Not too long ago, an NBA starting center who owns a championship ring told me that, at least in is opinion, confidence is the biggest asset a basketball player can possess.
“I have to feel like I’m the best player at my position whenever I go out on the court,” Kendrick Perkins said. “The NBA is all about confidence. If you have a lot of confidence from within, you can succeed.”
When I was in Baltimore last weekend covering the Red Bull 2-on-2 Revolution, I met that confidence face-to-face.
“What’s your name, man?”
Lamont Hawkins introduced himself in a way that would have made Steve Francis raise an eyebrow, just a verbal confirmation that he had the confidence I saw displayed on the court as Hawkins and his teammate, Frank Queen (“Team Boston”), won their first-round game in the 32-team tournament at Cloverdale Park.
A couple of hours later, Franchise and Queen were in the semifinals with their city’s pride on the line. Their opponents, “The Hawks,” were the only other Baltimore squad left in the field. On the other side of the court, an all-Philly semifinal was underway. So the winner of this game was esssentially the champion of Baltimore. And the game ended up being the most intense of the day.
Both teams struggled to score at first, as point-blank floaters and pull-up jumpers layups rolled around the rim and halfway down before popping out. Queen got a layup and free throw to put Team Boston up 3-0, and a few possessions later, they went up 10-2 on a reverse layup and jumper from Franchise. It was 12-4 when the Hawks’ Jonathan Smith took over. The 5-foot-11 guard repeatedly muscled his way to the rim, and when he didn’t make his layups, he was off the ground quick, a la Antawn Jamison, to putback his own misses. Smith almost single-handedly got his team back in the mix, but Boston still led 15-12. Queen got a layup to make it 17-12, but then Smith made the kind of play that this tournament’s “Rajon Rondo Rules” were created for: he ripped the ball from his man and knifed in for a layup — two points for the bucket, three points for the steal — to tie the score at 17-all in an instant.
While it seemed the Hawks had all the momentum at that point, Franchise put Team Boston back up with a floater, but the Hawks’ Chris Johnson (who played at Cal State-Santa Barbara) tied it with a driving layup.
With the reality setting in that the next field goal would end the game and cost one team its shot at $2,000 — and MC Boobie Smooth taunted the players by waving the giant check in their faces between plays (“The check is watching…”) — the game went to another level of physical. Regular basketball fouls were replaced with NFL horse-collar tackles and clotheslines. Franchise put Team Boston up 20-19 with a free throw following one such hack, and on their next possession, Queen got pulled down while going for an offensive rebound and landed on his back on the concrete. After laying on the ground for a minute while the crowd hushed, Queen rose to his feet, stepped to the line and hit the game-winning free throw.
Queen staggered off the court not wanting to talk to anyone, but Franchise was quick to find the cameras, extolling his team’s focus under pressure and confidence to come into the tourney not even aware of the competition and get a shot at the chip. Franchise and Queen were actually playing at another park Saturday morning when they heard about the Red Bull tournament, walked down and signed up.
That confidence was the only reason I gave Team Boston — a pair of 6-foot guards — a chance at beating the combo of Tyrone “Redz” Hill (6-3) and DeSean White (6-8) in the championship game, but the size difference plus fatigue was too much. While they didn’t get the championship prize, Team Boston did win the most memorable game of the day.