Battlegrounds: The Top 5 U.S. Basketball Cities

Which U.S. city brings the most hardwood heat? Who has the blacktop game on lock? Bring that up in any barbershop or in any gym across the country and you’ll have heated arguments. New York. Seattle. Los Angeles. Chicago. Baltimore. Houston. Miami. D.C. And more. With the lockout this summer, the question that was once a mere talking point is now real. Which city could suit up it’s top talent and beat everyone else? We’re getting a taste of it with games like the Goodman/’Melo League All-Star showcase from last night. But those aren’t 100 percent real. LeBron and Chris Paul played because they’re two of the top 10 players in the league. No one is going to tell them to take next. If they want to play, they’re going to suit up.

So far this summer, it’s been about who is the summer MVP, who are the NBA’s best playground players, which league across the country has the most talent, the best competition.

At the Reebok Breakout Challenge event yesterday, I asked recent Sacramento draft pick Isaiah Thomas about this. He wanted to get something going and wasn’t afraid of putting Seattle up against anyone. We always get overlooked, he told me, claiming his city has the best backcourt players in the country.

Sometimes though, it can be about more than just talent. You need infrastructure to develop those gifts. Jameer Nelson spends the majority of his summers in Philly because there are so many places to catch a good run. But he says the leagues aren’t run well enough and admits the city needs to do a better job of bringing along their younger players.

It’s a matter of pride for most of these guys. Where they come from directly reflects on who they are. If you’re from NYC, you better have an attitude about you. When you step on the court, you gotta play like everyone in the gym is there to see you. If you’re from Chicago, you gotta bring toughness, and go right through the fouls and physical play. If you’re from L.A., show me some style.

With AAU and many of the best teenagers traveling across the country, you see many like Brandon Jennings, who says he plays more like New York City PGs than anyone on the West Coast (For what it’s worth, Jennings also says NYC is the best basketball city, “hands down.”). Despite that, Jennings recently told ESPN’s Chris Palmer he doesn’t really want Kobe Bryant representing the Drew League: “He wasn’t born and raised in LA. You gotta be from LA to play for Drew. Show me a birth certificate.”

Jennings aside, everyone would wager on their own city. No one would ever admit their home didn’t have the best talent. But with these summer league showcases, the next step should be cities. L.A. could bring out people like DeMar DeRozan and Jennings. You’d have Nelson and Kobe lining up for Philly, a Baltimore team with Carmelo Anthony and Rudy Gay, Seattle could come at you with an endless stream of guards (Jamal Crawford, Nate Robinson, Jason Terry, Isaiah Thomas, etc.). It’s not about where you’re born. It’s who influenced you. It’s about where you come of age, where your game was molded (and obviously being lenient on how allowing a city to stretch a little beyond it’s actual lines). For example, Carmelo Anthony was born in New York City. But isn’t he more Baltimore than NYC?

If I had a top five, it would probably go something like this:

1. Washington D.C. (or can I cheat a little and put DMV?)
2. New York City (could probably flip-flop the top two)
3. Chicago
4. Los Angeles
5. Seattle (or Baltimore if weren’t not counting the DMV)

Which cities would make up your top five?

Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.

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