I was trying to lift weights three weeks ago, but as normal, I spent far too much time flapping my gums instead.
I meant only to say hello to my friend’s father, but hello turned into a 15-minute conversation. Procrastination makes me talkative.
After less than thirty seconds of talking about real life, the topic changed to basketball.
“Remember Matt Hall?” he asked me. “He’s playing overseas now. Doing pretty well, too.”
“He was such a late bloomer,” I responded. “Sophomore year he played junior varsity, then the next season he killed the entire region. Windmill dunks, pull-up jumpers, everything.”
“Yup. He got even better in college, too.”
“I know. I saw him a couple summers ago at Hubbard Park, playing against John Williams.”
Williams, the best player ever to play at my high school, became a Division II All-American, started for the D-League’s Bakersfield Jam in 2009-’10, and now stars in Holland or Germany or some other country that I once knew and I’m now forgetting. My high school obviously doesn’t churn out NBA players very often, or even Division 1 players. UConn’s Kevin Freeman is Longmeadow High School’s most famous basketball alumni, but in high school, Williams was better.
“Because of that night, there’s still a warrant out for Matt Hall’s arrest,” I continued. “He’s wanted for the murder of John Williams. John could not handle him. It was the first time I ever saw someone outplay John.”
Two or three years after the fact, I was still talking about a summer league game.
Kevin Durant and Lebron James met yesterday when the Melo League battled the Goodman League for world supremacy, err, or something like it. Durant continued his assault of the summer tour, scoring 59 points. Lebron threw an alley-oop to himself off the backboard, dropped either 32, 38, or 42 points, depending on who you believe, and won the game.
“People will say KD got the best of [Lebron],” wrote SB Nation’s Andrew Sharp, “but for every vicious crossover Durant threw, Bron countered with, say, an effortless fadeaway. For everything backbreaking three from Durant, there was LeBron wreaking havoc on the fast break. And yeah, Durant scored 59 to LeBron’s 38, but LeBron had to split his shots with Carmelo.
“Much as I’d love to give to the edge to KD, LeBron was every bit as unstoppable, and in the end, there was no clear winner.”
5,000 individuals spent $40 per ticket to watch several NBA stars compete in a contest that was at once meaningless and the most important game ever played at Morgan St.’s Talmadge L. Hill Field House. Summer league basketball has always been played and stars have always participated, but the entire experience has never been so mainstream.
The NBA lockout has pushed previously unimportant games off grocery store shelves and into the kitchen of basketball-starved fans. If Durant had scored 66 points at Rucker Park last summer, we would have heard a brief whisper about it before going back to our “Stephen A. Smith reports that Dwyane Wade and Lebron James will — gasp — team up in Miami” headlines. But now there is no free agency to divert our attention, no NBA rumor mill, no promise that the NBA will return at the end of October. So we spend more time caring about summer exhibitions than ever before.
ESPN covered last night’s game. The Washington Post reported on it. SB Nation too. Tweeters tweeted about it. But only 4,500 people saw it in its entirety. There’s an exclusivity to summer league basketball that can beget legends and tall tales and myths, an aura that comes from the fact that this game won’t ever show up on ESPN Classic and it couldn’t be DVR’ed.
Whether you like it or not, our society gets facts more correct than ever before. We end arguments with simple Google searches. We check advanced statistics to explore players in more depth. We write blog posts expanding on blog posts which already expanded upon a column in the Boston Globe. We have become, or maybe we always have been, an information-crazed society. Our knowledge of sports can now be supplemented with facts that are more easily attainable than at any other point in history. But sometimes our easy access to undisputed truth can cloud the best stories in sports.
Could Dr. J grab a nickel off the backboard? Did Bill Russell really average somewhere in the vicinity of ten blocks per game in his prime? Did Pistol Pete Maravich once shoot a halfcourt heave to end a game, put his index finger in the air, turn his back to the basket, and trot off the court as the shot fell through the nets? I can’t prove that any of these events happens, but I can’t prove otherwise either. And maybe I’m better off not knowing. Maybe I’m better off left to contemplate whether such exploits are even possible, never mind whether they actually happened.
There’s something mystical about hearing that Kevin Durant scored 59 points but not knowing exactly how it happened. About hearing that Lebron scored 42 points, or 38 points, or 32 points, and not being able to prove which count was correct. About breathlessly following Michael Lee’s tweets about the game and imagining how the plays actually occurred.
Summer league basketball is becoming more popular than ever, but maybe it’s better off left in the shadows. Keep ESPN out of it and let the 5,000 people in attendance at these games weave tales and stories and try in vain to explain how majestic Durant’s performance was, how he stood toe-to-toe with Lebron and got the better of him, or how Lebron answered every call Durant made and also helped his team to a win. Learning all the facts is great and our knowledge of sports has never been better, but sometimes I just want to hear about a player’s accomplishments and wonder if they’re even possible without any proof one way or the other. I want to watch a game and remember it exactly how my mind tells me to, not how it looks when I re-watch it on YouTube ten years later.
In my mind, Matt Hall scored 50 points against John Williams on that day two or three summers ago. He drilled improbable fadeaway jumpers and impossible pull-up threes. He jumped so high that he kissed the net before laying in a finger roll from about a foot above the rim. The crowd buzzed, knowing we were witnessing something special, and Hall’s right hand kept getting hotter and hotter.
I can’t Google that game and tell you my facts are right. I can’t YouTube it and watch the highlights. I can’t search for the box score or explore the advanced stats or re-watch every play on Synergy Sports. Memory is all I have.
But damn it, that’s one hell of a memory.