“Are you from here?”
No one’s walked up to me and asked me that – yet – but it could happen. It’s a rhetorical question, a prodding that’s on everyone’s mind simply because everywhere you look, it’s there. On the walls. On the scoreboard. On the DJ booth. On the bus. From here is St. Frances Academy, but not entirely. That’s just the setting. From here is rugged Baltimore, the streets, where ball is played until the rain gets so heavy you gain weight, where cement cracks go from being ant hill homes to stoned-feet defenders. From here is Under Armour and their new crew of faces: Brandon Jennings, Derrick Williams, Kemba Walker and Greivis Vasquez. From here is basketball.
What if I told you that three pros would team up with Aquille Carr – perhaps the best player from the home city of The Wire – and take on the high school kids from St. Frances Academy of Baltimore? You’d predict a blowout right? Jennings would probably drop 60. Walker would do to those nervous kids what he once did to Gary McGhee and Pittsburgh. The Crime Stopper would rain buckets from everywhere all at once. You would’ve been right… for perhaps the game’s first six minutes.
The stars went on an early 14-0 run with Jennings – with “Compton” on the back of his jersey – banging a deep three and Carr finishing an insane crossover with a bucket at the rim. They were so hot that on one play, Jennings was fouled and lobbed the ball over his head. It hit the cord connecting the backboard to the ceiling, bounced down against the shot clock and then fell through.
Still, the good times can’t last, not when St. Frances’ coaches – they’re playing with their full high school team – are taking this thing as seriously as opening night. The good times can’t last when the only one who wants to rebound for the stars is Vasquez (Walker and Jennings are leaking out so bad that they’re almost to midcourt by the time the rebound comes down). By the half, it’s 42-38, the stars up. The crowd has a “Are they really going to lose this game?” look. Jennings is a little bored, even sitting down on his ass during one free throw. At the start of the second half, he comes and sits next to me on the scorer’s table, then yells out “Man, get out of that f—– zone” to the high schoolers.
Jennings wants to win, but he’s intent on doing it his own way. “Hell no!” when a big man misses a layup. The flashy guard then hits two straight deep threes, crowning them with the Dougie at midcourt as the crowd goes wild. Walker – with “Bronx” on the back of his jersey – hits a few players with a couple of nasty crossovers. But still, the game stays tight.
Vasquez, for all he’s doing under the rim, is getting killed by a few people in the crowd. There’s an eight-year-old kid behind me screaming at him, “Stop bluffing! Stop shooting threes!” People laugh. Vasquez – with Venezuela on his jersey – has barely made anything from outside all game. When he finally does, he busts out the ‘Toine shimmy.
The end of the game, which finishes in an 88-85 win for the NBA stars, lacks drama despite the close score. St. Frances’ final possession ends up in a 35 foot heave that’s short. But people still leave happy, the people that actually are from here.
The tour continued this afternoon, and don’t expect anymore games to be this close. Derrick Williams was scheduled to join the tour today in New York at Boys & Girls High School in Brooklyn. It’s funny; Baltimore and Brooklyn are probably three and a half hours apart. Still, they both know what Under Armour is talking about when they ask Are you from here?