Sitting in section 106, gray suede Converse Pro Leathers on my feet, a roast beef panini on a plate in my hand, peering down at the Verizon Center court to check out Team USA nearly blow an anticipated exhibition against Brazil, it hit me. This is weird…this doesn’t make any sense. I really shouldn’t be here. I had a media credential hanging from my neck, and yet… I wasn’t all that interested in covering the game, a Team USA game. Much of that had to do with no locker room access, and very limited postgame interview opportunities (international rules). But it also had to do with the fridge stocked with drinks, the hot plates holding hot dogs, the elaborate vegtable and sandwich platters, the shrimp, the flatscreens and the view of the court.
Nike hooked us up, and we had all of that and more within a Verizon Center suite to watch USA’s come-from-behind 11-point win over Brazil last night as well as Barack get shot down twice by Michelle. There was Kobe, LeBron, Carmelo, KD and the rest of the best players in the world. And there was I, up in the suite crunching on some croutons.
Along with some other selected media members, I spent the last four days in Washington, D.C. to take in everything that this year’s World Basketball Festival had to offer, and while I eventually didn’t turn down a chance to catch up with the Team USA stars (I went down for the postgame to listen to what they had to say, despite it being a mob scene), I also had no problem spending most of the night up in the suite. We’re always treated well by Nike, and this trip was no different.
I got down to the nation’s capital on Friday morning, and while I spent much of the day cooped up in the hotel getting work done, we all hit up Barry Farms that night to check out Team Nike invade the Goodman League. As I wrote over the weekend, I’ve been to the famed courts a few different times – Red Bull tournament events, a John Wall photoshoot earlier this spring – but had never seen a game. Take a whiff of Barry Farms, and you can smell a lot of things, but what sticks out most is the love of the game. The whole community comes out, and they don’t come out to cause a scene or watch fireworks or get drunk or listen to a concert. They are all there, some in the bleachers, some in their lawn chairs sprawled out courtside, because they love the game. That’s what draws John Thompson, what draws Kevin Durant and James Harden. And that’s what draws old heads like Kenny Satterfield. They were all there Friday night. Goodman held serve, but not before we were all introduced to Adris DeLeon aka “2 Hard 2 Guard”. I had never seen him play, and didn’t realize until later in the weekend when he’d dominate the City Tournament of Champions final against Marcus Williams, Pooh Jeter and the rest of the L.A. squad that this was only his opening act. When he wasn’t banking free throws, he was lacing the nets with deep threes, and kept a heated running conversation going virtually all game with someone in the crowd.
The action was gritty, the crowd had some star power, especially after KD and Harden showed up, we got a couple of ridiculous highlights from Baby Shaq, and Miles Rawls added the finishing touch with his trademark play-by-play. For once, the real thing lived up to the hype. THAT was streetball.
On Saturday, we hit up the Armory, a refurbished military base that acted as the home for most of the basketball during the weekend. Besides the action on the court, Nike and Jordan offered some interesting exhibits to fans. There was a one exhibit featuring all of the 1992 Dream Team and Team USA jerseys, along with game-worn sneakers. Down the middle, there was a line of sneakers called: “1992-2012 Innovation: The Game That Changed.” Everything from the ’95 Pennys to the ’01 Hyperflights to the Air Jordan 20s of 2005 were there and it was interesting to see how sneaker design has changed over the course of 20 years.
Jordan had an exhibit where you could design socks, check out the newest Olympic sneakers for Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony, and even lace up Hyperdunks for a chance to create your very own Jordan poster. But what everyone really came to see was Team USA. There was a jumboTron playing the “Dream Team” documentary alongside the court, and banners of all the American stars lining the building. EPMD was blaring from the speakers, and Jay Bilas was rapping (not literally) on the mic. They put together a practice and intrasquad scrimmage for the lucky people able to get into the building. I sat front row on the floor along the baseline, literally a yard from the court, and thought LeBron was going to run me over more than once.
From there, we hit up a Converse Block Party to kick it on stage with Stalley and The-Dream. The heat was overwhelming – I don’t even think they had to grill the free food because it was so hot – but hundreds came out. Converse re-designed the courts at Banneker Community Center, and offered the crowd the chance to design their own t-shirts. They also re-introduced the Pro Leather, a sneaker made famous by Dr. J (who is still involved with Converse) that is returning this summer. I was hooked up with the aforementioned gray suede (FYI, Converse is also hosting two events this Saturday in New York City at Abraham Lincoln Park and Hudson River Park. Jim Jones and Stalley will be among the performers.).
One of the highlights of the weekend came the following day. Before the City Tournament of Champions final, Jus Fly came out and DOMINATED the Nike+ dunk contest. He cleared a 6-8 player and reversed it… he went under his legs… he windmilled while looking down at the rim… and he cartwheeled and went through his legs, completing the dunk he had made just a few weeks earlier that had everyone calling him the best dunker in the world.
After also watching Andrew Wiggins play in the Global Challenge on Sunday – as Canada was rocking some of the craziest camo uniforms I’ve ever seen – we were allowed to wear test the new Nike Lunar Hyperdunk 2012. The shoes have sensors that track all of your physical stats – from your speed and vert to your agility, the amount of energy you use, and it even tracks every single time you jump in a game. There was so much statistical data, I really thought I was going through a math exam at some points, and struggled to keep up.
Fittingly, the trip ended with what we were really there for: a chance to check out this year’s Olympic Teams (we also saw the women) in action, and while they struggled, or at least the men did, and barely beat Brazil, I was having a good time sitting in the section 106 Nike suite, enjoying my shrimp and salad.
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