicago Tribune, Jordan had been trash-talking with Walker and Ron Artest when the latter "grabbed [Jordan], slammed him to the floor" and threw a punch. Grover, who was in the gym that day, says that while it's true that "Antoine takes more [abuse from Jordan] than anyone else," the broken ribs were simply a freak injury caused when Artest tried to deny Jordan position in the post.

    By Matthew Waxman

    Fondé Rec Center
    The Regulars:Sam Cassell, Moochie Norris, Cuttino Mobley, Rashard Lewis, Damon Stoudamire, Steve Francis, Emeka Okafor, James Posey, J.R. Smith, Gerald Green, T.J. Ford, Daniel Ewing, Chris Wilcox, Glen Davis

    Access: Free admission for the public; the pullout bleachers seat about 1,500. Kids can take pictures and get autographs from the players after the games.

    The Rules: 12-minute quarters. Running time, except for the last two minutes of each half.

    Though he spends most of his time at Fonde coaching, Moses Malone still suits up to play every so often.
    Courtesy of Pro City
    The Run: In the beginning there was Moses (Malone). His disciple became known as Little Moses. At the Fondé Rec Center, where basketball knowledge, like religion, is passed from generation to generation, it's fitting that the sign over the entryway reads, "Recreation, like religion, should permeate all of life." However, the proclamation most often associated with this basketball temple is, "You ain't done it till you done it at Fondé," which was dispensed by Moses.

    Like he did during the hot Houston summer at Fondé 25 years ago, when he tutored a freshman from the University of Houston named Akeem Olajuwon in the art of the low post -- Dream dubbed the sessions "basketball college" -- Malone is still teaching the game at Fondé. He's coach of The Chairman, in the Nike Pro City Summer Basketball League, which runs Monday and Wednesday nights from mid-July through August. And despite the abundance of available NBA players, Coach Malone eschews pros on his team in favor of amateurs, including his son, Moses Jr., as well as the sons of Hall of Famers George Gervin and Calvin Murphy.

    Only 1,500 lucky fans saw Rashard Lewis' team take home the trophy in the 2005 Nike Pro City Tournament.
    Courtesy of Pro City
    But if Rockets center Yao Ming came to rumble at Fondé, Malone, 51, says that not only would he break his no-pros rule, but he'd also suit up himself. "We've got standing room now," says Malone, who tips in at 275, only 15 pounds over his playing weight, "but if [the two big men teamed up] we'd have standing room outside the building, waiting to come in."

    Nike's arrival has meant a new coat of paint on the walls, a leveling of the rims and a buffing of the court. But, as the phrase goes, you can put lipstick on a pig.... "It's just the neighborhood gym," former Rocket Kenny Smith says of Fonde. "There are no frills; [It's just] like the Rocky gym."

    "When we play in Houston, it's grimy. It's hard-core," says former University of Texas standout Daniel Gibson, who started playing in youth leagues at the center when he was 11. "Once you step on the court at Fondé, you've gotta be ready to bring it -- or you're going to get put off to the side and nobody's gonna let you play anymore." Or, as former Rocket Robert Reid summed up to the Houston Chronicle, "You couldn't come in and play some fiddle-dee-dee game or you'd be fiddle-dee-dummed out of the gym."

    Some guys not fiddle-dee-dummed out were Clyde Drexler, who ran during summers with Olajuwon and their Phi Slamma Jamma teammates; playground star Dwayne Rogers, who earned the nickname "The Legend" for his ability to ball at Fonde; and Shaquille O'Neal, who would make the three-hour drive to run in the legendary games when he was a high school star in San Antonio.

    Sam Cassell catches his breath during a break in the action at Fonde.
    Courtesy of Pro City
    For fans, Fondé provides the opportunity to watch the pros up close without having to run a hedge fund. "Some people can't afford to go to games to see guys like Rashard Lewis," says Pro City director Kevin Granger. "Here they get to see [NBA players], get autographs, talk to them, high-five them." Gibson, now 20, remembers the thrill. "Shaq and Penny [Hardaway] and Drexler, Olajuwon. Just seeing those dudes out there like regular people, laughing and joking, you don't get that on TV."

    Despite the addition of emcee chatter and music blaring before, during and after the games, the run remains crisp. "Any time a guy like Sam Cassell, Moochie [Norris] or [James] Posey enters the game, they want to win because it's the Fondé," says Malone, who warns that the game is not for everybody. "Guys come and ask me if they can play and I tell 'em, 'Let me see what you can do first on the B court, because Fondé's the A court.'"

    Rumor Has It: During one game in the early '80s, Moses called one too many fouls, and when one of them was ignored, he took the game ball, left the court and went outside. When he saw the game restarting with a new ball, he protested the game by standing defiantly at center court until his call was acknowledged.
  2. JoeBarelyCares

    JoeBarelyCares Contributing Member

    Jan 9, 2001
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    I'm not a real fan of Noah. If he had done the respectable thing and gone for the cash instead of an education, the Rockets might have Roy and Swift now, instead of just Battier. ;)
  3. TheTruth

    TheTruth Contributing Member

    Jan 14, 2002
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  4. markus4040

    markus4040 Member

    Jul 11, 2006
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    Got to get out to Fonde
  5. c1utchfan925

    c1utchfan925 Contributing Member

    Jul 18, 2006
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    interesting read, thanks
  6. Rollazn

    Rollazn Member

    Mar 24, 2006
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    That's not only a rumor - but it's true. In a video on Youtube, there was a fan who asked Rafer Alston himself about this play. According to the fan, there was three rumors - 1. he passed it 2. he lay it in 3. he dunked it (lol).
    When he asked Skip to my Lou - Rafer answered that he indeed passed it.

    Man... that's some impressive stuff.

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